Recently, I took a day trip to Hartford, Connecticut and saw the same symbols spray painted on buildings all over the city.

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When I say these are everywhere in Hartford, I mean every single utility pole, every building, every stop sign, at least in the 20 blocks I saw. But, seriously that 20 blocks was impressive. It was here...

Lou Milano


Lou Milano


Lou Milano

You get the idea, I could have taken dozens of photos but that would get old for both of us. When I saw them, I immediately recognized them but from where? It hit me like cold spray paint in the eyelid, it's something called hobo code.

I only know this because I did an article about similar graffiti last year, "Connecticut Residents Try to Make Sense of Symbol Often Found All Over State."

I even drew my own hobo code for the office to see if anyone knew what it was.

Lou Milano

No one knew what the hell it was but I had a good time making stuff up for a few days.

So, you might be asking, what is "hobo code?" It's a way that hobos, drifters, or "tramps" would leave coded messages for one another, sharing information about a neighborhood. If you were drifting into a new town, wondering what you were in for, these messages could give you an idea if you'd be safe, where you could get food or law enforcement might be.

Lou Milano

If you look at the above code and use the helpful charts below, we can get a reasonable idea of what message is being conveyed here.

Upside down triangle either means "tramps here" or road spoiled by other hobos while the circle means "nothing to be gained here." I can't figure what three straight horizontal lines means but three diagonal lines means the area is unsafe so it may have to do with what degree of safety you can expect in a given area. The two vertical lines with the dot in the middle is also an elusive truth. We can figure out from the codes we do have, that the artist thinks this section of town sucks monkey ass.

I honestly don't know if hobo code is legitimately still used today but the markings in Hartford suggest it's a possibility. However, the last time I asked questions about these symbols appearing all over the Nutmeg State, there were many comments from people who believe they are from a graffiti artist who knows hobo code. Maybe the artist is using a dated language to make a social statement?

Either way, it's pretty cool to me. I mean, I don't think damaging city property is cool because law abiding taxpayers will end up having to pay to have it fixed. I just think that coded messages are cool. If we can assume most people don't understand these symbols, you could use them to mess with friends, co-workers and maybe even your boss.

Time for an open book quiz, use the charts above to decipher the code below.

Lou Milano

You think "hobo code" is offensive? Sorry, I didn't come up with the name, that is what it's called.

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