WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Tales from the Tri States

Neal Gamm stands in front of the Forgottonia Capitol Building
Credit WIU Libraries Archives and Special Collections

The idea of Forgottonia started in 1971 as a satire to draw desperately needed attention to an often neglected, 16 county region of western Illinois. The tongue-in-cheek campaign's public figure, Neal Gamm, was a Western Illinois University theater student and the self-proclaimed governor of Forgottonia. "I was pretty good at throwing smoke like a real, old-time politician," Gamm told Nathan Woodside of the McDonough County Voice in 2010. "We didn't ever figure it would take off like it did, but it threw us all in."

The facetious plan was to secede from the United States, declare war, immediately surrender, and then apply for foreign aid. The story gained national attention and Gamm told Woodside some reporters covered it fairly straight, as though it was "the real deal." Some residents of the region enjoyed the joke, others despised it. But it succeeded, at least for a while, in raising the profile of western Illinois and the challenges it faced- many of which remain.

Gamm passed away in November 2012 but Forgottonia lives on. In The Forgottonia Files, Tri States Public Radio will introduce you to the people, the places, the rich history, and the ongoing struggles that make this region remarkable.

The black and white photograph, taken in 1912, shows George "Duffy" Lawton standing outside a clapboard shack propped up on stones and concrete. He's gazing up at the smiling love of his life, Harriette White, whose head and torso poke out through an open window.