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Noted: The Secret Symbols of Travelers and Thieves

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chaps676

It’s practically a rite of passage for every child to create his or her own secret language, often scrawled onto sheets of notebook paper, passed in hallways and behind the backs of teachers. The use of symbols and codes is common among marginalized groups of society, who develop a need to communicate secretly with their brethren. In Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, police recently released a list of seventeen secret symbols used by thieves. As a coded means of communication, vandals use chalk or spray paint to mark buildings and warn fellow criminals. The pictographs are simple and geometric; a sideways ladder indicates a dangerous area to avoid, while a perfect diamond translates to, “No one lives here.”

One of the most well known studies of modern-day secret symbols comes from homeless travelers who wandered the country during the Great Depression, creating a vast set of pictographs that are still documented and translated today (see above image). As men and women traveled with changing harvests, looking for work on farms, they scrawled symbols next to dwellings and towns, informing others of the road ahead. For example, a house with a large “T” written on the nearby sidewalk indicates that the family within will give a traveler a meal in exchange for work. If the “T” were accompanied by a simple drawing of a plump cat, it meant that the housewife was generous and kind.

Chappell Ellison

A code found in the streets of Manhattan.

If you look around, we are surrounded by secret codes. Not meant for general comprehension, yet symbols come in the form of graffiti and altered signs, adorning the walls and streets of public areas. The image above, taken during a rainy walk in New York City, is presumably the scrawling of a city employee, making note of a sewage or cable system below the pavement. The yellow markings are nevertheless a code, meant for the benefit of someone else’s daily life. So keep your eyes open — what may look like incomprehensible chicken scratch might be an important message, protecting and informing a secretive member of society.

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Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.

4 Featured Comments

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  • marymorry

    marymorry says: Featured

    My maternal grandmother lived through the depression and the dust bowl in Kansas. My mother told me about the "kind lady lives here" cat being drawn in front of grandma's house by the men who needed food. . She said grandma never turned anyone away but she always gave them some work to do. I wish I'd been able to know that wise woman!

    3 years ago

  • marsiescrafts

    marsiescrafts says: Featured

    in my area there is a group doing similar marks to denote where internet hot spots or unsecured wireless networks are. funny how old ways help new ones

    3 years ago

  • HeavenlyKidz

    HeavenlyKidz says: Featured

    Hmm..we must have a cat symbol somewhere..we get a lot of people coming by for help. :) When I was working in Harlem in the late 90's I remember seeing pennies on the street or on steps. There were so many everywhere that I asked about it..turns out they were gang codes. Graffiti is becoming a recognized art form..sanctioned and even paid for! That's a great thing for those artists..we can enjoy it, too, w/o struggling to look as it flies by on rail cars.. Thanks..

    3 years ago

  • mettebrogden

    mettebrogden says: Featured

    Hmong story clothes and fiber arts encode histories, and the precursors to these objects went back hundreds of years to enable migrating Hmong in Asia to communicate without language about the dangers they faced. Suppression and marginalization does not mean that people do not have agency: they figure out how to subvert, to survive, and to communicate about the ways to do this where power is exercised illegitimately against them. Or simply economic conditions make it impossible to stay alive in the accepted ways. Hobos did not have work; but they certainly figured out how to work together to survive. Work is such a critical marker in our culture for legitimacy; when it is yanked away suddenly because of economic downturns, Power (with a capital "P") wants you to find another way that is based in the old economy (get a job, any job!), because culture and economic flow have not caught up to present catastrophic conditions. We see this now in many ways: people who are figuring out how to survive despite having completely dropped out of the labor pool because they just could not find any job. Employers who refuse to hire anyone who is not already employed. This is a shaking out of "surplus" labor forcing people to become marginal, disadvantaging them from legitimate participation in the life of the nation. I am hoping that we see a massive flowering of signs and symbols of other ways of being, of hope, and of resistance to fascist ideas that have been gaining footholds everywhere in the U.S. for years, but are really strong now. Thank you for such a provocative post, and for reminding us of the myriad ways that people find to survive harsh conditions. And create beautiful, interesting objects that communicate what they are facing.

