The Republic of Forgottonia
Variously described as a new U.S. state or an independent republic, Forgottonia is the name given to a 16 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 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 hamlet of Fandon near Colchester was to be the republic’s capital.
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.
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 first season, second episode, The Great Plains, Trains, and Automobiles to 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, as you can watch right here.
Neil Gamm passed away in November 16, 2012 at the age of 65.