Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Well-Tuned Facts About Tennessee

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

If it weren't for America's 16th state, we wouldn't have cotton candy, Mountain Dew, or—gasp!—Dolly Parton. Below, 25 facts you should file away about Tennessee.

1. Mountain Dew was invented there. The popular neon soft drink was originally developed by brothers Ally and Barney Hartman as a mixer, something to cut the acrid taste of homemade moonshine. Pepsi bought the Hartman brothers' lemon-lime concoction in 1964.

Bellczar via WikimediaCommons // CC BY-SA 3.0

2. Theodore Roosevelt coined the Maxwell House slogan “good to the last drop” after tasting a cup of coffee in Nashville. Except he probably didn’t. And it may not have even been Maxwell House Coffee. Confused? Here’s the deal: For decades, Maxwell House has claimed that in October 1907, Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed a particularly amazing cup of their java at Andrew Jackson’s estate near Nashville. Upon finishing it, TR smacked his lips and said, “Ahhh... good to the last drop!” Now, if you think a perfect advertising campaign dropped from the lips of one of the most popular presidents ever sounds too good to be true, you’re likely right.

Though he was in Nashville in October 1907 and was known to enjoy vast quantities of coffee, there’s no proof that he uttered any such thing. What’s more, the now-defunct Fit-For-A-King coffee once claimed the coffee Teddy enjoyed that day was actually their brand, and what he really said was, “This is the kind of stuff I like to drink, by George, when I hunt bears!” 

3. Tennesseans are sometimes referred to as “Butternuts.” The seemingly odd nickname dates back to the Civil War, when soldiers from the state wore tan uniforms that resembled the color of the winter squash.

4. Residents are often also called “Volunteers,” and the state nickname is “The Volunteer State.” That story also has wartime origins—so many men from the area fought in the War of 1812 that newspapers referred to them as “the volunteers from Tennessee.” The name caught on.

5. Love a good game of putt-putt? Thank a Tennessean. Garnet Carter patented “Tom Thumb Golf” in the late 1920s. While other putting greens and mini courses existed before then, Carter’s was the first to incorporate small obstacles like gnomes and hollowed out tree trunks, which were meant to complement his “Fairyland Inn” in Chattanooga.

6. Another concoction from Chattanooga: The MoonPie. Legend has it that the marshmallowy treat was invented in 1917 after the owner of the Chattanooga Bakery asked a coal miner what kind of snack he’d like to pack in his lunchbox. Something with graham cracker, chocolate, and marshmallow, the miner said. Then the baker wondered how big the pastry should be. The miner held his hands up to the sky and framed the moon.

Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

7. Motorists traveling through the Cherokee National Forest may find themselves passing through the so-called Shortest Tunnel in the World. Backbone Rock in the Appalachian Mountains stood between a train route from Damascus, Virginia, and Shady Valley, Tennessee, so workers blasted a hole in the rock in 1901. They realized after the fact that they had forgotten to leave room for a train’s smokestack and had to hand-chisel enough space for it to pass through. It did the trick, and soon, the Beaver Dam Railroad was able to haul 100,000 boards every day for the Tennessee Lumber and Manufacturing Company. The train route eventually closed, however, and the 20-foot tunnel was repurposed for the highway.

8. The cotton candy machine was invented by a dentist from Nashville. Perhaps trying to generate more cavities to fill, dentist William Morrison and candymaker John C. Wharton co-created the cotton candy machine in 1897. They debuted their device at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, where it was an immediate hit: They sold 68,655 boxes for 25 cents each.

9. Up until recently, Patrick’s Pub and Grill in Copperhill, Tennessee, straddled the Tennessee/Georgia state line—and due to state laws, the Georgia side of the bar was dry. The layout of the pub also allowed people to grab a bite to eat in Tennessee, then pop over to Georgia to use the bathroom. The gimmick apparently wasn’t enough to keep the place open, however, and it closed sometime in 2015.

10. There have been so many songs written about Tennessee that it has 10 official state songs—including one state rap. The first song, “My Homeland, Tennessee,” was adopted in 1925. “Rocky Top,” arguably the most famous, was adopted in 1982. Here’s Dolly Parton’s rendition:

11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the U.S. With more than 10 million visitors per year, it bests the Grand Canyon (4.8 million), Yosemite (4 million), and even Yellowstone (3.5 million).