    3 years ago

  • Knitarelli

    Knitarelli says:

    So interesting! Thank you for posting!

    3 years ago

  • jbeaudet

    jbeaudet says:

    Very interesting post!

    3 years ago

  • gnarlycat

    gnarlycat says:

    Neato!

    3 years ago

  • scandivintage

    scandivintage says:

    Very, very interesting. Thanks! :) Me and my friend had a secret alphabet when I was younger - I could write it as fluently as the regular alphabet. I could never read the symbols now though, since the code is lost.

    3 years ago

  • OhKnots

    OhKnots says:

    I work for a nonprofit that operates a railroad roundhouse museum and we do a lot of "Hobo Sign" themed things. It's a great way for kids to learn about the Depression. Plus they're just plain interesting.

    3 years ago

  • theroyal

    theroyal says:

    super cool :)

    3 years ago

  • halfmoonroad

    halfmoonroad says:

    The secret language of Hobos has always interested me.

    3 years ago

  • ToosDetectiveAgency

    ToosDetectiveAgency says:

    How cool - I love to know things I'm not supposed to! My mom used to tell me about the hobos that came their house when she was growing up - I'm sure their fence had the letter T with a fat cat!

    3 years ago

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage says:

    Great post ! Never knew these existed!

    3 years ago

  • AlisaDesign
  • GloriousGirlJewelry

    GloriousGirlJewelry says:

    What a fun, informative post!

    3 years ago

  • VintageChinchilla

    VintageChinchilla says:

    I love secret symbols. I totally kept a list of them I made up in my diary when I was little.

    3 years ago

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts says:

    Interesting!

    3 years ago

  • HomeStudio

    HomeStudio says:

    This is great. Very fascinating

    3 years ago

  • DaisyandFlorrie

    DaisyandFlorrie says:

    As I grew up, our home was one that Hobos {as they were called then} always stopped at and asked for food. I'm sure that somewhere was the cat symbol indicating a kind lady as my Mom was. They never stopped at the neighbors' houses only ours. Mom would feed them and give them a sandwich "for the road" and they would melt away into the countryside.

    3 years ago

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy says:

    pictographs are always amazing esp. the mythology that goes with them.

    3 years ago

  • desertrose0601

    desertrose0601 says:

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing. :)

    3 years ago

  • foxpots

    foxpots says:

    I guess those symbols are not so secret anymore! ☺

    3 years ago

  • marymorry

    marymorry says: Featured

    My maternal grandmother lived through the depression and the dust bowl in Kansas. My mother told me about the "kind lady lives here" cat being drawn in front of grandma's house by the men who needed food. . She said grandma never turned anyone away but she always gave them some work to do. I wish I'd been able to know that wise woman!

    3 years ago

  • ArtWhimsCrochet
  • volkerwandering

    volkerwandering says:

    Love it!

    3 years ago

  • lizhutnick

    lizhutnick says:

    really cool.

    3 years ago

  • picklehead

    picklehead says:

    This is great! I've always been fascinated by the romanticized "hobo" life. Traveling by train with a bindle and harmonica. Anyone else interested should read Woody Guthrie's Book -Bound For Glory. He talks about his life and his travels all around the country by boxcar!

    3 years ago

  • Bedevere

    Bedevere says:

    fascinating... I'll note that.

    3 years ago

  • vitamini

    vitamini says:

    So interesting! There was a reference to those symbols on a Mad Men episode from a while back.

    3 years ago

  • bedouin

    bedouin says:

    Hitchhiking through the late 70s and 80s around the world I found in the middle east region had symbols in the local papers of households with open homes for holiday and prayer. Also I learned quickly that the thumb wasn't always the universal symbol for picking up a ride ~*~

    3 years ago

  • barkingdeer

    barkingdeer says:

    You always have great posts. This one is so interesting I had to comment. Thanks again for another good read!

