The (mostly) true story of hobo graffiti

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  • Published on:  Monday, July 16, 2018
  • What we know about hobo graffiti comes from hobos — a group that took pride in embellishing stories.Subscribe to our channel! is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out our full video catalog: Vox on Facebook: Twitter:, or tramps, were itinerant workers and wanderers who illegally hopped freight cars on the newly expanding railroad in the United States in the late 19th century. They used graffiti, also known as tramp writing, as a messaging system to tell their fellow travelers where they were and where they were going. Hobos would carve or draw their road persona, or moniker, on stationary objects near railroad tracks, like water towers and bridges.But news stories at the time spread tales of a different kind of graffiti. They included coded symbols that were supposedly drawn on fence posts and houses to convey simple messages to tramps. Seeing an image of a cat on a fence post indicated “kind lady lives here,” for example. While this language probably existed to a certain extent, it certainly was not as widespread as the media led readers to believe. In reality, these stories were largely informed by hobos — a group that took pride in embellishing stories so they could remain elusive.


  • Hyun Seok Ryu
    Hyun Seok Ryu  a years ago +816

    The one rule of the Hobo code is that you do not talk about the Hobo code

  • William Fisher
    William Fisher  a years ago +864

    My great-grandmother's house was definitely marked. She would make biscuits and gravy for any hobo or drifter that knocked on her door but she never advertised that so her house had to be marked.

  • US
    US  a years ago +965

    I saw some graffiti in a city in Socal with the USB and Wifi symbol. Started looking for a hotspot.

  • Van Hendrix
    Van Hendrix  a years ago +1485

    "I was here"

  • Tohru is My waifu
    Tohru is My waifu  a years ago +317

    I thought the title said hobo giraffe, I’m disappointed

  • []
    []  a years ago +434

    "Peak Hobodom"... I like that term

  • The Senate
    The Senate  a years ago +106

    "Thieves guild shadowmarks explained"

  • Marc Shanahan
    Marc Shanahan  a years ago +556

    Ah, The Hobo Code. One of my favorite episodes of Mad Men.

  • Pierce Arner
    Pierce Arner  a years ago +66

    Incidentally, I now also have a better understanding of the intention of the title, "Lady and the Tramp" than I did before watching this video.

  • Sorzin
    Sorzin  a years ago +116

    I guess we all want to be remembered

  • Cadza
    Cadza  a years ago +127

    kilRoy was here

  • Dave
    Dave  a years ago +238

    So tramp stamp?

  • Nathan Johansen
    Nathan Johansen  10 months ago +45

    These hoboglyphics are hoborific.

  • Documentales express
    Documentales express  a years ago +82

    Sorry Vox for being too perfectionist, in the minute 0:16 you show the photo of a Rock, that Rock is called "La Piedra Movediza" or "The Moving Stone" it's In Tandil, not in Buenos Aires, I just say it because I live there and I'm HYPED!

  • Robert Henry
    Robert Henry  11 months ago +19

    I think you should have a least mentioned other forms of Hobo art, like one of my favorites, Hobo nickles. It's basically a nickel or other coin that's been carved to have a new image, often depicting a hobo or a hobo scene.

  • Angelique
    Angelique  a years ago +278

    Someone at vox surfs reddit

  • MickeyKnox
    MickeyKnox  a years ago +90

    Like a Hobo I was born, to walk alone ...

  • TheSurlax
    TheSurlax  a years ago +21

    This is one of my most favourite channel, you get to learn so much stuff you will never need in your life and yet still wont feel like you are wasting your time watching their videos instead of studying or working. And they are great at explaining complicated things in a simple way, especially visualy

  • Robert Henry
    Robert Henry  11 months ago +12

    Hobos and Hobo culture still excist even today. Back in the 90s I even hopped a few freight trains with some.

  • Sona
    Sona  a years ago +93

    If they published books with the meaning of the symbols, wouldn't that help the police catch them ? Just wondering. . .