Iowa Blackie caught the Westbound in February, and in this, our fifth monthly column, we want to remember him, one of Britt's most colorful hobos.
Blackie was a poet, and during Hobo Days he was usually ensconced on a street corner regaling passers-by with his poetry and stories. With his long, scraggly beard and unkempt persona he drew people to him, especially children and young adults. In a letter to the editor last March, Whitney Johnson reminisced about the time she and her friend "asked Iowa Blackie for his autograph when we were around the young age of 12. We not only got an autograph, but a 20-minue story to go along with it."
Viv Ann Boockmeier lovingly and humorously remembers one encounter with Blackie when she was a child.
Iowa Blackie was my favorite
At five years of age, so I bought him
A lime-green comb because I thought
He needed it to comb his hair.
He still does.
Blackie always had a stack of his poetry books to sell, and often you would see him negotiating a price with one or more co-eds visiting Britt for the day. Jerry captures Blackie's business acumen even in heaven:
To Cover the Cost
If you meet Iowa Blackie
Somewhere in the afterlife
He will present you with one
Of his hobo poetry books
And of course he will ask
If you can give him a few
Bucks to cover his costs
Blackie's own poetry tended toward long narratives or stories. The ones we liked best were the shorter pieces that captured specific images such as this excerpt from a poem titled Shanty by the Main:
Not much this shanty near the main
Four cobbled walls and single door
Some boarded over with window panes
A wooden bench and bare wood floor
Sufficient though in case of rain
A temporary place to kip
While waiting for an outbound train
An interlude on lengthy trips
(Excerpted from One More Train to Ride: The Underground World of Modern American Hoboes. Cliff Williams (Oats), Editor. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2003)
Iowa Blackie is gone, perhaps sitting in some shanty somewhere swapping poems and stories with other hoboes who have caught the Westbound. But he'll be remembered in Britt for a long time to come:
A Few Remarks about Iowa Blackie
big blue eyes that shone like floodlights
bushy beard that may have included birds' nests
scraggly hair that had not seen a comb for decades
though he allegedly carried a lime-green comb
in the pocket of his coveralls
that he received from a little girl named Viv from Britt
a long long time ago
If you have any stories or anecdotes about Blackie that you'd like to share with others, we'd love to read them. Why don't you shape these memories into short poems and send them to us? The poems can be in any form, rhymed or unrhymed, and of any length.
You can send your Iowa Blackie poems to Vivian Pritchard at 452 First Ave. S.W., Britt, IA 50423 or email them to her at firstname.lastname@example.org . Or, if you see her in town, simply hand them to her.
Poetry is for everyone and that means you. We look forward to reading your creative writing.