The Republic of Forgottonia
The lore of “Forgottonia” was created in what is the very heart of the “Republic;” Macomb, IL. Variously described as a new U.S. state or an independent republic, Forgottonia is the name given to a fourteen county region in West Central Illinois in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Republic of Forgottonia eventually became a fictional political secession movement in the early 1970s. It did not achieve actual statehood, but it did briefly crystallize as a state of mind. Residents of the west-central Illinois region —more or less between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers—launched a satirical secession movement to protest the region’s stepchild status in Springfield.
Conceived by McDonough County residents Jack Horn, son of civically-minded Coca Cola bottler Frank “Pappy” Horn and Macomb Chamber of Commerce board member John Armstrong. Frustration among the citizens and officials of western Illinois was mounting behind a lack of support for transportation and infrastructure projects in the area. Viet Nam war veteran and Western Illinois University student Neil Gamm was named “Governor of Forgottonia,” and the breakaway commonwealth established its capital in an abandoned building in Fandon, a microscopic hamlet near Colchester , hidden in the woods of McDonough County was to be the republic’s Capital. Wearing an elegant frock coat, bow tie, boutonniere and impish grin, Gamm became an instant media darling.
According to a 2010 interview with the McDonough County Voice, Gamm recalled “The idea is that we would secede from the Union, immediately declare war, surrender, then apply for foreign aid.” What had started as a local joke soon became a news sensation as reporters and television producers from across the nation started contacting Gamm as wire services picked up the story.
The Western Illinois Magazine noted his republic had all the accoutrements of state and even nationhood, including an official bird (the albatross) and flower (the forget-me-not), as well as ambitious plans for a military academy and missile base, apparently if things got ugly with Iowa. Inspired by Gamm’s goofy, street-theater charisma and their own sense of grievance, movement adherents would brandish the Forgottonian flag—a blank white sheet, naturally—at town parades and political events throughout the fourteen counties.
Forgottonia never did secede, but the movement succeeded. It drew national attention to the region’s transportation and infrastructure plight. Amtrak brought trains back to the area in 1972 and highways have seen some improvement since Forgottonia put itself on the map. The geographic region of “The Republic of Forgottonia” forms the distinctive western bulge of Illinois that is roughly equivalent to the Illinois portion of the Military Tract of 1812, along and west of the Fourth Principal Meridian.
In 2011, The History Channel series How the States Got Their Shapes focused its second episode of their first season, entitled The Great Plains, Trains, and Automobiles on the historic inequality given to this western Illinois region, as a result of Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Host Brian Unger interviewed “Gov.” Gamm for the series as they toured The Republic of Forgottonia’s capital, Fandon, IL, which you can watch here.
Neil Gamm passed away in November 16, 2012 at the age of 65.