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Hobo Museum
Britt, IA 50423
641-843-9104
website

We stopped in Britt, Iowa and the Hobo Museum, which proved to be 42 different kinds of awesome. This time of year one has to call to arrange a tour so the very helpful Linda and Betty agreed to meet us, patiently explaining to us the difference between a "hobo" (one who travels for work), a tramp (one who travels and won't work), and a bum (one who does neither). Britt has been holding an annual hobo convention since 1900 and the hobo tradition is a rich and incredibly interesting one filled with surprises.

One such surprise was Betty herself, an older woman who revealed she was none other than Connecticut Shorty, a Hobo Queen who started riding the rails at a fairly advanced age "just for the fun and adventure of it." Her own father was legendary hobo named Connecticut Slim who largely abandoned his family for his travels. Betty doesn't hold it against him.

The women discussed the diminishing of the time-honored hobo population, one that has included over time a number of unexpected figures including some fairly wealthy men and more than a few women, but observed that the migrant workers are hobos even though they aren't called that as they hop trains to where the jobs are. And so it came full circle to Obama's speech because hobos from the civil war through the depression helped the nation's economy and workforce even as the immigrant migrants are doing now.

The museum itself is filled with photos, heirlooms, and relics of the hobos from shoes to hand-carved walking sticks. The plan is to move everything into a spanking new facility with modern interactive exhibits and proper displays but for now it is housed in a early 20th century movie theater, with an original tin ceiling and murals on the walls. When it's no longer needed as a museum it'll be for sale. Anyone out there want to revive an old beauty and show classic movies there on the weekend? It deserves it and so does the town.

As if we weren't smitten enough, we looked at hobo folk-art - hand stitching of the various hobo symbols and their meanings including one symbol consisting of two inter-locking circles, which means "don't give up," a motto for Plucky Survivors if ever there was one.

We finished our time in Britt by paying our respects at the Hobo Graveyard, admiring the colorful nicknames, the tomb of the Unknown Hobo, and the final stop for Connecticut Slim himself before he "caught the Westbound."

Both Mary and Rick were taken by the romance of the whole thing and wanted to go catch a freight right then, but at least according to the Harrah's people, Mary is too old and feeble. Did we mention she's still kind of bitter about this.

Tours must be arranged in advance by calling the number listed above.

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