    3 years ago

  • TheNightjar

    TheNightjar says:

    I saw that Madmen episode where the symbol left by the "hobo" was s sign that told others to stay away, I forget what it was, but it was certainly not a cat! Thanks for sharing

    3 years ago

  • shellseye

    shellseye says:

    Really interesting! When I was a child, there was a restaurant called Hobo Joe's, where they displayed all kinds of interesting memorabilia from the depression era hobo lifestyle. There was a display of symbols, very similar the ones you show. They must be pretty universal. Thanks for starting this interesting discussion. Graffiti is another non verbal 'language' & our ancestors had a non-verbal language, that we see in cave paintings, etc. Language truly is everywhere!

    3 years ago

  • paramountvintage

    paramountvintage says:

    this is so interesting.

    3 years ago

  • RivalryTime

    RivalryTime says:

    Wow. I'll be looking around.

    3 years ago

  • thegemreaper

    thegemreaper says:

    Wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading this and am sharing. : )

    3 years ago

  • ZenBrush

    ZenBrush says:

    Love hieroglyphs and symbols like these http://www.etsy.com/listing/87550716/symbols-of-the-astrology-zodiac-zen

    3 years ago

  • youngscreatives

    youngscreatives says:

    Stray animals always come to our house, and my aunt said "you must have a hobo mark in front of your house" hehehe

    3 years ago

  • Minxshop

    Minxshop says:

    Neat!

    3 years ago

  • AlpineGypsy

    AlpineGypsy says:

    Wow, GREAT post. Very interesting....I just love the Hobo-symbology. My great-uncle Herman was a hobo who rode the trains, and I'm sure he would have known what those symbols meant. I love picklehead's recommendation for the book by Woody Guthrie. I'm going to check that out! Heidi

    3 years ago

  • designlab443

    designlab443 says:

    neat post... thanks for sharing!

    3 years ago

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 says:

    On Mad Men it was a sign for "a dishonest man lives here". Interesting.

    3 years ago

  • cmarely

    cmarely says:

    very interesting!

    3 years ago

  • mchonka

    mchonka says:

    very interesting! I am going to keep my eyes open now!

    3 years ago

  • PoetryofObjects

    PoetryofObjects says:

    This is fantastic! My daughter is out travelling, a gypsy and her camper...these characters will be so much fun for her to see! Thanks for the interesting article.

    3 years ago

  • SilverspotMetalworks

    SilverspotMetalworks says:

    A very engaging post! I'd heard of some of these hobo signs before, but I enjoyed the link to other types of symbol language. It fascinates me to think that humans have been communicating with symbols as long as we've been able to scratch lines in the sand, and now we use these ^_^

    3 years ago

  • ikabags

    ikabags says:

    Like to read as always :) Thank you

    3 years ago

  • oopsidroppedmyplate

    oopsidroppedmyplate says:

    Please notice my picture. I love the meaning of it.

    3 years ago

  • OnlyOriginalsByAJ

    OnlyOriginalsByAJ says:

    So interesting! Thanks so much for sharing. My husband loves this kind of stuff, I'll have to tell him to read this :)

    3 years ago

  • demonkitty101

    demonkitty101 says:

    I have always been very interested in Native American culture-talk about symbols!! I guess the hobo symbols were not only secret to 'general public' but also necessarily done that way due to the fact that many people could not read or write,just as today,roadsigns and public facility signs are symbols in our multicultural world where not everyone speaks the same language.

    3 years ago

  • AnnaMartini

    AnnaMartini says:

    modern hieroglyphs!

    3 years ago

  • sammithesheepishlion

    sammithesheepishlion says:

    Very cool! Traveling this past summer through some areas around Iowa, I found there's actually a Hobo museum in our state! They had a flyer with all the different symbols and meanings. It's always amazing the creativity and ingenious solutions humankind can come up with, especially in times of hardship like the Great Depression.