12. President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah Polk are buried at the state capitol building, mostly because no one knew what else to do with them. When Polk died in 1849, he was buried on the grounds at Polk Place, his estate in Nashville. But not long after First Lady Sarah Polk passed away in 1891, the heirs to Polk Place sold the grounds to a developer. The bodies had to go somewhere, so someone suggested that the government do something to honor the 11th president. State officials found a spot for the Polks on the capitol grounds.

Stacy Conradt

13. You probably know the opening lyrics to the Davy Crockett song, even if you don’t know a single word after that. That first line, “Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee” is partially true—David Crockett really was born in what is now Tennessee, but it wasn’t a state at the time. And his birthplace wasn’t on a mountaintop, but on a relatively flat stretch of land. But what might be most surprising to some people is that Davy Crockett was a real person, not an American tall tale. Crockett represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives before dying during the defense of the Alamo in 1836.

14. Memphis is home to one of the five most-visited private homes in the United States. Elvis Presley’s former home, Graceland, hosts more than 500,000 visitors annually. Tourism varies by year, but Graceland is usually second only to the White House, which often sees more than 100,000 visitors every month.


15. Tennessee hosts the world’s longest-running radio show—you probably know it better as the Grand Ole Opry. The show went on the air as the “WSM Barn Dance” in 1925. It was later deemed “The Grand Ole Opry” by show host George Hay, and it’s still on the air more than 90 years later.

16. At 4.5 acres, the Lost Sea in the Craighead Caverns near Sweetwater, Tennessee, is the largest non-subglacial underground lake in the U.S. Visitors can cross the lake in a glass-bottomed boat, but there’s no bottom in sight—in fact, there’s a large series of “rooms” connected underneath, and divers have yet to find the end of them.

17. It may come as no surprise that Tennessee is the birthplace of country music, but the genre's specific home isn't the town you think it is. In 1927, music producer Ralph Peer recorded more than 76 songs in downtown Bristol, Tennessee, in just 10 days, bringing in performers from around the Appalachian Mountain area. This included the Carter family, later declared the First Family of Country Music. Congress officially proclaimed Bristol the “Birthplace of Country Music” in 1998.

18. The state was once home to Tanasi, the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1721 to 1730. The capital was eventually absorbed by the town of Chota, which then became the capital instead. The official site is now underwater, but a marker erected in 1989 pays homage to what once was. You can find it in McGee Carson Peninsula State Historic Park. And yes—the state may have been named after this village.

Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

19. Once upon a time, there was a copper mining operation in Ducktown, Tennessee. The environmental damage done at the site was so vast—23,000 acres of severely eroded and scorched earth—that it could be easily seen from space, allowing astronauts to use it as a landmark, along with the Great Wall of China and the pyramids in Egypt. Happily, the Tennessee Valley Authority stepped in to help reclaim the land. So far, their efforts have restored 11,025 of the 23,000 damaged acres, including the reintroduction of native fish and songbirds.

20. The three stars on the Tennessee flag are meant to represent the three Grand Divisions of the state: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. The white circle that surrounds them represents the unity of the divisions.

21. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is no secret now, but when it was founded in 1942, the entire town was kept under wraps. That’s because the city was formed for workers on the Manhattan Project, the secret military operation that resulted in the first nuclear weapons. Residents were fenced in, with guards stationed at every exit. The project was so cloaked in secrecy that many employees had no idea what they were working on until the bombs were dropped. The city was returned to civilian control two years after the war ended.

James Westcott via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

22. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The site is now a National Civil Rights Museum. Among the exhibits is the hotel’s original room 306, where King was staying when he was assassinated. A wreath on the balcony outside marks the spot where he fell.

23. In 1925, teacher John Scopes was fined $100 for teaching evolution in his Dayton, Tennessee classroom. The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, often referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, is one of the most famous court cases in history—and the whole thing was totally staged. Scopes had agreed to help “test” a new Tennessee law that prohibited teachers from including evolution in their curriculum. In the end, the Bible won, and evolution wasn’t brought back to the classroom until the 1960s.

24. You may not think of Tennessee as the epitome of the American melting pot, but Nashville has the largest Kurdish community in North America. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, more than 13,000 Kurds fleeing Iraq were drawn to the city’s low cost of living and high availability of jobs.

