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Tiskilwa Historical Society to host program on hobo symbols

TISKILWA — Many folks in this community have a connection with hobo lore – whether their families occasionally fed these vagabonds, or worked on the railroads where hobos traveled, or maybe even knew a few hobos personally. From as early as the 1880s through the 1940s, hobos were a familiar part of the American landscape, with tens of thousands riding the rails or walking the byways at any given time.

Monday, at 7 p.m. at the Museum on Main, the Tiskilwa Historical Society will host quilter and author Debra Henninger, for a program on making quilts using block designs of cryptic symbols from the Hobo language. Debra’s book, “Hobo Quilts,” includes historic photos and insightful excerpts from letters not only by hobos of the 1930s but by also the people who fed hobos. In addition, her book contains 21 original projects using more than 55 hobo symbol blocks.

As Debra will explain, hobos devised a language of their own, giving directions and advice to fellow travelers – where to find food, water, work, and a place to sleep. They also would clue each other in on how they would be received by a homeowner, the police, the community, or even a particular dog. According to Debra, “The meanings of hobo signs reflect all sides of the transient life, from the honorable to the unsavory ... this subculture was a significant part of American history that is worthy of remembering.”

The Tiskilwa Historical Society hosts monthly programs for the entire community from March through December. The entire Museum on Main, open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is handicapped accessible.


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