Hobo Symbols

Hobo Symbols

The American Hobo of the early 1900’s communicated through a basic system of marks. It was a code they used to give information and warnings to their fellow “knights of the road”. Usually, these signs would be written in chalk or coal on a trestle, fence, building or sidewalk, letting others know what they could expect in the area of the symbol.

I learned from both my mother and my aunt that their residences must have been marked. My mom lived in rural Pennsylvania during the depression. My aunt lived on a farm in Ohio some time later. My mom always wondered why the hobos appeared when they were eating supper…as they ate very early because of her fathers hours as a coal miner.

I have represented 10 of the symbols on this piece below is a description of those symbols.

Left side

• A man with a gun lives here

• Doctor won’t charge here

• A kind woman live here – tell a pitiful story

• Good place to catch a train

• Be ready to defend yourself

Right side

• Dangerous neighborhood

• There’s no use going this way

• Fresh water – safe campsite

• There are thieves about

• Good place for a handout