The ICT Hobo Code

Douglas Street Bridge

With trains coming and going in Wichita, there is no surprise that Hoboes began showing up in the 1870’s.  I know hobo is an offensive term when used to classify the homeless population. But when I say hobo here, I’m talking about the people that hopped on and off rail cars looking for work across the country.

Hoboes, mostly teenagers, crisscrossed the country, taking jobs wherever they could, and never staying too long in one place. 

I tried to identify one icon in each picture. If you want to explore the symbols more, check out The Secret Society of Internet Hobos website.

The squiggly line over the oxo means clean water / good place to camp.

Over time Hoboes developed a number of symbols that represented important services along the route. 

The two vertical lines (bottom row, second from right) means anything goes

For example, finding food was usually a problem, forcing hoboes to beg at farmhouses. If the farmer was generous, the hobo would mark the house so other hoboes would know it was a good place to beg.

The picnic table with the o on each side 9 bottom row, far right) means good place to camp

They also showed where to find work, or a hand out and even to mark a place that was bad for hoboes.

The football looking icon (Top row, second from left) means bread

Hoboes placed markings on fences, posts, sidewalks, buildings, bridges, and railroad equipment to help them and others to find help or keep them out of trouble.

The two shovels (Bottom row, third from left) means work available

By 1911, it was estimated there were 700,000 hoboes in America… more recent numbers show there are around 20,000 across the country.

The double rings (lower right corner) means Police here frawn on Hoboes

Interesting note: One of the most popular hobo songs was “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, about a hobo’s idea of paradise. It was first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928.

The circle with the x (bottom row, far left) means Good place for a handout

I could not find much information on the artwork itself. I know that the pieces were part of the bridge restoration project that started in 2014.

The coal car (top row, far right) means trolley
The circle with the diganal line (top row, fifth from left) means Good road to follow
The icon (top, upper right) means Easy Mark
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