More than one student has stood, confused, as an elder yelled out, “Hail, hail, Freedonia!” upon learning that the student attends the State University of New York at Fredonia. If you’ve ever been that student, or if you foresee yourself becoming that student in the future, never fear. Freedonia Marxonia is here to answer all of your questions.
Freedonia Marxonia, a two-day film festival and symposium dedicated to celebrating the Marx brothers’ contribution to American culture, will take place this Thursday, Oct. 2 and Friday, Oct. 3.
The Marx brothers were a highly popular family comedy act in the first half of the 1900s. The brothers, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo, starred in vaudeville and Broadway shows, as well as feature films, of which “Duck Soup” was one of their most popular.
“Duck Soup” tells the story of the fictional and bankrupt country of Freedonia, whose citizens are very good at conducting their business in a disorderly fashion, more often than not, ending up in chaos.
In 1987, Fredonia students saw the connection between the name of their school and the name of the country in the movie and decided to make an event out of it: Freedonia Marxonia was born. The festival was a huge success, garnering national coverage and drawing tons of look-alike contest competitors and spectators. The hype died down after a few years, however, and the event ceased to exist until 2009, when it was revived by the students and funded by Douglas Canham of the class of ‘87. Beginning in 2010, the event was funded by the Hahn family, under the Hahn Family Freedonia Marxonia Fund of the Fredonia College Foundation. The festival continues to be funded by the Hahn family today.
This year is the first year that Freedonia Marxonia is being organized by Reed Library, instead of the Foundation House. Cindy Yochym, a reference librarian in Reed Library, is this year’s event organizer, and she is more than excited.
“I’m happy! I’m very grateful that I get to do it, because you meet a lot of people on campus in all different departments,” said Yochym. She said she did not know much at all about the Marx brothers until she began attending Freedonia Marxonia two years ago, when she fell in love with the brothers and graciously took on the task of organizing the event this year, when the position was offered to her.
Her intern, senior public relations major Holly Machuga, is also eagerly anticipating the festival. “I’m excited for the event because it’s so historical here at Fredonia,” said Machuga. “The connection between ‘Duck Soup’ and Fredonia is often made, but students don’t understand it.”
The aforementioned “hail, hail, Freedonia” is what Machuga is referring to. This well-known pronouncement is part of the fictional Freedonia’s national anthem, and many fans of “Duck Soup” love applying the fictional Freedonia’s anthem to the real life town of Fredonia, NY.
In fact, when the movie came out in 1933, Fredonia mayor Harry Hickey wrote a letter to Paramount Pictures expressing his concern as to why the brothers used the likeness of his town in their film. In response to the complaint, the Marx brothers simply responded, “Our advice is that you change the name of your town.”
Yochym, who loves this story, as it creates a tangible link between Fredonia, NY, and the Marx brothers’ Freedonia, noted that “it was all a publicity stunt” on both parties’ ends.
2014 is a special year for Freedonia Marxonia, as it is the 100th anniversary of when the brothers officially took on their stage names of Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. There was actually a fifth brother named Gummo, but he was never in any of the brothers’ movies, and consequently escaped becoming a household name for the most part.
The festival will include a cake to celebrate this milestone anniversary, as well as to celebrate Groucho’s birthday, which is Oct. 2. The cake will be served at the exhibit opening in Reed Library on Thursday, Oct. 2 at 3 p.m. This exhibit, which includes displays such as a Marx brothers history as well as an installment on the various uses of the word “Freedonia,” will be on display through Oct. 15.
Following opening remarks and cake, a group photo will be taken with attendees in complementary Groucho glasses at 3:15. Moreover, all interested parties are encouraged to submit a Marx brothers inspired piece of original art by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, to be entered into a contest that promises cash prizes to its winners. The art entries can be in any medium, and past years’ entries have even included a lifesize caricature of Groucho, as well as a Groucho head made entirely out of vegetables.
On Friday, Oct. 3, a Marx brothers look-alike contest will be held at 6 p.m. in McEwen G24, during which the art contest winners will also be announced. At 6:30 p.m., there will be a screening of “Duck Soup.” Check posters around campus or contact Cindy Yochym at Cynthia [dot] Yochym [at] fredonia [dot] edu for complete details.