Hobo signs were made by the nomadic workers who roamed the United States, taking jobs wherever they could, and never spending too long in any one place. The Great Depression (1929–1939) was when numbers were likely at their highest, as it forced an estimated 4,000,000 adults to leave their homes in search of food and lodging. Of those, 250,000 were said to be teenagers — the economic collapse had destroyed everything in their young lives. They criss-crossed the country, usually by freight train, jumping into boxcars as trains pulled away from their stops or slowed at bends in the track.

Hobo signs and symbols
Hobo signs displayed at the National Cryptologic Museum, Annapolis Junction.

Finding food was a constant problem, and hobos often begged at farmhouses. If the farmer was generous, the hobo would mark the lane so other hobos would know it was a good place to beg.

Markings in the form of signs and symbols would be made on fences, buildings, trees, pavements — anywhere a message could signal help or trouble. In the words of Susan Kare, who designed the original Macintosh icons, “This kind of symbol appeals to me because it had to be really simple, and clear to a group of people who were not going to be studying these for years in academia.”

Hobo signs and symbols
Hobo signs, from Symbol Sourcebook, by Henry Dreyfuss, via bLog-oMotives.

Translations for some commonly used signs:

  • A cross — “angel food” (food served to hobos after a sermon).
  • A triangle with hands — the homeowner has a gun.
  • A horizontal zigzag — a barking dog.
  • A square missing its top line — safe to camp in that spot.
  • A top hat and a triangle — wealth.
  • A spearhead — a warning to defend yourself.
  • A circle with two parallel arrows — get out fast, hobos aren’t welcome.
  • Two interlocked circles — handcuffs (i.e., hobos are jailed).
  • A caduceus symbol — doctor living in the house.
  • A cross with a smiley face in one of the corners — the doctor will treat hobos free of charge.
  • A cat — a kind lady lives here.
  • A wavy line (signifying water) above an X — fresh water and a campsite.
  • Three diagonal lines — not a safe place.
  • A square with a slanted roof (signifying a house) with an X through it — the house has already been “burned” or “tricked” by another hobo.
  • Two shovels — work available (shovels, because most hobos performed manual labour).

The hobo symbols in the photos below were drawn onto a small model of an early-1930s American town.

Clockwise from top left (above): kind lady, judge lives here, good place to catch the train, camp here.

Clockwise from top-left (above): vicious dog, nothing to be gained, water and safe campsite, owners will give to get rid of you.

The number of travelling workers fell dramatically by the 1950s, as Jack Kerouac, no stranger to the hobo life, noted in Lonesome Traveler (1960):

“The American Hobo has a hard time hoboing nowadays due to the increase in police surveillance of highways, railroad yards, sea shores, river bottoms, embankments and the thousand-and-one hiding holes of the industrial night.”

One of the most well-known hobo songs is Big Rock Candy Mountain, first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, about a hobo’s idea of paradise. It was used in the opening credits of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Details via:
ssoih.com (hobo signs)
dangerousminds.net (guide to hobo symbols)
weburbanist.com (hoboglyphs)
horailroad.com (hobo codes)
Wikipedia (hobo)
Riding the Rails (on YouTube)
livinghistoryfarm.org (farming the 30s — no longer online)

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like a look at the Symbol Sourcebook, by Henry Dreyfuss.


As a retired railroad worker, we had hobos 45 years ago and would see some of the same people every year… coming north in spring and going south in autumn. Chicago was a major hub, as was Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Green Bay, South Pekin, St. Louis. Never had a problem with any of them, and a little water and a few dollars would get you stories till they crawled into a boxcar and went on their way.

This is great. In a world where people can’t even bear to look at someone who is homeless, this highlights the knowledge and thought that they put into communication in their lives. Sometimes all you have to do is stop and look.

Hobos are not the same as homeless people of today. Hobos WOULD work; they just traveled around to do so. They were more like nomads. Today, homeless people tend to want everything handed to them and are lazy and ungrateful.

Generalizations are necessary as one cannot discuss every single person separately. We wouldn’t live long enough. This was a reasonable generalization, accurate in general.

