Streets | Trove of 100-Year-Old Hobo Graffiti Discovered Under a Bridge in the LA River

May 31, 2016  |  Culture, Streets

In this Monday, May 16, 2016 photo, two homeless men walk under the bridge along the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles, where almost extinct form of American hieroglyphics known as hobo graffiti were discovered. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Long before there was graffiti or street art as we know it, the primitive art form of hobo writing ruled the walls ofAmerica. Originating in the 1800s before reaching its creative apex in the 1930s—50s, it was the written word of the itinerant rail tramps that flourished throughout the era who endlessly criss-crossed the country in freight train boxcars as part of a lifestyle that had more to do with itinerant wanderlust than blatant homelessness. Gaining a foothold in freight yards before spreading to city walls, and eventually, the suburbs, these early tags & hieroglyphs communicated everything from personal identity to coded warnings and instruction to other “travelers” about where easy food & lodging could be obtained and dangerous pitfalls to be avoided in unknown towns.

Written largely in grease pencil, charcoal, pencil, and chalk, these marks faded quickly in the open and today almost none were thought to have survived until Susan Phillips—and urban Anthropologist focused on studying graffiti—discovered an incredible treasure trove of undisturbed writings under a 103-year-old bridge in the LA rivers, with one tag by the legendary Hobo “A-No. 1” (aka: Leon Ray Livingston and died in 1944) dated 1914. Another incredible find was a glyph depicting bucking bronco that is signed and dated by the Tucson Kid, July 1, 1921.

Discovered while researching her book “Wallbangin’: Graffiti and Gangs in LA,” the find was “like opening a tomb that’s been closed for 80 years,” Phillips told KPCC. “A lot of the stuff I’ve documented through time has been destroyed, either by the city or by other graffiti writers, and that is just the way of graffiti.” Currently, the Pitzer College professor of environmental analysis is working to preserve and document the markings—funded by a Getty Center grant—as well as discover any more that might remain in the surrounding area.

Read more about it at KPCC

In this Monday, May 16, 2016 photo, two homeless men walk under the bridge along the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles, where almost extinct form of American hieroglyphics known as hobo graffiti were discovered. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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