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.
• 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
• Dangerous neighborhood
• There’s no use going this way
• Fresh water – safe campsite
• There are thieves about
• Good place for a handout