The "Hobo Code" Isn't What You Thought

Since the beginning of railroad travel, there have been people hitching a ride on freight trains. This lifestyle reached a peak during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when thousands of unemployed men traveled around the country looking for work. We called them hobos. You may have read about the graffiti they left for each other at railroad stops, cryptic symbols that conveyed information such as how welcoming a town was, whether work was available, and who was likely to give a man a meal.

The truth is, however, that men who spent decades riding the rails are unfamiliar with such a code. People who tell of the hobo code know because they read it somewhere, probably in a newspaper, in which pictures of the code were known to be staged. The one hobo who actually wrote about it was most likely trolling. It's true that hobos left graffiti, but it was for a completely different reason, which you can read about at Atlas Obscura.

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