Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ypsilanti's 1980s Boomer Days Celebrated Hobo & Railroad Culture

The erstwhile Ypsitucky Jamboree is not the first festival to stir up controversy in town. For several years in the 1980s Ypsilanti celebrated "our railroad heritage and the hey-day of bums, tramps, and hobos" with a weekend festival called Boomer Days. A "boomer" is slang for a hobo "always on the go--he has a travel itch."

The July, 1987 Depot Town Rag featured this R. Crumb-esque figure of a hobo and a full slate of family activities.

Kids could take part in a carp-fishing contest in Riverside Park, and adults could compete in the "Coronation of the Hobo Royalty," or vote for their favorite "bum" with spare change, at the Cricket Box, 19 E. Cross St. There was also a hobo art display and hobo fashion show.

A "Mulligan Stew-Off" offered local cooks the chance to try their hand at making an authentic hobo jungle stew. The prizes for the stew-off included an oak bench and a "country wreath" to add elegance to one's jungle camp.

The July 'Rag notes that the 1987 Boomer Days is the "8th Annual," but James Mann & Tom Dodd's popular book Down by the Depot says that the fest ran for only 6 summers. It continues, "The concept proved enormously popular until the advent of homelessness in America. While some citizens were sleeping on sidewalks in refrigerator boxes all winter, it seemed a bit rude to be celebrating such poverty in an annual summer festival and the concept was abandoned."

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