Archiver > IRISH-IN-CHICAGO > 2007-04 > 1176442200

From: Nan Brennan <>
Subject: [IRISH-IN-CHICAGO] Chicago "Hobo Capital of America"
Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2007 00:30:00 -0500


Chicago became the “Hobo Capital of America” during the late
nineteenth century, as migratory workers hopped freight trains headed
to and from the nation's busiest railroad hub. By the 1910s,
authorities estimated that 300,000–500,000 transients passed through
the city annually, with 30,000–70,000 of them present on any
particular day.

Comprising primarily native-born single white men, this mobile
community established a “hobohemian” district in Chicago. Its “main
stem” occupied a stretch of West Madison Street from the Chicago
River to Halsted Street, where inexpensive restaurants, saloons,
flophouses, and employment agencies catered to hoboes' basic needs; a
similar, segregated district on South State Street, between 22nd and
30th Streets, accommodated African American transients. Just south of
the Loop, State Street burlesque theatres provided hoboes with cheap
entertainment, while the free-speech forums of Towertown's Dill
Pickle Club and Bughouse Square introduced them to artists, Wobblies,
and other political radicals. During warmer months, hobohemia
extended to the “open-air hotels” of Grant and Jefferson Parks and to
the ramshackle, “jungle” campsites that hoboes built behind the Field
Museum, creating an outdoor haven for their political and social
nonconformity, including their unconventional, and often same-sex,
sexual relationships.

From the 1920s, trucking, mechanized farming, and other economic and
technological developments lessened the nation's dependence upon
migratory workers, and their numbers began to decrease. New Deal
programs, including the Federal Emergency Relief Administration's
Federal Transient Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps,
mitigated a temporary upsurge in the transient male population, but
these male-oriented programs offered little assistance to the growing
population of women hoboes in Depression-era Chicago. By the end of
the Second World War, as a more stationary homeless population
replaced the hoboes of West Madison Street, the city's “main stem”
became its Skid Row.

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