Independent Study Project
Introduction to Contemporary Sociology 101
Professor Hartley

The Hobo As An American Archetype: Myth, Reality, and Field Research

Co-Authors: Jill M. "Missy" Harrington and Thomas C. "Chip" Woodson

Method: Goal was complete immersion in "hobo" subculture by way of understanding whether the hobo lifestyle is chosen or genetically predetermined. Essentially the "nature" versus "nurture" sort of argument. Preparation included reading many anecdotes and texts about the hobo lifestyle, researching places where hobos might best be found, and conducting interviews and focus groups whereby to collect data. Experiential component included actually embracing the hobo lifestyle for a time so as to completely understand it.

The mystique of the hobo is one that pervades American Folklore. These individuals can be described as modern American cowboys, living off the land and the good graces of charitable folks. They put themselves often at risk of physical peril or death by "jumping" (boarding) moving rail cars so as to travel from city to city.

Those hobos that find comfortable surroundings which meet their needs may stay for a while in any given locale. Hobos are a homely but all-in-all charming bunch. This report sets out to debunk the myths behind these members of society and define the hobo lifestyle in contemporary American society.

The Relation of The Hobo to The American Railway

Employees of the Metro-North Railroad were peculiarly silent about the existence of hobos, pooh-poohing them as a "thing of the past" or "glorified bums." This team set out to find out for ourselves if indeed the employees of Metro-North had something to hide. We'd heard that hobos often spend time out of the heat of the summer sunshine resting under railroad bridges. We set out to find a suitable bridge, and did, just about 1/4 mile north of the Greenwich train station. But when we got there we didn't see any hobos and found a big huge mouse, I think they call them rats, and Missy screamed and made me carry her back to the car, where she locked the doors and took 15 minutes to get herself back together. When Missy got home she showered for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Further Research on Hobo Locations and Habitat

Ever vigilant, we decided that perhaps we'd go slumming and find a hobo. Chip knew of a bridge over the Saugatuck River in Westport where we could go look. All we found were a bunch of losers smoking pot and drinking cheap (ack! Heineken!) beer. We told them we were looking for hobos. They didn't take too kindly to us, and in fact, appeared threatening. Chip was afraid they'd try to take the keys to his dad's Beemer so we left. We took off up the Post Road to Sakura to have sushi and cold sake and ponder our next move.

At Sakura, we found a nice woman to talk to who told us she was an artist, writer and actress and to come with her and she'd tell us a thing or two about hobos. We gave her a ride home, because she couldn't get her car started. When we got to her cottage we had to wait because she said she had to feed her cats. Boy! She must have had two dozen cats! Half-way through, she gave us a list written on the back of an envelope. She said "here, give this to the man at the liquor store and bring these things back and I'll show you all you want about hobos!"

There were things that we never saw before on this list. (Well, Chip remembered the "Popov" vodka from a frat party a while back, but he'd brought his own hip flask of Scotch, so he figured this time he'd give it a try.) There were names of all kinds of "Malt Liquors." Chip figured these were single-malts, which can be very expensive. That's when we started getting the feeling that this lady didn't know what she was talking about.

The nice guy at the Saugatuck Wine Shop had only two out of the ten items on the list. He suggested that we go to a package store in Norwalk to find the rest and he kindly gave us directions. We drove all the way to Norwalk on route 95 and found the package store. It was scary 'cause there was a guy standing outside asking for money. Missy locked herself in the car again and wouldn't let Chip back in until the beggar left, so Chip gave him a dollar and told him to go somewhere else.

It turned out that the cost for all of our purchases was only $37.65. It would've been cheaper had we bought small sizes of everything as instructed by the lady but we decided we'd be polite and make sure there was enough to go around.

Drinking Like Real Hobos

When we got back to the cottage with the artist lady and all the cats, we had to knock for a while before she came to the door. She told us she'd been napping. We told her we got what she wanted and asked if we could beg an hour of her time or so to discuss our project. She welcomed us into her home. She told us "now, my good young friends, we're gonna drink like hobos!"

Well, we'll tell you this much, none of this stuff was single-malt Scotch. It tasted more like really crappy beer. Some of the "wine" really, really tasted like cough syrup. But for the sake of investigation, we tried everything. Missy's favorite was this stuff in cool foil-topped bottles called "Champale." Chip drank Graves grain alcohol and orange juice until he puked on the lady's floor. Then the cats all came running out of nowhere and licked up all of Chip's puke! Eeeeew. Gross!

The lady told us a story about a guy named Norman who was a real live hobo. Apparently she and Norman traveled in railroad box-cars all over America, camping out at night at hobo camps where they'd all eat beans out of the can, heated over a fire made of wood pieces. We can't really go into details about her trip because she fell asleep a lot during her story. And we forgot to take notes.

Finally she got up and told us she was going to make us a hobo dinner. She opened a can of Campbell's pork and beans and put it on her stove and turned it on. That was our cue to leave. We told her we'd really like to stay for dinner but that our parents were expecting us.

We went to Pancho Villa's for Tex Mex instead.


Well, we looked all over Fairfield County and couldn't find a hobo. We conclude that hobos are more myth, created from the crafty pens of depression-era writers, than they are reality. I mean, who'd want to live under a bridge anyway?

— A nodeshell rescue found on the list of cool empty nodes on Danneeness's homenode.