Although I once briefly mentioned the Hobo Museum in a post nearly five years ago, I didn’t share my own photos from a personal visit I took a few summers ago. So considering it is the blog’s fifth anniversary week, I guess I’ll stop being lazy and get on with it:
Three summers ago, I took a drive through the U.S. states of Iowa and Minnesota. During a stopover in Mason City, I spent the night at the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel left in the world. As I sat on the terrace that looks over the park I tried to find some interesting things to do in this part of Northern Iowa. Google told me that the National Hobo Museum was a 45-minute drive directly west. For those who do not know, a hobo is a migratory worker or homeless vagabond, and although they reached their peak during the Great Depression they still do indeed exist.
Let’s just say the town of Britt, Iowa is nothing to write home about, but it has a few hobo-related attractions if you’re into that sort of thing (or your name happens to be Don Draper). The museum is located in a former theater, built in 1912 as the 300 seat Princess Theater. The name was changed to the Chief Theater sometime in the 1940s. Entering the lobby you find a map full of pins noting where all the visitors have come from, and surprisingly, I wasn’t the only visitor that day as a family arrived while I was looking through the exhibit (although they didn’t stay very long).
While the PBS documentary American Experience: “Riding the Rails” played in the background, I took a look around at the various items on display, which included books, music, and crafts all created by hobos. There’s also an explanation (as well as a neat-looking “quilt”) all about the history and meaning behind the infamous Hobo Code.
Besides the museum, there is a National Hobo Convention held every year the second weekend of August since 1900. The Hobo Jungle Park is located along the south side of the Soo Line railroad tracks in Britt and is the center of activity during the week of the Hobo Convention. Hobos and their friends gather around a ceremonial fire in the week leading up to the big day. The world’s only Hobo Memorial is located in the town’s Evergreen Cemetery, which donated a quiet corner to the Hobo Foundation.
A plaque states “National Hobo Memorial, August 10, 1990…dedicated to those free-spirited men and women whose migratory work pattern helped meet the labor needs of America from the Civil War to the Great Depression.” The annual memorial service is held here around the graves of Hardrock Kid, Mt. Dew, Pennsylvania Kid, Slow Motion Shorty, Connecticut Slim, Lord Open Road and Fry Pan Jack (whose grave you can see above).