    3 years ago

  • uniquefabricgifts

    uniquefabricgifts says:

    Very interesting post about the secret symbols. I also enjoyed the comments on the generosity of people. Beautiful!

    3 years ago

  • beemine

    beemine says:

    Love this post! I wrote a college paper on the language of hobos, which included many of the symbold shown.

    3 years ago

  • tummytoys

    tummytoys says:

    I always wondered about the Dig Safe symbols on the road and sidewalk and am just glad the guy with the backhoe knew what they all meant. Thanks for the insight

    3 years ago

  • VeloNoir

    VeloNoir says:

    Quite interesting! I first came across one of the symbols used by homeless travelers during the Great Depression while watching an episode from "Madmen." The symbol meant that a dishonest man lives in that house.

    3 years ago

  • RossLab

    RossLab says:

    So it is not a legend... so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    3 years ago

  • happygohandmade

    happygohandmade says:

    This is so much fun! Thanks for the article

    3 years ago

  • driftforever

    driftforever says:

    Nice article!

    3 years ago

  • NoFrump

    NoFrump says:

    nifty! :)

    3 years ago

  • CuffNGo

    CuffNGo says:

    Wow. Very interesting! Thank you :)

    3 years ago

  • PinkGlassPalace

    PinkGlassPalace says:

    Love the subject, very interesting!

    3 years ago

  • cheshirecat411

    cheshirecat411 says:

    The symbol from madmen was the one represented in the picture as HALT, but in madmen it was the symbol for A Dangerous Man Lives Here. Great post, I found the reference in Madmen very interesting. It made me want to leave secret messages across the countryside. I think its great to hear more about it. Thanks for the info:)

    3 years ago

  • cartelle

    cartelle says:

    This is so cool, I had no idea - thanks for sharing, now I can pass it on too.

    3 years ago

  • PattiTrostle

    PattiTrostle says:

    My grandmother told me about signs like this when I was a kid. I have never seen any myself. Interesting..thanks for posting this!

    3 years ago

  • HouseOfMoss

    HouseOfMoss says:

    I like how you tied in the modern construction marks with the old-time hobo code!

    3 years ago

  • butterflygirlfly

    butterflygirlfly says:

    Loved this story! In these modern times you would not suspect to see or have a idea that this existed. I believe Hobo's who road the trains had similar communication system used among the rail riders.

    3 years ago

  • mooyie

    mooyie says:

    Anyone seen the episode of Mad Men where they mention the old-time hobo codes?

    3 years ago

  • marsiescrafts

    marsiescrafts says: Featured

    in my area there is a group doing similar marks to denote where internet hot spots or unsecured wireless networks are. funny how old ways help new ones

    3 years ago

  • HibouCards

    HibouCards says:

    I've always been fascinated by these signs... thanks for sharing this with us :) Oh and yes I've seen that episode of mad men, it was a good one!

    3 years ago

  • ChristiesStuff

    ChristiesStuff says:

    My great grandma was the recipient of the kind lady cat symbol too. Thanks for reminding me!

    3 years ago

  • SouthernBellaVintage

    SouthernBellaVintage says:

    Very interesting post. My grandma use to tell me of stories about her mom giving the hobos that use to come around their house odd jobs to do for money or sometimes a meal. Also in the movie, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, they talk about the hobo codes. Cute movie BTW.

    3 years ago

  • SouthernBellaVintage

    SouthernBellaVintage says:

    Very interesting post. In the movie, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, they talk about the hobo codes too. Cute movie BTW.

    3 years ago

  • sweetsmilesbaby

    sweetsmilesbaby says:

    I second SouthernBellaVintage's reference to the Kit Kittredge movie, that is exactly what I thought of. Such a relevent movie for our times, although it is set during the Great Depression.