Actually, at least in the midwest, this generalization is far from accurate. I have experience with the homeless. Very few of them are lazy and extremely few are ungrateful. Less experience here, but when the homeless work they tend to be good workers.

I do think a good generalization may be to say that mental illness is above 50% in the homeless of the midwest. Especially if you include a drug or alcohol addiction with that definition. And as mentioned the economics now are much different than 100 years ago for traveling workers.

….The fact that your generalization is extremely inaccurate is literally the problem.

Generalizations can also be harmful because it leads to stereotypes and you ultimately miss out on data.

Yes, yes, of course, that makes perfect sense. In the ‘old days’ EVERYTHING was better. Men were dominant, women were subservient, minorities and gays stayed quiet or got beaten and killed, and in general everything just had a rosy glow about it.

Gee, even old time homeless people were superior. Not like these awful MODERN homeless who never have jobs (except for the thousands that do, but still can’t afford housing. But, y’know f*ck them because they don’t fit the narrative).

Thanks for blessing us all with your profound historical insight.

“Men were dominant, women were subservient, minorities and gays stayed quiet or got beaten and killed, and in general everything just had a rosy glow about it.”

Too bad those good old days are gone.

Gabe you are so right! Everything was way better back then. Not so much on the racial side but not everything is perfect. It’s funny people like you love to live in the past when it comes to the bad things but never see the good things from the past. The other person was right. The modern day homeless is nothing like the Hobo. The Hobo at least tried to find work. I don’t begrudge someone for living a different lifestyle till it starts to affect others. Look at what’s going on in Cali, it’s a horrible thing what the residents there have to tolerate.

My dude I’m literally from Cali, and we’ve got a massive homeless pop in my city. It didn’t used to be so bad… the crash of 2008 did a number on us and we basically never recovered. We just got used to people suffering and dying and learned to ignore it, like what’s happening with corona now. I’m fairly involved with the homeless community, and most are scraping and clawing on the daily to try to get ahead, are honest and kind and look out for each other and anyone who helps them. And that INCLUDES the crazy and drugged up ones! They’re still a bit dangerous cuz of the unpredictable nature of such things, but damn are they trying. There’s just no opportunity, especially not legal or socially acceptable opportunity. Most of us are pretty close to being them, so it’s pretty dumb classism to think the very poor living in tent slums must be so because of their own actions – that’s some victim-blaming logic to make yourself feel safe. It could happen to any of us. It happened to many people we wouldn’t have thought back in 2008, PTA moms and suburban dads, losing jobs and homes, means to support their kids… unless you have family to help you out, once you’re that low it’s near impossible to pull yourself out. Most ex-homeless stories, they took 5+ YEARS to be able to get off the streets!

Meanwhile… did these people really ignore the whole section up there about these markings being used to plan and carry out scams? Suckers, easy marks, talk religious for a handout, tell a sob story… the hobos of the 1930s – a time affected by massive economic collapse, just like today – were not any more ethical or any more likely to work. People in the 1930s actually had much smaller workloads on average than the modern day, as a “normal” household only had one working adult, and one full-time stay at home mom. Nowadays you need two working adults just to scrape by, and you certainly can’t support your elderly or a ton of kids on that like you could back in the day.

The fact is, this is the hardest working generation in a long, long time. Probably since about the industrial revolution, where it was also common for wives and children to work long hours in factories. Taking into account domestic work, such as chores, errands, getting groceries and cooking, etc… the average person today in America works about 14 hours a day. In the Middle Ages I’d estimate serfs worked around 12, varying by season. Modern hunter-gatherer societies work a little less than 2 hours a day on average. The problem isn’t the workers. It’s the people we allow to sit on their ass and mooch money off of the average Joe, and survive any misfortune cause by their bad ideas with government handouts – corporations. The owners are making massive profits off the work of others, and not lifting a finger themselves, living in the lap of luxury while trying to convince people our hardships are caused by THE POOR being lazy! What kind of idiot believes that? If you make a lower wage you have to work so much harder to make ends meet, and class mobility is terrible – there’s no working your way to a better station for most people. You die in the same socio-economic class you were born into, or lower. That’s just a statistical fact of modern America.

