By Ray Van Dusen and Emily Tubb/Monroe Journal
AMORY – Back in 1978, after Mary Lib Francis was appointed head of the first tourism committee, she brainstormed how to bring more people to Amory.
After mentioning her intentions to a man from Vicksburg looking for real estate, he pointed at Engine 1529 in the middle of Frisco Park and suggested a railroad festival.
In 35 years, it’s grown from a festival operating on a $100 budget to a Southeastern draw attracting upwards of 60,000 people each year. Mixing food, arts and crafts, live music, a car show, a 5k and carnival rides, the Amory Railroad Festival is a staple event every April.
“I’ve been riding trains for more than 30 years and been coming here for 15 to 20 of them. We have get-togethers throughout the United States, but outside of the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, this is the biggest gathering we have,” said Wisconsin-native Stretch, who was crowned Hobo King in 2008.
Celebrating Amory’s railroad heritage is now an attraction for hobos, locals and out-of-towners.
“Booths sold out and we actually had to turn people away,” said chairman Bo Miller.
The local Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, which had originally reserved Frisco Park for a flea market the same weekend that the first Amory Railroad Festival was organized, still oversees the vendor tents that house everything from temporary tattoos to iron work.
The entertainment lineup for the festival mixes everything from cloggers and school vocal groups to regional hard rock and national country acts stretched across two stages. This year’s headliners were the Gents, Restless Heart and Steel Magnolia.
“We have added major bands to our repertoire over the last several years. People call wanting to know how much tickets are. They can’t believe it when I tell them it’s free,” said entertainment chairman Art Gentry.
The festival, which began Thursday, wraps up from noon to 5 p.m. today with gospel and worship music.