    3 years ago

  • SouthernBellaVintage

    SouthernBellaVintage says:

    whoops added that twice...;-o

    3 years ago

  • HeavenlyKidz

    HeavenlyKidz says: Featured

    Hmm..we must have a cat symbol somewhere..we get a lot of people coming by for help. :) When I was working in Harlem in the late 90's I remember seeing pennies on the street or on steps. There were so many everywhere that I asked about it..turns out they were gang codes. Graffiti is becoming a recognized art form..sanctioned and even paid for! That's a great thing for those artists..we can enjoy it, too, w/o struggling to look as it flies by on rail cars.. Thanks..

    3 years ago

  • Iammie

    Iammie says:

    Interesting article!

    3 years ago

  • junquegypsy

    junquegypsy says:

    My Kentucky PaPaw lived as a hobo during the depression and told of similar markings. I'm sure gypsies traveling through in later years had equivalent codes.

    3 years ago

  • Nikifashion

    Nikifashion says:

    Great article!

    3 years ago

  • rach5551

    rach5551 says:

    these instantly reminded me of that episode of Mad Men where the hobo spent the night at Don's parents' home . Seeing the "review" the hobo left on Don's fence post deeply affected him. Very memorable episode: "The Hobo Code" (I even remember the name!)

    3 years ago

  • gmyzo

    gmyzo says:

    This is so interesting :)

    3 years ago

  • thedaydreamer

    thedaydreamer says:

    It's amazing how we take so many things around us for granted.

    3 years ago

  • VioletdaleJewellery
  • Platinat

    Platinat says:

    It's time to be aware about symbols around us, hehe :)

    3 years ago

  • missquitecontrary

    missquitecontrary says:

    Wow, thanks for featuring my salvaged 'hobo symbols' print front and centre for this super interesting article! I think the point you raise about symbols being used by marginalized groups is pretty important - and something (besides the compulsive love of travel and fear of setting down roots) that really draws me to the symbolism of the 'hobo sign'. The idea that a secret language can evolve in order to communicate 'under the radar' or to subvert cultural and social expectations is a pretty empowering one, and allows these marginalized groups to not only survive within societies that attempt to persecute or oppress them, but to create and maintain their own culture within this society. I think that's pretty awesome, and pretty inspiring.

    3 years ago

  • missquitecontrary

    missquitecontrary says:

    picklehead - loved 'Bound For Glory' and anything else Woody Guthrie related - he's a bit of a personal hero to me!

    3 years ago

  • Abushco

    Abushco says:

    Great - thanks for sharing with your knowledge!

    3 years ago

  • sarantos

    sarantos says:

    I take it you watched that Mad Men marathon last Sunday? ;) We had a stray cat that adopted our house. His nickname was Hobo. I think there is a paw print out there pointing at our house since they seem to always find us..

    3 years ago

  • peshka

    peshka says:

    A great post !! Thanks for sharing!

    3 years ago

  • muffintopdesigns

    muffintopdesigns says:

    what a thought provoking post - in this era of smartphones and texting and email, we forget the simple power of the written symbol. ah, the joy of communication - no matter how we do it!!!!

    3 years ago

  • xxxRedStitcHxxx

    xxxRedStitcHxxx says:

    great and interesting post! thanks!

    3 years ago

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery says:

    Fascinating stuff, a secret language right beneath our feet!

    3 years ago

  • EcoFriendlyBridal

    EcoFriendlyBridal says:

    um... Is that a Japanese flag to indicate bad water? Yikes! Great article though!

    3 years ago

  • TheJoyofColor

    TheJoyofColor says:

    enjoyed reading this interesting post. I was always drawned to signs and symblole they look strange and magical unless you have the code

    3 years ago

  • Cheydrea

    Cheydrea says:

    I enjoyed this very much!!

    3 years ago

  • SquareCrafts

    SquareCrafts says:

    very fun read

    3 years ago

  • JewelMeShop

    JewelMeShop says:

    Very interesting and informative post! Thanks for sharing!

    3 years ago

  • runa2003

    runa2003 says:

    Being interested in Codes and Ciphers I found this post really interesting. It certainly makes me wonder how many other 'secret codes' there are out there!