Handy way to let yourself off the hook for not giving a damn about people in the many varied circumstances you don’t take the time to understand.

Does every conversation have to end up being someone talking shit to someone else? Speaking of things people can’t stand. Looking in the mirror and trying to pick a fight? Jesus guys, we were discussing symbols.

Hilarious how triggered these righteous fools are. This is called an opinion. You can handle them, respondents, even the ones that are different from yours. If you disagree, simply ignore. No chastisement needed.

How intolerant are the virtue-signaling leftists these days. The generalization was more or less accurate, there was nothing to suggest the sexism or racism that the left wing fascists immediately bring up.

Except you’re the only one who’s brought it up so far…
Funny how that happens!

It is interesting that people think that the homeless were not around back then, either. The reason the word hobo came into being was/is to distinguish between those who demanded to work (typically seasonal labor), and those that simply asked for everything (including money); it was simply asking for food that was the common denominator between both groups.

I enjoy the suggestion that hobos do not have any similar issues, clearly they did. But the asking for money was what the distinction needs, as it is meaningful towards their character. But please, keep on thinking that everything is relative to your modern understanding (most insane people were locked away in asylums and neither homeless nor hobos).

During the great depression, my grandma had what amounted to a soup kitchen, she told me that upwards of 90% of men would not accept free food, they were too proud, so, if my grandparents had no work for them, my grandma had a wood pile in the back yard, she would tell someone that she needed it closer to the woodchute, when the next guy came, she would tell him she needed it closer to the back door, my point being that, like today, a large percentage of “homeless” people do want to work, but are unable for whatever reason, and there are a lot of able-bodied freeloaders out there too, that will turn down a meal if required to do actual work for it.

I’ve known people that travel the country doing their own line of work, because that’s how they choose to live, go someplace for whatever reason, work for a few weeks, months, even years, then up and move somewhere else. I think that’s amazing and would’ve done it myself, if not for these meddling kids. That last part was a joke, I love and adore my family, and wouldn’t change a thing.

You must be young, for I once thought like you. Never judge or assume you understand the reason this person is living a life like he is. No one wants a handout or to degrade themselves for a meal. If you think it’s easier than a job go stand on a corner and take the abuse they get everyday and see how that person feels. Ask yourself what is easier, a job or to ask for a handout? It will change your perception of how hard of a life they have.

That was when people WOULD hire anybody. Nobody HIRES homeless people. If people would actually give any sort of chance to someone who doesn’t “have the right clothes, have a phone, have a car, have experience in that field” then maybe they’d have a chance. Your comment proves just how entitled you are, and aren’t worth any benefit to society simply because whatever you may give, your instinct is to take double and not share.

People with homes paint an entire portion of our population with the same brush of ignorance. Oh wait. Not all of them are ignorant or hateful.

I absolutely agree with you! That’s all facts. It’s so much different now than it was back then.

I live in San Francisco and have found that a great deal of homeless people have tremendous trauma & mental illness depending upon how severe and are incapable of living in the extremely rigid linear technological world. Some are possessed by demons (Schitzophrenia) while some are magical immanations who give blessings to people like Angels. They test us and our Spiritual health and values. In India holy men choose the life of the Sadhu to gain Spiritual realizations. They are treasured & revered – not hated and scorned. Not everyone can live in this increasingly complicated, insanely disconnected tech world. A lot of casualties at the End of Empire.

I’m trying to find the meaning of a particular symbol. It’s a triangle inside a circle. The circle touches all three points of the triangle. Additionally, inside the triangle is a cross, the top of which meets where the top of the triangle and circle meet. The center horizontal piece on the cross stretches across the interior of the triangle. Any ideas?

They would come up from the rail stop from this dense pine forest and come to the back door of my mama’s house. She would feed them and they would be on their way. Mama would give them some beans and corn bread or something. There must have been writing and signs by the railroad stop.

