National Hobo Convention
The National Hobo Convention is held on the second weekend of every August since 1900 in the town of Britt, Iowa, organized by the local Chamber of Commerce, and known throughout the town as the annual "Hobo Day" celebration. The National Hobo Convention is the largest gathering of hobos, rail-riders, and tramps, who gather to celebrate the American traveling worker.
It's very important to define between hobos, tramps and bums as the hobos are sensitive to the titles. Hobos are workers who travel to find work. Many are skilled craftsmen (women). They are workers. Tramps travel but don't work and Bums are just those who typically don't work and don't travel.
Traditionally there has been a parade on the Saturday at 10:00 a.m., where everyone can let their hobo spirit soar as they participate in the parade. A phrase that describes the parade is, "Some in rags, some in tags, some in velvet gowns."
According to the Chamber of Commerce:
- "Whether you're part of this large grand parade, or a spectator, the spirit of the day is sure to capture your mood. Marching bands, queens, business floats, children, adults, and hobos all come down the streets in one long line and share the fun that only a Hobo Convention can provide."
From a Convention attendee:
Britt's "Hobo Days" celebration usually draws about 20,000 tourists over several days, and about 75 or 80 tramps. There is usually a carnival installed on the main drag, with a small Ferris wheel, Tilt-a-Whirl rides and so on. Most of the rides are more suitable for smaller children. There are various food service trucks selling barbecue, pork-chop-on-a-stick, cotton candy and so on. There are often people with sort of "flea market" tables, "farmer's market" tables selling local produce, etc. Of course, the Hobo Museum is open, and Ms. Castillo's portraits of the Hobo Kings and Queens are on display. During most conventions there is usually live music somewhere downtown in the late afternoon and at night. Saturday morning there is the "Hobo Days" parade. It's a lot like a small-town Fourth of July celebration. The parade includes fire trucks, local high school marching bands, ROTC units, antique cars, 4-H Club and FFA clubs on horseback, restored antique tractors and farm equipment and so forth. There is always a trailer float for the hobos to ride. Hobos who participate in the parade bring a supply of individually wrapped hard candy to throw to the children along the parade route.
A signature event every year is the selection of the King and Queen of Hobos. There are rules about who can run and the candidates' qualifications. Men must actually have been a tramp, but there are no qualification rules for the women running for Queen, and no requirement for them to ever have actually been a hobo, although many of the women who have been selected as Queen were actual rail riders with bona fide hoboing experience. The "election" is done at the town's gazebo, and is preceded by campaign speeches. A group of vetted hobo judges decides who wins by the applause of the crowd. Inevitably, drama ensues. All this happens as the town is serving up several thousand gallons of mulligan stew.
There is a difference between the town of Britt's "Hobo Days" celebration and the actual convention meeting itself, although visitors are more than welcome to come visit and/or camp in the "National Hobo Jungle" next to the railroad tracks. The actual convention is a convention of members of Tourist Union #63, founded in 1899 and still existing today. (There were sixty-three original members.) Much of the convention's activities take place in the Jungle, or in the National Hobo Cemetery (which is in a corner of Britt's Evergreen Cemetery.) There is a day dedicated to cleaning, re-painting and mowing the hobo graves, and a Memorial Service the following day. Generally, shortly after the memorial service, a Hobo Council is convened, and this is an activity limited to actual hobos and members of TU63. You can identify many members of TU63 by a small round patch sewn to a cap or jacket that is a white-bordered black circle with the white numerals "63" inside.
The jungle operates more-or-less on the "honor system." People with the means to do so are asked to contribute an amount similar to what they would pay for a restaurant meal into the "Frisco Circle" kitty. Those without funds or with limited funds are welcome to eat for free, but encouraged to help with the kitchen chores. (Half the fun of the convention is being "part of the crew" that does the cooking, "pearl diving" and cleaning up. Newbies are encouraged to report to the "Crumb Boss" for an assignment somewhere on the kitchen crew.) Camping in the Jungle is free. No fireworks, firewater or firearms are permitted within the jungle. (There are several bars and excellent restaurants within easy walking distance.) There are no hotel or motels in Britt.
Tent camping or "tarp camping" within the Jungle is free.
Other events during Hobo weekend include a Hobo 5K & Hobo 10K Walk/Run, Hobo King & Hobo Queen coronation, Hobo Museum, Hobo Auction, Hobo Memorial Service, Hobo Sunday Outdoor Church Service, Hobo Classic Car Show, Hobo Arts and Crafts Show and various hobo musical entertainment. The Hobo Jungle is open to the public.
- Hobo Foundation
- Britt Chamber of Commerce
- WTOL news story
- Hobo Convention - Tired of the sedentary life? Hitch a train to Iowa (article)
- National Hobo Convention, Britt, IA, 1984
- Travel Site Feature
- Britt, Iowa Town Web site (official)
- Television News Story