25. Kingston, Tennessee, was the state capital for a single day, the result of a dirty trick pulled by the early settlers. In 1805, the Cherokee agreed to a deal transferring thousands of acres to Tennessee settlers—as long as nearby Kingston was declared the state capital. Fine, the settlers said—and held a single Tennessee House of Representatives assembly there on September 21, 1807. The capital reverted to Knoxville the next day.

15 Reasons You Should Appreciate Squirrels

Even if you live in a big city, you probably see wildlife on a regular basis. Namely, you're sure to run into a lot of squirrels, even in the densest urban areas. And if you happen to live on a college campus, well, you're probably overrun with them. While some people might view them as adorable, others see them as persistent pests bent on chewing on and nesting in everything in sight. But in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here are 15 reasons you should appreciate the savvy, amazing, bushy-tailed critters.


A flying squirrel soars through the air

In one study [PDF] of the tree-dwelling plantain squirrels that roam the campus of the National University of Singapore, squirrels were observed jumping almost 10 feet at a stretch. In another study with the eastern ground squirrel, one researcher observed a squirrel jumping more than 8 feet between a tree stump and a feeding platform, propelling itself 10 times the length of its body. Flying squirrels, obviously, can traverse much farther distances midair—the northern flying squirrel, for instance, can glide up to 295 feet [PDF].


A squirrel digs in a grassy field filled with fallen leaves.

In fact, they may be more organized than you are. A recent study found that eastern fox squirrels living on UC Berkeley's campus cache their nuts according to type. When given a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, the squirrels took the time to hide each type of nut in a specific place. This method of "spatial chunking" may help them remember where the nuts are when they go to retrieve them later. Though the study wasn't able to determine this for sure, the study's results suggested that the squirrels may have been organizing their caches by even more subtle categories, like the size of the nuts.


Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down

Tree squirrels are one of the most important animals around when it comes to planting forests. Though they may be careful about where they bury their acorns and other nuts, they still forget about quite a few of their caches (or at least neglect to retrieve them). When they do, those acorns often sprout, resulting in more trees—and eventually, yet more acorns for the squirrels.


A man holds a truffle up for the camera.

The squirrel digestive system also plays an important role in the survival of truffles. While above-ground mushrooms can spread their spores through the air, truffles grow below ground. Instead of relying on the air, they depend on hungry animals like squirrels to spread their spores to host plants elsewhere. The northern flying squirrel, found in forests across North America, depends largely on the buried fungi to make up its diet, and plays a major role in truffle propagation. The squirrels poop out the spores unharmed on the forest floor, allowing the fungi to take hold and form a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots it's dropped near.


A squirrel stands on the knot of a tree trunk looking down at the ground.

You may not be too impressed when you see a squirrel running down a tree, but they're actually accomplishing a major feat. Most animals can't climb vertically down head-first, but squirrel's back ankles can rotate 180°, turning their paws all the way around to grip the tree trunk as they descend.


A white squirrel in Olney, Illinois stands on its hind legs.

Squirrels are a more popular town mascot than you might think. Surprisingly, more than one town wants to be known as the "home of the white squirrel," including Kenton, Tennessee; Marionville, Missouri; the Canadian city of Exeter, Ontario; and Brevard, North Carolina, the location of the annual White Squirrel Festival. But Olney, Illinois may be the most intense about its high population of albino squirrels. There is a $750 fine for killing the all-white animals, and they have the legal right-of-way on roads. There's an official city count of the squirrels each year, and in 1997, realizing that local cats posed a threat to the beloved rodent residents, the city council banned residents from letting their cats run loose outdoors. In 2002, the city held a 100-Year White Squirrel Celebration, erecting a monument and holding a "squirrel blessing" by a priest. Police officers wore special squirrel-themed patches for the event.


An illustration of different regions of the brain lighting up in blue

Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, and the way their brains function while they do may help scientists develop a new drug that can limit the brain damage caused by strokes. When ground squirrels hibernate, their core body temperature drops dramatically—in the case of the arctic ground squirrel, to as low as 26.7°F, possibly the lowest body temperature of any mammal on Earth. During this extra-cold hibernation, a squirrel's brain undergoes cellular changes that help its brain deal with reduced blood flow. Researchers are currently trying to develop a drug that could mimic that process in the human brain, preventing brain cells from dying when blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke.


A woman in a fur vest with a hood faces away from the camera and stares out over the water.

