As promised, we returned to the Hobo Jungle for the evening entertainment. First on the agenda was some hobo business. King Tuck did a smudging … a cleansing with smoke which we’d seen many times in native peoples' ceremonies.
Next, the royals did a dubbing. Hobos all have hobo names. Seldom do they choose their own names, but rather, after awhile, they ‘acquire’ names based on where they’re from, their personalities, their habits. Several folks who had been involved in the hobo world for a length of time, received their hobo names. Those being dubbed would stand or kneel before the King and Queen. The royals would place their walking sticks on the recipients shoulders and speak their new names, then query the crowd to make sure the ‘dubbees’ were worthy. There was always a resounding YES! Some of the new names? Little Monkey, Sassy and Crazy Cat Lady. We wondered what our hobo names would be?
Then the entertainment began. The hobos were, in fact, very entertaining … some more than others. They sang; they read poetry and told stories; they played instruments … harmonicas, washboards, recorders, guitars, the bones, drums, banjos. We danced the hobo shuffle around the campfire … no particular steps or rhythm required. We stayed till quite late, enjoying the camaraderie and the enthusiasm of the performers. They passed the hat and we contributed a few bucks.
The next day was crammed full of events starting with a parade. We sat on a curb along the parade route for nearly two hours watching an endless stream of parade participants pass by. Hobos, wanna be hobos, tractors pulling hay wagons full of people, the VFW, the high school band, firetrucks, a polka oom-pah-pah band, hot rods, vintage cars, miscellaneous farm equipment, horses, dogs, trailer trucks, politicians … you name it, they were in this parade. Most groups threw candy or toys and the local kids scrambled to collect it all. They had sacks full by the end of the event … better than Halloween.
Following the parade, we stood in line for a free bowl of Mulligan stew in the town park. We’d never tried Mulligan stew before, a traditional hobo soup. It supposedly contains beef which I thought I’d eat around, but not to worry, we didn’t find any. Ladled from an oil barrel/cauldron, we found it to be vegetable-rich (carrots, potatoes and rutabagas) and quite tasty.
We settled in the park bleachers for the hobo auction. Hobos contributed their ‘tramp art’ for sale to the highest bidder with all proceeds going to the Hobo Museum. Carvings, paintings and memorabilia brought in well over a thousand dollars for the museum’s coffers.
Then, the highlight of the day … the election and coronation of the new Hobo King & Queen. I might add that throughout the course of the weekend, hopeful candidates had been putting up ‘vote for me’ signs and canvasing the crowd for support. Now, each candidate spoke to the crowd, explaining why they would make the best king or queen. The duties of the royals are very clear … preserve the hobo culture and promote attendance at next year’s Britt convention. At the end of the spiels, the crowd voted by applause for their favored choice and a hobo election committee confirmed the winners. Our candidates won … Crash for Queen and the Dutchman for King. The coronation included makeshift crowns fashioned from old Folgers cans.
It was late afternoon when the toilet bowl races began on Main Street. We scooted up onto bags of salt piled waist-high on the sidewalk and watched the fun. This was a town sport; no hobos participated. There was a definite distinction between shared hobo/town events, jungle hobo events and town events. No one was excluded from any event, but the distinction was very discernible. The town appreciated the hobos and the hobos appreciated the town, but somewhere the line was drawn between the two.
So, was it a worthwhile trip? Would we go again specifically to attend the hobo convention? Absolutely! This was a delightful time spent with like-minded people who appreciate wanderlust and the need to keep traveling, exploring and sampling all life has to offer. Keep it in mind … always the second weekend in August in Britt, Iowa.
Want to learn more about the hobo life? I read several books on the subject, but the most informative and my favorite is ‘Knights of the Road – A Hobo History’ by Roger Bruns. It’s out of print, but available used on Amazon.
So where to next? We haven’t decided yet, but we’ll have to start heading back to Las Vegas. Join us next time after we've figured out where we're going.