    3 years ago

  • MissHildebrandt

    MissHildebrandt says:

    We gave one particular one work always late summer! The most beautiful hobo ever!

    3 years ago

  • ashbhorn

    ashbhorn says:

    Thanks, nice post!

    3 years ago

  • nemesisjewelry

    nemesisjewelry says:

    there was also an episode on Criminal Minds where they featured these codes. very cool post btw.

    3 years ago

  • yourcharmedlife

    yourcharmedlife says:

    very neat!!

    3 years ago

  • SomsStudio

    SomsStudio says:

    Incredible!! What a fabulous article!

    3 years ago

  • mettebrogden

    mettebrogden says: Featured

    Hmong story clothes and fiber arts encode histories, and the precursors to these objects went back hundreds of years to enable migrating Hmong in Asia to communicate without language about the dangers they faced. Suppression and marginalization does not mean that people do not have agency: they figure out how to subvert, to survive, and to communicate about the ways to do this where power is exercised illegitimately against them. Or simply economic conditions make it impossible to stay alive in the accepted ways. Hobos did not have work; but they certainly figured out how to work together to survive. Work is such a critical marker in our culture for legitimacy; when it is yanked away suddenly because of economic downturns, Power (with a capital "P") wants you to find another way that is based in the old economy (get a job, any job!), because culture and economic flow have not caught up to present catastrophic conditions. We see this now in many ways: people who are figuring out how to survive despite having completely dropped out of the labor pool because they just could not find any job. Employers who refuse to hire anyone who is not already employed. This is a shaking out of "surplus" labor forcing people to become marginal, disadvantaging them from legitimate participation in the life of the nation. I am hoping that we see a massive flowering of signs and symbols of other ways of being, of hope, and of resistance to fascist ideas that have been gaining footholds everywhere in the U.S. for years, but are really strong now. Thank you for such a provocative post, and for reminding us of the myriad ways that people find to survive harsh conditions. And create beautiful, interesting objects that communicate what they are facing.

    3 years ago

  • fmgypsy

    fmgypsy says:

    This was really interesting, thank you!

    3 years ago

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies says:

    How cool is that?

    3 years ago

  • sylviatrench

    sylviatrench says:

    my grandfather, arrested for vagrancy in his youth, was a hobo who probably used these symbols when he was "riding the rails"...my mom actually had a sign with all of them on it hanging in her kitchen. it was always fun to look at...but dont get me started on secret codes...i am paranoid enuff without even trying ;)

    3 years ago

  • dreamaginarius

    dreamaginarius says:

    What an interesting post. I never expected to read something like this in Etsy. Thanks for sharing a bit of culture with us Chappell!

    3 years ago

  • saccusonline

    saccusonline says:

    This would make a great poster! :D

    3 years ago

  • deciduoussoul

    deciduoussoul says:

    As an art teacher my students are always fascinated by lessons on Native American pictographs, and there are many connections we make to other types of symbols- quilt symbols that had meaning in the underground railroad era, hierolgyphics, and I especially like the ancient Chinese symbols that were actually little pictures that later became simplified. Keith Haring is a modern connection they can relate to with his subway symbols. thanks for an interesting post!

    3 years ago

  • BigBadBuddha

    BigBadBuddha says:

    Woo who knew

    3 years ago

  • gilstrapdesigns

    gilstrapdesigns says:

    This was very interesting. I remember see something about this in a movie.

    3 years ago

  • Everydayness

    Everydayness says:

    Super interesting, thanks!

    3 years ago

  • JennasRedRhino

    JennasRedRhino says:

    Many of these drawings remind me of alchemical symbols. How do pictorial languages like this get started, anyway? How did the homeless people of the early 20th century learn these symbols? Were they the same all over, or where there regional dialects? Were pictures used partially due to illiteracy, or just because this was a sort of fraternal shorthand among hobos?

    3 years ago

  • HeatherLucille

    HeatherLucille says:

    Several of these symbols were on the side of a barn on the farm my parents purchased in the early 1970's. My brother and I were fascinated with them growing up and always hoped some hobos would travel by. None ever did, to our knowledge, but we had a rich fantasy concocted regarding possible stories about the original artist.