If you always warn your friends not to pet or feed squirrels because they can spread disease, put this story in your back pocket for later: They may have helped leprosy spread from Scandinavia to the UK in the 9th century. Research published in 2017 found a strain of leprosy similar to a modern variant found in squirrels in southern England in the skull of a woman who lived in England sometime between 885 and 1015 CE. The scientists suggest that the leprosy may have arrived along with Viking squirrel pelts. "It is possible that this strain of leprosy was proliferated in the South East of England by contact with highly prized squirrel pelt and meat, which was traded by the Vikings at the time this woman was alive," one of the authors told The Guardian. That may not be the most uplifting reason to appreciate squirrels, but it's hard not to admire their influence!


A squirrel runs across a power line.
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

While energy companies may worry about hackers disrupting the power grid, squirrels are actually far more powerful than cyber-whizzes when it comes to sabotaging our electricity supply. A website called Cyber Squirrel 1 documents every public record of squirrels and other animals disrupting power services dating back to 1987. It has counted more than 1100 squirrel-related outages across the world for that time period, which is no doubt a vast underestimate. In a 2016 survey of public power utilities, wildlife was the most common cause of power outages, and for most power companies, that tends to mean squirrels.


A ground squirrel sits with its mouth open.
David McNew, Getty Images

California ground squirrels have an interesting way of scaring off rattlesnakes. Like cats, their tails puff up when they go on the defense. A squirrel will wave its tail at a rattlesnake to convince the snake that it's a formidable opponent. Surprisingly, they whip their tails at their foes whether it's light or dark outside. Squirrels can control the blood flow to their tails to cool down or keep warm, and they use this to their advantage in a fight, pumping blood into their tails. Even if the rattlesnakes can't see the bushy tails, researchers found in 2007, they can sense the heat coming off them.


A squirrel runs down a tree trunk toward a pile of leaves.

Researchers look at tree squirrel populations to measure just how well a forest ecosystem is faring. Because they depend on their forest habitats for seeds, nesting sites, and food storage, the presence and demographics of tree squirrels in an area is a good bellwether for the health of a mature forest. Studying changes in squirrel populations can help experts determine the environmental impact of logging, fires, and other events that alter forest habitats [PDF].


A squirrel with a bushy tail stands on its hind legs.

Gray squirrels know how to deceive. They can engage in what's called "tactical deception," a behavior previously only seen in primates, as a study in 2008 found. When they think they're being watched by someone looking to pilfer their cache of food, the researchers discovered, they will pretend to dig a hole as if burying their acorn or nut, but tuck their snack into their mouth and go bury it elsewhere.


A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though some states currently ban (or require permits for) keeping squirrels as pets, it was once commonplace. Warren G. Harding kept a squirrel named Pete who would sometimes show up to White House meetings and briefings, where members of Harding's cabinet would bring him nuts. But keeping a squirrel around wasn't just for world leaders—the rodent was the most popular pet in the country, according to Atlas Obscura. From the 1700s onwards, squirrels were a major fixture in the American pet landscape and were sold in pet shops. Despite Harding's love of Pete, by the time he lived in the White House in the 1920s, squirrel ownership was already on the wane, in part due to the rise of exotic animal laws.


A historical photo of nurses leaning down to feed a black squirrel
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The American cities of the 1800s weren't great places to catch a glimpse of wildlife, squirrels included. In fact, the animals were so rare that in the summer of 1856, when a gray squirrel escaped from its cage inside a downtown New York apartment building (where it was surely living as someone's pet), it merited a write-up in The New York Times. According to the paper, several hundred people gathered to gawk at the tree where the squirrel took refuge and try to coax the rodent down. In the end, a police officer had to force the crowd to disperse. The paper did not document what happened to the poor squirrel.


A boy doing homework with a squirrel on the table.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the mid-1800s, seeking to return a little bit of nature to concrete jungles, cities began re-introducing squirrels to their urban parks. Squirrels provided a rare opportunity for city slickers to see wildlife, but they were also seen as a sort of moral compass for young boys. Observing and feeding urban squirrels was seen as a way to steer boys away from their "tendency toward cruelty," according to University of Pennsylvania historian Etienne Benson [PDF]. Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton argued in a 1914 article that cities should introduce "missionary squirrels" to cities so that boys could befriend them. He and other advocates of urban squirrels "saw [them] as opportunities for boys to establish trusting, sympathetic, and paternalistic relationships with animal others," Benson writes.

