Hobohemia: Introduction

1893 witnessed another fantastic celebration of American success; like the Centennial Exposition of 1876, it too was held in the midst of labor unrest and high unemployment.

The Columbian Exhibition, built along the lakefront of Chicago, was a magnificent neo-classical spectacle. Steel frames covered with a plaster-like material called "staff" which was sculpted and then painted white gave the "illusion of marble and classic monumentality." It was a sight to be seen, "a landscape of fantasy," a somewhat self-conscious attempt to build historical grandeur, to prove elegance and culture. The Centennial Exposition of 1876 put America on the map as a leader in industry and the Columbian Exhibition certainly continued that march. This time, however, the machine was coated in beautiful fantasy and a model City over which Art and Culture ruled, with no room for darker realities, was created. It was not built to last, but while it did, it certainly impressed those who had the fortune to witness it.

Meanwhile, in the shadows of The White City, a sub-city with its own culture was growing; it too was built on impermanence - catering to large numbers of homeless, mostly single, and migratory men - and it too held a population that was becoming increasingly self-aware. That neighborhood centered around one street in Chicago would become known as Hobohemia, and Chicago would forever be known as the Hobo Capital of The World.

This section investigates the social and physical world of the hobo, first in the city, and then out in the jungles and on the rails.

the city