    3 years ago

  • QuirkMuseum

    QuirkMuseum says:

    Another cool little story that gets us all thinking. These symbols are part ancient pictograph and part modern graffiti. No wonder they resonate for a lot of artistic people. Thanks again Chappell.

    3 years ago

  • dahlilafound

    dahlilafound says:

    This is fascinating. I love that secret codes can still appear in a modern world outside the internet, in our real lives. Will keep my eyes open.

    3 years ago

  • tinaquiltseverything

    tinaquiltseverything says:

    And quilts had signs and symbols in them, hung in the days of the underground railroad....during and after the Civil War.

    3 years ago

  • CreativeCardsForYou

    CreativeCardsForYou says:

    This is really interesting!!

    3 years ago

  • Craftelina

    Craftelina says:

    A very interesting insight. This subject is close to my heart. Always wonder about codes and secret languages. Thank you very much for bringing it up here. :)

    3 years ago

  • CasualGoddess

    CasualGoddess says:

    \Great article. *******Where would I look to get more info on this topic?? Also, has anyone noticed the spam a few comments up? I was recently spammed by a shop I had favourited offering me a discount if I buy.

    3 years ago

  • euphoriacouture

    euphoriacouture says:

    this is really amazing! great article. :)

    3 years ago

  • ronyroy

    ronyroy says:

    Great Article............. read more................/zapit. nu / 1mF

    3 years ago

  • OceanBeachGlass

    OceanBeachGlass says:

    There are many of these type symbols on and in the empty buildings in Holland used by us wandering souls.. enjoyed reading this thank you.

    3 years ago

  • rcarpant

    rcarpant says:

    I travel a great deal in the southwest. A favorite pasttime for me there is looking at pictographs and petroglyphs. Having looked at thousands, maybe millions, my opinion is that they are mostly (though not all) trip diaries and notes to fellow travelers. Most are grouped along migration routes, most are map/hunting/seasonal marks. Directions to safety, food and shelter. How to avoid old battlegrounds and possible enemies. Old societal signage pattern, buried deep in history, still used today. People have searched out, used and marked unsecured wifi ever since it was invented. Mine is secured. Whenever I bring mine up because it has been turned off by my malware cleaner, three or four of my neighbors' unsecured systems appear on my list also. Not safe for them- usable by hackers as shield addresses. Same old system, works as well as it always has.

    3 years ago

  • seahrse

    seahrse says:

    Fascinating post! I remember seeing the fat cat pictograph by my grandmother's house but always thought that the many "visitors" were patient's of my grandfather. Now I know that my grandmother was offering them a "meal for the road". Thank you for sharing.

    3 years ago

  • naomieads

    naomieads says:

    LOVED the hat we bought!!!!! I am definately going to keep coming back!!!!

    3 years ago

  • anjimuschi

    anjimuschi says:

    that "kind woman lives here, tell a pitiful story"- traditionally, it means "mother/housewife inside, tell her you have kids to get a good haul" Still works in the 21st century.

    3 years ago

  • anjimuschi

    anjimuschi says:

    also, 2/10 is a reference to breaking a thieves' thumbs. that's how many fingers get broke... I did a series of paintings and articles about hobo slang and culture. If you've ever hopped a train you get to meet some interesting people.

    3 years ago

  • TerraCollageArt

    TerraCollageArt says:

    I have never thought that these signs are still being used. I have learnt about them when watching an American Girl movie "Kit" with my daughter.

    3 years ago

  • lovecatstace

    lovecatstace says:

    Love this so great

    3 years ago

  • jessirainey

    jessirainey says:

    I have the cat symbol for kind lady on my back right shoulder.