My mother was always ready, as the train depot was a mile from our house in South Florida.
During harvest seasons, we’d see the same men, year after year.

I still have the post they carved the cat into as my lead post on my farm.
(Lighter knot fencing lasts forever).

It’s a shame nobody knows why the cat is there these days.

My dad told me about hobo signs. After his mother died when he was 8 or 9, he and my aunt were abandoned by their father, and so my dad rode boxcars throughout Pennsylvania where he encountered and heeded them everywhere he roamed. This was in the late 30’s. Such a different ‘childhood’.

Thanks for the post, it brought back some great memories with my pop.

You might see locals along railroad tracks in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, “picking coal.” The coal-fired steam engines often scattered pieces of coal along the tracks, and families would send kids out with buckets to pick up all the pieces of coal they could find to use in the coal stoves and furnaces in their homes. This was common back around the Great Depression and in the 5-10 years following.

Symbols aside, it’s amazing how despite their situation, people are thoughtful enough to leave messages for others in the same plight. Isn’t this act a symbol of a remarkable intelligence itself? Any more reference materials on this?

A person becomes homeless and all of a sudden they lack intelligence? How condescending.

The homeless have wits and smarts and take it that every day of their life up til then had been basic training for the rest of their days. They utilize every available resource to survive in a world from which they’ve been cast away… most, I’m confident, are more intelligent, enlightened, and wise than you’ll ever hope to be.

Much of today’s homeless where I live are meth users or are mentally ill. Being homeless in the depression era was far different than the life the majority of the transients are living today. Intelligence and ability to reason and survive can be greatly affected by substance use as well as ones age and background or stresses they might be under.

There are a lot assumptions made about the homeless. Last year’s homeless survey here in L.A. indicates that together the mentally ill and substance abusers account for only 20% of those living outside. The reason we have the misconception that all homeless have these issues is because they are the most conspicuous.

I’d like to know more about this survey. Was it asking the homeless? Was the survey expecting the mentally ill to self-identify as such?

Again… hobos were NOT the same as merely homeless. Hobos were workers. Homeless people of today are lazy beggars for the most part.

A lot of homeless people actually can’t work. If they have a health condition which prevents them from working, for instance. Do you really think people would choose to be homeless?

I remember one doctor accused of killing his wife, he jumped on a train and traveled the country, and it turns out a one armed man actually killed his wife.

Clever! Believe you’re referencing The Fugitive, 1963 TV series (David Janssen, William Conrad) or 1993 movie with same title (Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones). Both were excellent.

My wife grew up near Sam Sheppard, who was the physician accused of killing his wife who gave the story that it was a one-armed man. That was the basis of the TV show. Rocky River, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

True people often fail to see the difference between hobo and bum. Back then there was a clear difference. Hobos wandered around looking for work. Bums just wandered around begging. I tend to see the hobos as an American version of gypsies, working people without a home base, mix of good and bad alike, where bums are like today’s homeless who beg, total lack of any thought to move forward in life. I have personally experienced being homeless due to my circumstances. Getting back on your feet isn’t easy, and many give up, no struggle, all is free, why try. It all depends on the person.

You don’t know what you are talking about. Hostility to work and exploitation was integral to the culture of the IWW, and many Wobblies hopped trains.

No reason for you to be so rude. BTW I’m not aware that any of today’s homeless have devised a communication system like this. And…given that entire education system in U.S. seems to have dumbed down, you think that doesn’t apply to homeless as well? Or you think they’re all geniuses who have just CHOSEN homelessness? SMH

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for hobos. My favorite clown was Hobo Kelly. Was fortunate to have made my childhood dream come true, and be a clown with Ringling. I love cigars. How they represent the uppercrust, finer things, and Wall Street. Also how they represent the hobo. A half smoked cigar is a true gift for the man down on his luck.

Why, if ¨hobos¨ were trying to survive, why would they mark those symbols? How would they have time to mark them if there was a dog or a person chasing them? How do we know it was actually ¨hobos¨ if we weren’t there.?

