“The King of Tramps:” Moniker Writing and the Publicity-Seeking Tramp
Hanofski, Devon Kerney
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As the hobo and tramp emerged in late nineteenth century North America, the two subcultural groups had developed their own distinct cultural traditions that included marking graffiti as a communication tool. Hobo and tramp literature suggests one of the forms of graffiti, the stylized signatory pseudonyms known as “monikers,” were marked upon railroad structures as a way of staying in touch with others travelling by rail across the continent. This thesis explores further the subcultural practice of moniker writing, suggesting another motivation for the tramp’s moniker; to achieve publicity. Using examples documented by the author in North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, and Texas, monikers are analyzed alongside historical newspaper articles in five case studies on tramps “Sailor Kid,” “Mover,” “A-No.1,” “Penn, the Rambler,” and “Tex K.T..” The findings propose that for some tramps, moniker writing was a means to make themselves known beyond the subculture, marked more for notoriety than correspondence. Additionally, some tramps developed relationships with the press to advance their fame and tell the story of how they are the “King of Tramps,” a title attributed to those who hold records in speed, distance, most places travelled, or at times self-bestowed. That is, both the moniker and the press were instruments of publicity-seeking that allowed a subset of tramps to be seen from the railroad to mountaintops. This study offers several theoretical contributions, particularly to the history of North American graffiti from an art historical and material culture perspective. As well, the research lends to the history of tramp culture generally, highlighting the career tramp as an overlooked member of the roving class.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteeBlakely, Jill; Dyck, Erika; Lalonde, Amanda; Watson, Andrew
Copyright DateDecember 2020