    3 years ago

  • beulahcrusoe

    beulahcrusoe says:

    my greatgrandmother was a 1930s caterer on the Southside of Chicago, she had a cat carved on her fencepost by the gate by the "hobo' men who would come around for a hand-out. she would always feed them --if they peeled potatos or swept the walkway or scrubbed pots etc. that cat always fascinated me as a kid, and in the 1980s I began to collect them as architectural scraps from the area. I have several hand-carved old posts with the cat on it and also average 12"x12' pieces of boards cut from the sides of really old sheds, they all are the 'good-hearted woman lives here' cats.

    3 years ago

  • lauraslastditch

    lauraslastditch says:

    I think if any potential thief peeks into my living room and sees the 1987 13" TV in the living room, he'll put the big 'O' symbol on my sidewalk, indicating "there is nothing to be gained here." Or maybe I should just paint it there myself.

    3 years ago

  • 5gardenias

    5gardenias says:

    Wonderful feature-- and I agree with metabrogden-- people will always find a way to communicate in order to survive...the symbols and signs that develop due to need are all the more powerful and potent.

    3 years ago

  • sarahsquiltsncrafts

    sarahsquiltsncrafts says:

    The farm I grew up on had a railroad running through it. Hobos who jumped the caboose for a free ride stopped in occasionally. My mom usually made them chop a basket of firewood or some other small chore indicating their appreciation before they could have a meal, which was always taken out to them afterward. I remember one man who wore a long and heavy wool overcoat year round. When asked why he responded with "What's good for the cold's good for the heat." Doing our assigned chores before we could eat was something my parents believed in. I remember being sent away from the table because I hadn't done the tasks that were requested of me - either I forgot or I thought I could get away with it! I was told to not come back to eat till I had done the work.

    3 years ago

  • dkeenan50

    dkeenan50 says:

    So interesting and yes, have noticed all kinds of codes and usually believe it's the city or a silly mark by a youth. A fun thing to search for and talk about at coffee. Find one new symbol and location and try to figure out it's meaning.

    3 years ago

  • JenMcLamb

    JenMcLamb says:

    Cool - I love secret symbols...so interesting!

    3 years ago

  • CoolBeans2

    CoolBeans2 says:

    A very interesting post. I don't think that any of the gang graffiti we have been seeing around our area lately is from hobos. I do wish I knew what it said though. It might be good for every family to have a secret language.

    3 years ago

  • feltstories

    feltstories says:

    great post

    3 years ago

  • StillPlaceDesigns

    StillPlaceDesigns says:

    Fun timing...we just did a secret message necklace! :) http://www.etsy.com/listing/88993975/secret-message-necklace

    3 years ago

  • ClayLickCreekPottery

    ClayLickCreekPottery says:

    This brought back memories of my great grandmother's house. She lived next to the railroad tracks and I remember a small sun painted on her garage--Have never found a image withing the hobo signs that quite match it, though. Thanks for the post.

    3 years ago

  • saladgyrl

    saladgyrl says:

    There are codes in trail signs too, Native Americans made natural symbols by bending trees to point the way http://www.greatlakestrailtreesociety.org/trail_tree_about.html there are simpler signs you can see or make on trails also http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/back-to-school-activities11.htm

    3 years ago

  • ILikeThemOld

    ILikeThemOld says:

    love this!

    3 years ago

  • KitschyVintage

    KitschyVintage says:

    Very interesting -- I'd heard of the hobos' symbols, but hadn't seen them.

    3 years ago

  • tableclothpad

    tableclothpad says:

    I like this post is so interesting.

    3 years ago

  • WingedWorld

    WingedWorld says:

    The symbols and their translations are fascinating.

    3 years ago

  • ferrijoe

    ferrijoe says:

    Perusing an old depression era history book prior to an auction, there was a notation of people in a central Illinois infirmary for the indigent as being R&W, translated as able to Read and Write.

    3 years ago

  • jeffutogo

    jeffutogo says:

    http://www.chinabuzz.net/ also delivered a smilar report about the secret symbols from thieves released by the police. I was wondering whether there were such secret symbols among thieves in the western countries.

    3 years ago