Here’s a modern equivalent – I take time during and after my run to let other trail users know about problem places. I log the places where the footpaths are bad, gates are locked and similar inconveniences on run tracking apps, and hiking community sites. When I’m out in the field too, I clear paths that are overgrown, and clean off trail signs that have become hidden under dirt.

Pioneers left marks along trails, stacks of stones and other symbols, to let those who followed know of dangers, water, campsites, and other useful bits of info. Boy Scouts once studied these. Not sure if they still do.

Exactly Hunter. We’re working on sharing our thoughts on hobo signs, but academics like Nels Anderson rode the rails in the early 1900s for years and refuted the actuality of any signs. There are many different sets of signs, which often disagree with one another on meanings, even of the most simple of signs. Also, most sets contain too many signs and signs that make no sense. “Friendly campsite” or “Friendly Jungle” makes no sense at all. This would be entirely dependent on who was in the jungle at the time and that could literally change day by day.

In over 50 hobo autobiographies I’ve read I have never once read a first hand account of a hobo consulting signs. Any mention of them is either the same old printout of them in the back of the book as a piece of interesting kitsch, or from the perspective of a homeowner saying something vague like, “There must have been a sign since we had so many hoboes coming to our door.” Well with over 12 million people unemployed in the height of the Great Depression it’s easy to believe that over 2 million were out riding the rails, so of course if you lived near the tracks in a decent sized town you would have been seeing hoboes all the time. What you do read about in almost every hobo autobiography is word of mouth traveling up and down the rails; which towns are good, which are hostile and should be avoided.

Eventually our writeup will be shared at http://www.historicgraffiti.org

I can’t speak for all the signs, and I agree that some seem a little improbable or impractical, but I know the simple X is true. When my dad was a kid in the 1930s, he said a hobo begged his mom for food. She gave him something to eat, and let him sit on the steps while he ate. After the hobo left, a neighbor walked over and told her the hobo had marked her house with a chalk X to let other tramps know they can get food there, and my dad said sure enough, it was on the side of their steps. Frankly I think that’s a crummy way to repay a kindness.

Reading this story made me think that perhaps the traveller marked the x in order to remind himself that he had already asked and been given food there so as not to ask at the same place again – it was probably difficult to share what little anyone had at the time so this could have been a thoughtful gesture so as not to put too much burden on the kindly household. Just a thought.

My Grandmother, Manda, lived near the railroad. She never turned down anyone who came to her door asking for food. I have heard the stories of the x on a telephone pole next to her house, as she always fed the Hobos, but it was such a wonderful surprise to come across this article, that validates our families story. I have always been so proud of my Grandmother’s dedication to feed others. She did it in so many ways.

My Grandmother lived on a ranch in Burbank CA in the ‘40s, next to the Glen-Bank wrecking yard. The Railroad through the Valley was across a big field in the back, hobos used to come walking across the field to our house and when she saw them coming, she got a bag of food and a jar of water ready to give them. My Grandpa didn’t care much for her doing that though, lol!

I was told by my Dad that my grandfather, whom I’d never met, was a hobo. He played the harmonica and taught it to my Dad. My Dad could make it sound like a train going down a track. Sounded great. The rhythmic sound of wheels followed by the moan of the horn. I wish I’d made a recording of it. Grandfather came from Saginaw, Michigan, and rode the rails down to the Southwest. He did settle there and remained a lumberjack until he died – in his sleep. From all reports, he was a kind man. He raised my Dad, and built a smalll home down a ways from his for his wife. They didn’t get along, seemingly due to her nature, not his. He also played the violin by ear and was remembered by my Dad as being kind to animals. I wish I’d known him!

I just met a kind young man, 33 years of age… and he is a true track-walking, train-riding, railroad hobo. Behind my house are railroad tracks that he had been walking. He came up the side street, walked past my house (said he didn’t need any water when I offered) and asked me how far the next town was.

