Sandburg's Hometown

July 15, 2013

Tramp smoking cigar and cane over arm - Illustration

Tramps, Tramps, Tramps

By Barbara Schock 

The economy of the United States was beginning to go into decline in the winter of 1893 after the collapse of several banks. The slump would last for most of the decade. It was later called the Panic of 1893. Many workers lost their jobs. Some of them looked for work in other locations, but there were few jobs in those places.

 This article from The Daily Republican-Register of February 22, 1893, provides some insight into the situation. The hotel d’Coakley mentioned in the report is a reference to the chief of police, Isaac Coakley. He was in charge of the jail in Galesburg. Coakley was a veteran of the Civil War like some of the transients he admitted to the jail overnight.

 “The police station gave up no interesting item this morning, and yet the cells were all occupied. Tramps! tramps! tramps! The boys are begging. On a chilly evening the average tramp has a choice of two expedients to get a sleep and keep warm. One of these is to hunt the windward side of a haystack some place in the suburbs, and the other is to apply at the police station to be locked-up over night. They don’t have to walk so far, and they frequently make business arrangements with new pals whom they meet in the cells of the city lock-up.  Some of the fellows lodged at hotel d’Coakley are good looking fellows but more have faces on them resembling pictured sin. Some are bad, some are worse in their intentions. All of them get the bounce promptly at 7:30. Unfortunately, the officers have not the time to keep up the bounce act until the last bounce carries them outside the city’s limits.

 “When these vagrants leave the calaboose they commence to beg as soon as they are out of the officers’ sight. One of the rascals this morning had the nerve to ask a prominent citizen for a loan of $1.40 (approximately $32 in today’s money). He was tolerably well dressed and said the reason he had to ask a loan was because it was Washington’s birthday and he couldn’t cash his check. No book agent could discount his check either, he might have added. When the city has a work house this condition of affairs will cease and the tramps and thieves who now make Galesburg a point on their route will give the city a wide berth. Hurry it along! Meanwhile don’t blame the police because the tramps are so plenty.”

 Being a railroad town contributed to the number of hobos and tramps traveling through Galesburg. Empty boxcars being returned from the east to the west gave the travelers the opportunity to hop a freight to the next town. The younger hobos could jump on a train moving 15 or 20 miles per hour. If a man missed, it was instant death. The railroads had extensive corps of detectives to prevent theft and keep the free riders off the freight trains. Some towns wouldn’t tolerate vagrants within their city limits.

 Galesburg was affected by the Panic of 1893 as were many other cities across the country. August Sandburg had his working hours cut in half along with other employees of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. His family was reduced to spreading lard sprinkled with salt on their bread. Carl and Mart helped their father plant a large garden and they had a good crop of potatoes to store away for the winter. Several neighbors and the Sandburgs pooled their money and purchased a hog from John Krans. They butchered it and made sure they used “everything but the squeal.”

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity