National Hobo Convention
Hobos and Town Answer the Call
Movin' on, movin' on, movin' on...the steam engines beckoned as they built up momentum heading towards a new horizon, towards an adventure.
Many a man heard that call, when the rules become too hard to take. This man, born to dream not conform, that man without a job and out of luck - they heard the call, movin' on...movin' on. The solders drawn from home and done with war were often lured to travel by the train's call.
Movin' on made some men famous, caused others to lose their lives. Movin' on set some men free while binding them to a brotherhood stronger than roots, the brotherhood of the hobos.
Hobos they're called, a word with as many possible origins as there are reasons to join the fraternity. The Latin words homo bonus mean "good man" and could have been coined to make the term hobo. Some say that soldiers returning from the Civil War would be asked where they were headed and they replied "homeward bound". Migratory agricultural workers of the eighteenth century were referred to as "hoe boys", and since hobos worked as they traveled, it was concluded they were the original 'boes.
Ask a veteran hobo at a convention jungle what a hobo is and you'll receive a definite answer. The hobo is a migratory worker, some with a special skill or trade, others ready to work at any task, but always willing to work to make his way.
The tramp, they'll tell you, is a traveling non-worker, moving from town to town, but never willing to work for the handouts that he begs for. A bum is the lowest class, too lazy to roam around and never works.
Misunderstood and mistreated, the wandering hobos have come to find understanding and friendship in the town of Britt, Iowa
1900 - Britt and the Hobos
Way and Potter read a report in the Chicago paper that Tourists Union No. 63 had elected as officers Onion Cotton, of Danville, Illinois and Grand Head Pipe Charles F. Noe, of Sycamore, Illinois. They wrote to Noe and invited him to bring the Hobo Convention to Britt in 1900. Noe wrote them that he would come out to Britt and look the ground over, providing Way and Potter would defray his carfare and expenses. They agreed.
It was an autumn day in 1899 that Noe arrived at the Milwaukee depot and was met by Way and Potter. They wined and dined the Grand Head Pipe, then called in an attorney, W.E. Bradford, to guide the proceedings and see that they were legal. They also invited Phil Reed, a newspaper man connected with the Britt News. The four men must have guaranteed that the Hobo Convention would go over big in Britt, for Noe agreed to bring the convention to Britt in 1900 and the 22nd day of August was set as the date.
Bailey of Britt, a nationally known humorist and an ardent conventioneer, assumed the publicity end of the promotion, and various other men took responsible positions on the committees. The novelty of the convention appealed to newspaper reporters everywhere, and everyone talked it up, taking the matter as a joke - except the promoters.
© 2009 Britt, Iowa