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Gone, but Not Forgotten
Neal Gamm, best known around these parts for being the one-time governor of the none-time state of Forgottonia died on November 16. The McDonough County Voice had a remembrance on the front page last weekend, and (WIU’s own) Mister Pat Stout chose Gamm for a subject of one his regular columns. Stout drew on a 2010 article reported by Nathan Woodside.
Who’s Neal Gamm? What’s a Forgottonia?
You’re probably sitting in Forgottonia right now. Back in 1971, “Forgottonia” was cooked up by a few area residents, including then-WIU theatre student Gamm. They said they were forming “Forgottonia” from more than a dozen western Illinois counties, and that they were going to secede from the U.S. After that they would declare war, then quickly surrender.
Why on earth?!
Back in the early seventies, a lot of people in the region were irritated about Washington legislation that meant western Illinois was going to miss out on federal transportation funding. There had been plans for a new highway that would have come through the area, and that got nixed. As well, passenger rail service for the area was cut.
After surrendering, the rebel group said, they would get the funding they wanted by applying for foreign aid. Or, something like that. Forgottonia was called satire, a stunt, and both. Of course, if you’re going to try to pull off something like that, there's got to be a spokesperson, and that was Gamm.
It was a stunt that was heard around the nation. Major newspapers covered the "secession," including the New York Times. So, he got a bit more than fifteen minutes of fame with that one.
After Forgottonia played itself out, Gamm had the rest of his life to live. The Western Courier’s James Needham focused on those other chapters, talking to friends and family of Gamm for a November 26 article.
Gamm was 65 when he died.
These days, people point to the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway and regular Amtrak service as signs that the land of Forgottonia went the way of Atlantis.
One of the very few times you'll find Forgottonia on a map.