No offense intended: unlike calling someone a “tramp” or a “bum,” the word “hobo” is associated with traveling workers. A bum doesn’t work at all; a tramp will only work if forced to do so. A hobo, on the other hand, is a semi-respectable figure of the American underground that emerged in large numbers following the end of the American Civil War. Traveling from city to city, hobos developed an emoji-like visual code to help keep each other safe, often marking buildings with chalk or coal. Hobo symbols would indicate, for example, that it’s safe to camp nearby, or that nice, generous people live inside. These hobo codes helped migrant workers deal with the often dangerous uncertainties they would face on the road. So what do these mysterious symbols mean? Here’s a look at some symbols hobos would have encountered during their travels.
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