This morning I accompanied my 5 year old daughter, Rachel, on a school field trip to the Orr Family Farm, an “Agri-Tainment” destination in south Oklahoma City. One of the learning highlights for me was seeing this metal sign of “Hobo Signs and Symbols,” posted beside the narrow gauge railway at the farm.

Hobo Signs and Symbols

The history of hobos in the United States is actually quite fascinating. Check out the English WikiPedia article for “Hobo” for a sampling. My older daughter was introduced to the history of hobos via the American Girl movie, “Kit Kittredge,” last year. I found the following symbols on this sign today both amusing and interesting despite my limited background knowledge about U.S. hobos.

These people are rich

These people are rich (Hobo sign)

Kind woman lives here. Tell a pitiful story

Kind woman lives here. Tell a pitiful story (hobo sign)

Police here frown on hobos

Police here frown on hobos (hobo sign)

I never remember studying hobos in history class, either in high school college. Yet apparently, a fair number of people in the 1940s and 1050s idealized the life of a hobo as a carefree existence which might be preferable to the responsibilities and predictable routines of a more civilized life. The history of hobos certainly could provide material for some interesting and colorful digital stories!

The existence and history of hobos is quite real and serious, but our discussions today of hobos also made me think of John Hodgman (known to many as “PC” in Apple’s “Get a Mac” advertising campaign) and his hilarious spoofs of hobo history. I first heard a sampling of John sharing this “history remix” in an interview he shared on NPR several years ago. (“The (Wacky) World According to John Hodgman” from September 2006.) This evening Googling around for a YouTube version, I did find this clever and amusing 7 min, 45 sec version of “Hobo Matters” by John Hodgman, created in a parody style of the PBS series “American Experience.”

This would be an interesting video to watch with students studying the Great Depression, and dissect the actual history from the created / parodied history. According to the hobo sign and symbol reference guide we saw today, John Hodgman is correct when he relates in his monolog that a picture of a cat means “a kind lady lives here.”

A kind lady lives here (hobo sign)

We should be more critical of John’s claim that “intersecting circles meant the local sheriff carried throwing stars” or his memory of “President Hoover’s pronouncement from his hover yacht in the Caspian sea” during the onset of the Great Depression. 🙂

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One Response to Hobo Signs, Symbols, and Parodied History

  1. Dave LaMorte says:

    This post caused me to down a rabbit hole. There are a lot of proponents of similar signs today. On campaign was started by a London homeless magazine called The Pavement as a way to help people who are homeless empower their own community.

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