He kept right on walking. I went inside and gathered up some money, got in my car and went to look for him. He was several blocks away at the local ice cream Dari. When I asked him if he was going to walk the old route or take the highway… he smiled, and said he was taking the tracks. That’s when he told me that he was a hobo. What a joy it was to talk to him. He said that he carries a pastel with him and will write his “handle” and a brief message with the date at different stops that he makes.

My mom, who is 87, said that her mom would always feed the hobos (in the 1930’s) whenever they stopped.

My dad would recount stories of hobos stopping by his childhood home in Mississippi during the depression. My grandfather was a locomotive engineer. He and grandmother would feed hobos passing through that would come to the back door. Dad remembers walking out into the backyard and seeing his dad sitting at the picnic table feeding an armless man. The hobo had lost his forearms when he tripped while trying to catch a train. He admitted to grandpa that their home had been marked as a friendly place to stop.

My grandparents lived in the hills of Vermont. My mother told me there were fence posts or trees that were marked by “hobos or tramps” to tell others that my grandparents would feed them and might let them sleep in the hay barn. Mom’s family was very large and struggled. Sometimes they had potatoes with hot lard poured over them. If that’s what the family was having, that’s what the tramps ate as well.

My grandmother kept a huge cauldron of soup going all day. The hobos would often come to her back kitchen door and a bowl of soup would be handed to them with a slice of bread slathered with butter.

The hobos were generally young illiterate men who were looking for farm work or seasonal factory work. They somehow knew to make their way to her house. She was not the only lady in her neighborhood serving them. They knew who the feeders were by the sign language and would spread out so as to not burden any one person who was feeding them.

Times were desperate during the depression and many women stepped up to provide these men with food. They were looking for work and just trying to survive. During that time the country was still more agricultural than metropolitan which is why they rode the rails to get work on the farms and packing houses. A different time then.

My uncle was a hobo who rode the rails out of New Mexico to Sacramento CA. The last time I saw him was 1962. He came to visit us in Tulare County, CA where we were living at the time. He went out to the fields around the house and came back with some rabbits. Mom cooked them and served them with beans, rice, tortillas and salsa. When Juan Corona was killing transients on the Feather river my dad thought it might be his brother but as it turned out dad died in San Jose, CA in 1991 and my uncle died in Sacramento in 1995.

I had to cross some railroad tracks on my way to junior high school in the early 60s. There was a sort of hobo encampment there among some trees. One day I met a hobo and spent a couple of hours talking about the life he led. It made such a lasting impression on me that after high school I took off and hitchhiked around the country.

Part of that journey was riding the rails a couple times. The first time was from Roseville CA over the Sierras along the north fork of the American River I think. Riding in a gondola car open to the sky on a full moon night was one of the most scenic and memorable times of my life. Same journey blasting across the Great Salt lake at high speed and seeing derailed cars alongside the tracks was sobering. Got kicked off the train in Morgan Utah by the yard cops. Went from there hitchhiking across Canada and ended up at Woodstock. What a summer!

My great grandparents always fed and clothed anyone that came to the door during the great depression. They believed they were doing God’s work because they had money and so many didn’t. I remember my grandma telling me stories and how they had a cat painted on papers that were put in windows on the two sides of the house that faced the streets.

Because my grandma saw the generosity and non judgement, she also became that way and passed it down the generations.

What the younger generation needs to understand is that times were different then. People were FORCED to leave their homes and families. There were NO jobs and so most men and even families had to live the nomadic life. Most that came to the door didn’t want a handout and would do some kind of work as payment, even though my great grandparents didn’t have any or even asked for any compensation. Sometimes they would wake up to things that had been worked on during the night.

A couple of young kids came to the door. They fed and clothed them, tried to make them stay but they were trying to get to some family. The two girls were determined to wash dishes and clean the kitchen, their older brother, 13 or 14 yrs old, helped my great grandpa with his car. They slept in beds that night and were gone by morning.

So I am a Homeless person who has chosen to be that way. Modern society is terrible, the people in it mostly only care about themselves and the linings of their pockets. I am not unintelligent nor am I useless and the same goes for other homeless people too, not all but some. Most homeless people where I’m from can’t get work even if they try, most businesses won’t hire you because they believe you will be unreliable or something to that extent, I know as it has happened to me on many occasions.

