14 years ago
The great American Hobo may be a thing of the past. Once a romanticized group of traveling strangers, the classic "hobo" hopped the rail and criss-crossed the United States with just the clothes on their backs. Now thrill seekers may try their hand at hobo-ing, and some modern day vagabonds even use cellphones to communicate! In early American hobo days, the hobos used signs and symbols to communicate with each other and help out fellow travelers with tips on the area and the friendliness of it's inhabitants. If you walk the rail today you may still see some signs of the traditionalist hobos. Learning how to read their symbols will help open the door to the past and help you understand the classic hobo culture.
14 years ago
When Hobos passed through town they would often leave behind discreet bits of graffiti to warn or inform other Hobos who come after them. In the days before spray paint these symbols were done in chalk and usually in places only Hobos would see them. Most of these symbols were very simple and innocuous so they wouldn't be noticed by regular people.
These symbols would point out where there was food or day labor, a safe place to sleep, if the local police were lax or tough and if a particular trail or rail line was safe to travel on.
My favorite Hobo symbol was a crude drawing of a cat, that meant either the home of a "kind hearted woman" or a family that was charitable to Hobos. Hobos like to see themselves like stray cats and people who were kind one were usually kind to the other.