I recently came into possession of a new laptop, meaning a fresh hard drive to fill up and a bloated old one to wipe clean. As a chronic not-follow-through-er of personal projects, migrating files from an old computer to a new one always leads to plenty of self-reckoning as to which half-baked ideas I'll never actually bring to completion, and therefore what data-fauna won't be making it onto the ark this time around.
During this purge (spoiler: very little was in fact purged!) I happened upon a brief email thread with a man named Fran Delorenzo. I found his website in 2012 while researching 'hobo signs' – the little covert symbols that hoboes used to etch into fenceposts to communicate to one another the specific benefits and/or risks of this or that town or homestead. I had grand plans to do some kind of project involving these symbols: not only are they esoteric and amusing, but with some leaps in logic I thought I could draw parallels between their simple lines and the modern navigational iconography that bombards us every time we open a browser.
Fran’s Hobo Page is a sprawling mess of early-era HTML pages, part folk encyclopedia, part community hub, and part sales pitch for his self-published books and cassettes. Among all of this are 100+ examples of these 'hobo signs', so I'd emailed him asking permission to make use of them. As it goes with old emails, I somehow lost my original message, but I have his response:
You’re certainly welcome to use the signs from my site. As I tell many people, "The signs don't belong to me. I just collected them over the years". They are graphics so you should have no problem down loading them to use. If you access some of the sites on my Hobo Links Page you'll see that different sites show some of my graphics and some sites even use them as wallpaper. Actually I started learning them from Hoboes that had a jungle near our house, in Boston, MA when I was still quite young.
Aside from the fact that I traveled as a Hobo, and entertained as one, Hobo History is something that has always fascinated me. that's one reason I wrote, and print, my small book about The American Hoboes. All of the signs are, naturally, printed in there and, also several pages of words the Hoboes used, with their meanings.
I love answering questions people email to me from all over the world. I'm too damned old to travel any more but I still get to meet many interesting people through email.
If the site you're proposing is connected, in any way, to Hoboes, or their lives and / or history, send me the address when you have it running and I'll add a link to it on my hobo Links Page.
Thanks for writing and good luck with your project. All the best to you an yours, always.
Great Grand Hobo Duke of Cyber Space
The fact that an elderly man (82 years old at the time of that message), who by all accounts had been at one point in his life a legitimate rail-riding hobo, was now single-handedly administering an online empire of hobo paraphenalia and lore, and corresponding with generosity and grace to who-knows-who around the world, and calling himself "the Great Grand Hobo Duke of Cyber Space" is fantastic. I hope you'll agree.
It's no huge surprise that my hobo sign project never got off the ground, but rediscovering the email prompted me to look Fran up again and I learned that he passed away only 8 months after our short correspondence. Or, as his obituary puts it, he "…went to catch the Westbound".
Here's hoping the janky old servers hosting his site, like so many rotting fenceposts, manage to remain upright for years into the future, providing guidance and knowledge to whoever may drift by, hobo or otherwise.
Update 2018: His website, along with the entire company hosting it, is offline.