Yes there are homeless that are alcoholics and drug addicts or just flat out lazy that won’t get a job but there are also people in society that choose to mooch off the government their whole lives and frankly are just as much a waste of space as homeless of the same nature (oxygen thieves as I call them).

People who haven’t been or who will never be should not judge those who are. What’s the saying ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ that goes for all of you putting down people for being less secure in life than yourself. The hobo code to me is one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve seen, connecting a nation of people together via markings and it should be brought back for modern homeless just updated to suit today.

This was great to read. I respect you because being homeless must be very hard. The stereotype should change, and people should respect homeless people.

Hobos, I’m told, routinely stopped by my grandmother’s home in Providence RI, and yup, she routinely fed them.

My father, was a child and told me stories about sitting on his back steps visiting with them and listening to their stories of far away places with strange names; hobo lore if you will. He said their home was evidently “marked” by the hobos (the cat sign I’m guessing), as a reliable place for a meal.

I’m not surprised my grandmother gave out food, but what does strike me is that she didn’t fear her son having a visit with them. Can’t imagine a mother today looking out a kitchen window as her child had a good chat with the modern day equivalent of a hobo. Not to romanticize the past, times were clearly TOUGH, but the thinking then was that a hobo was just a regular fellow swept up in the depression, out of work, who fashioned a life for himself any possible way he could. Kind of like the rest of us.

My mom told lots of stories about the depression. She was born in 1920, just so you get the idea of her age at the time. Yes my grandmother would feed the travelers if they would weed the garden. They had a table outside just for them. Mom said they “marked” the house somehow or a place on the tracks with the address.

My mom belonged to a “Mother’s Club” and at a meeting one night a gentleman gave a talk about his experience as a hobo. My mom mentioned her address to him and he said he knew just where that was. Talk about full circle. You never know who you are talking to. Great memories and times.

I really enjoyed this article. The fact that a system of symbols has emerged to help one another is fascinating and lovely in a way. It’s hard to imagine this lifestyle being as accepted nowadays, but as someone who works on trees and outdoors, I often fantasize on leaving the city life and living a simpler one in nature.

My grandparents always had a simplistic cat shape on their barn or fence and never turned anyone away for a meal or a place to sleep if the weather was bad. My grandmother told me that the cat was a symbol that meant a “kind-hearted woman resides within.” As a college professor, I have always had that symbol above my door and it has always brought students to my door in need of help. As a sociologist, I have taken my students to an underpass two blocks from the college, where they have hunted for symbols. Once back in class, we try to separate fact from fiction.

I embrace our history good or bad, it is the only way we can learn from our mistakes and hatred and come together as Americans.

I am old enough to remember the Hobo, seen the homeless problem, seen the racial problems, then and now, remember when Kennedy and Martin Luther King were killed. Remember when the 10 commandments were removed from the classrooms and when we would honor the flag in the classrooms. It’s all history, it’s all part of us, good or bad, and we need to teach our children so they do not repeat the bad.

Interesting but not clear how credible.
How did Hobos scattered across the country standardize on a set of signs? Did they have a Hobo Convention? A Hobo Sign Commission?
Did no towns/owners not object to this graffiti?

As can be seen in the old IWW song ‘Hallelujah, I’m a Bum!’ many hobos had a conscious antagonism to capitalist exploitation:

Oh, why don’t you save all the money you earn?
If I didn’t eat, I’d have money to burn.
Whenever I get all the money I earn,
The boss will be broke, and to work he must turn.
Oh, I like my boss, he’s a good friend of mine,
That’s why I am starving out on the bread line.
When springtime it comes, oh, won’t we have fun;
We’ll throw off our jobs, and go on the bum.

Hobos weren’t obedient saps who loved hard work for bad pay any more than any other intelligent and rebellious member of the wage slave class.

Kevin Keating
Buenos Aires

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