But young boys weren't the only ones that were thought to benefit from a little squirrel-feeding time. When the animals were first reintroduced to parks in the 19th century, feeding squirrels was considered an act of charity—one accessible even to those people who didn't have the means of showing charity in other realms. "Because of the presence of urban squirrels, even the least powerful members of human society could demonstrate the virtue of charity and display their own moral worth," Benson writes. "Gray squirrels helped reshape the American urban park into a site for the performance of charity and compassion for the weak." Even if you were too poor to provide any sort of charity for someone else, you could at least give back to the squirrels.


A colored lithograph shows men and dogs hunting squirrels in a forest.
Currier and Ives, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though notably absent from big cities, much of the U.S. was once overrun by squirrels. The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused such widespread crop destruction that people were encouraged—nay, required—to hunt them. In 1807, the Ohio General Assembly demanded that citizens not just pay their regular taxes, but add a few squirrel carcasses on top. According to the Ohio History Connection, taxpayers had to submit a minimum of 10 squirrel scalps to the town clerk each year. Tennessee had similar laws, though that state would let people pay in dead crows if they couldn't rustle up enough squirrels.

Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Trains, iStock. Portrait, Project Gutenberg // Public Domain
Leon Ray Livingston, America's Most Famous Hobo
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Trains, iStock. Portrait, Project Gutenberg // Public Domain
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Trains, iStock. Portrait, Project Gutenberg // Public Domain

With no more troops or supplies to move after the end of the Civil War, the country's railroads became home to another army—that of the hobos. The ever-increasing web of rails nationwide would go from 45,000 miles before 1871 to nearly 200,000 by 1900, making it easier for the poorest of working-class folk, many of whom were veterans, to hitch a ride on a train and travel from state to state looking for employment. These hobos were soon a familiar sight coast to coast.

The journeys of these destitute travelers quickly caught on in the popular culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, creating a romanticized view of this unique lifestyle. It was a time when writers like W. H. Davies and Jack London parlayed their hoboing experiences into literary notoriety, while Charlie Chaplin's "Little Tramp" would become one of the most recognizable movie characters of the 20th century. Among these wandering folk figures was a man with a sense of showmanship and a keen eye for branding: Leon Ray Livingston—a writer, lecturer, and transient who would go on to dub himself "King of the Hobos."

What we know about Livingston's early life comes solely from the books he wrote, which often read like tall tales designed to help build his mystique. According to Livingston, he was born in August 1872 into a family from San Francisco that he described as "well-to-do," but at age 11, misbehavior at school led him down a different path in life. On the day after his 11th birthday, his teacher sent him home with a note detailing his bad behavior, which was to be signed by Livingston's father. The boy didn't show his father the note that night, and when he spotted his teacher heading toward his house the next morning, Livingston snuck out of the house and kept moving. He wouldn't fully stop for decades.

Livingston says he left his house that day armed with a .22-caliber rifle and a pocket full of money—some stolen from his mother, some a birthday gift from his uncle. From there, his life became an odyssey of riding the rails, hopping on steamers, and taking on odd jobs as he traversed a country in the midst of an industrial revolution. Years later, Livingston would famously brag that he traveled 500,000 miles while only spending $7.61 on fares.

In his decades on the road, he took to writing about his experiences, eventually self-publishing around a dozen books about his adventures; the most comprehensive was Life and Adventures of A-No. 1: America's Most Celebrated Tramp. Published in 1910—nearly 30 years after he left home—this book includes tales of his early life as a hobo, including one globe-trotting adventure in his first year that found him working aboard a British trade ship that set off from New Orleans for Belize, where he jumped ship and began working for a mahogany camp.

Book cover for The Trail of the Tramp
The book cover to Livingston's The Trail of the Tramp
Project Gutenberg // Public Domain

Livingston's Central American exploits include anecdotes about the working conditions in the British mahogany camps, his repeated (but failed) attempts to desert his employers and head home on their dime, feasting on "roasted baboon," and his near-fatal run-in with something he called Black Swamp Fever (which could be a reference to malaria). The writing is colorful and no doubt romanticized, making it hard to separate facts from the legend Livingston aimed to enhance.

