When I heard about Iowa Blackie passing away, I was in complete shock. When you grow up knowing someone all your life it always sets you back. You always assume they will be there.
I immediately called my family to let them know and then proceeded to call my best friend, Jenny Miller. We reminisced about the time we asked Iowa Blackie for his autograph when we were around the young age of 12. We not only got an autograph, but a 20-minute story to go along with it.
Coming from the Hobo Capitol of the world, we were fascinated with him and many other hobos. When the news of Iowa Blackie's passing spread, it was quickly covered by the social network Facebook. I found that many of my classmates felt the same way Jenny and I did. He was a celebrity in our small town.
You may not have liked Iowa Blackie or agreed with everything he said, but that doesn't change the fact that he was still a great hobo and helped make Britt, Iowa famous. He was a published poet who began riding the rails at the age of 14. No matter what you believe, he was a true hobo and well-known.
I was at work in Cedar Rapids a week after he passed when a co-worker asked where I was from. I told her I was from a small town called Britt in northern Iowa, assuming that she had no idea where it was. She quickly replied, "Oh, yeah. You guys have the Hobo Convention! Didn't one of your famous hobos just pass away?"
As you can see, Hobo Days is what we're known for and we should all be proud. Some small towns don't have anything close to what we have, which is why when I opened the Britt News Tribune at school the week following Iowa Blackie's passing I was disappointed. There on page A4 was the very same story I had read a week earlier on the Globe Gazette online edition.
I looked through the paper twice in search of a story about him from the local angle. There was nothing. Iowa Blackie did more to promote this town and its celebration than some of people who actually live here yearround. And how do we honor him? With a page-four article copy and pasted from a sister newspaper. I thought the article from the Globe Gazette was great, but where was the local story? He deserved more than that.
Some of you reading this may think that it's stupid I'm even writing this, but if we don't honor and respect the hobos and everything they have done for this town, then what is the point of having Hobo Days? Some of you say it's just another small town celebration, but Britt thrives on the fact that we are the "Home of the Hobos." We are original and no one can ever take that away from us.
So the next time an out-of-towner asks where you are from, I hope that you proudly respond Britt, Iowa, and then proceed to tell them about Hobo Days and in the back of your mind thank Iowa Blackie. Even though he took the westbound, he will always be a part of Hobo Days for many years to come.