It was after his return trip to America that Livingston was christened with the nickname that would help him become something bigger than a lowly transient: A-No. 1. In his book, Livingston said the moniker was given to him by an older companion named Frenchy, who said:

"Every tramp gives his kid a nickname, a name that will distinguish him from all other members of the craft. You have been a good lad while you have been with me, in fact been always 'A-No. 1' in everything you had to do, and, Kid, take my advice, if you have to be anything in life, even if a tramp, try to be 'A-No. 1' all the time and in everything you undertake."

He also told Livingston to carve this new nickname into each mile post he passed on his journey, letting the world know who'd traveled here before them. This piece of advice gave the legend of Livingston more longevity than he could ever imagine: In the 21st century, people are still finding "A-No. 1" scribbled under bridges.

In addition to signing their nickname, the wandering tramps would also draw up symbols to alert others of possible danger or hospitality ahead. In his 1911 book Hobo-Camp-Fire-Tales, Livingston provides drawings of 32 of these symbols and what they all mean—including signs for "This town has saloons," "The police in this place are 'Strictly Hostile,'" and "Hostile police judge in this town. Look out!" It's not completely clear if Livingston played a role in creating this hobo code, but he is credited with preserving these symbols and bringing them to the attention of a curious American public.

As Livingston became more of a cultural figure, he seemingly took an interest in leading people away from the tramp life. His books would often begin with a warning, telling readers, "Wandering, once it becomes a habit, is almost incurable, so NEVER RUN AWAY, but STAY AT HOME, as a roving lad usually ends in becoming a confirmed tramp." He then finished, saying this "pitiful existence" would likely end with any would-be tramp in a "pauper's grave." These warnings could be a well-meaning public service announcement, although scholars say they can also be read as Livingston's attempt to enhance the danger of the lifestyle to create even more intrigue about his exploits (and sell more books).

Always a showman, Livingston understood publicity as well as any celebrity at the time; in his travels he would often seek out local reporters, becoming the subject of numerous newspaper articles and magazine interviews around the country. Taking pride in his exploits, he carried a scrapbook of his journeys around with him, which included personalized letters and autographs from notable figures such as Thomas Edison, George Dewey, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.

His influence among the community was far-reaching, even capturing the imagination of a young Jack London, author of White Fang and The Call of the Wild, during his formative years. London had reached out to Livingston about his lifestyle in the late 19th century, and the two adventured together, as chronicled in Livingston's book From Coast to Coast with Jack London, which was published in 1917, a year after London's death.

Despite the freight-hopping and steamer trips and odd jobs, Livingston wasn't hurting for money; for him, hoboing was a spiritual necessity, not a financial one. When he would seek some stability during his travels, he could often be found staying at Mrs. Cunningham's Boarding House in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, where he would write many of his books. In The Ways of the Hobo, he claimed the house became "a veritable Mecca to chronic hoboes," including old friends like "Hobo Mike" and "Denver Johnny," who sought out his counsel and companionship.

In 1914, Livingston married a woman named Mary Trohoske (sometimes spelled Trohoski), and he settled down—as best a tramp could—in a house in Erie, Pennsylvania. His later years were spent working various jobs—including at electric and steel companies around Erie, though one source places him in real estate. While he stayed relatively put in his later years, Livingston did travel the lecture circuit to speak out against the lifestyle that defined him. With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, the warnings Livingston wrote about the hobo lifestyle in each of his books had transformed into full-on speeches against tramping. (Sadly, his lectures don't seem to have survived.)

Rumors persist about Livingston's final days. Some claim that he continued his traveling ways toward the end, dying in a train wreck in Houston, Texas, in 1944, but this is likely confusion with a 1912 wreck that killed one of his impersonators. According to most accounts, Livingston passed away due to heart failure in his home on April 5, 1944 around age 71, with his wife by his side. But for a man who lived to mythologize his own story, a little ambiguity about his end is only fitting.

Livingston's fame has waned significantly since the first quarter of the 20th century. He's only re-emerged in the mainstream a few times, most notably when Lee Marvin played A-No. 1 in the 1973 movie Emperor of the North, based on Livingston's travels with Jack London and on London's own book The Road. Though little-remembered now, Livingston was part of a fleeting moment in American history—a time when the country was getting the first real glimpse of itself as an interconnected nation, and when someone who lived by wandering could be the stuff of folklore.


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