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8 Famous Shipwrecks on Lake Michigan

On a clear day, the murky waters of Lake Michigan seem to open up, and a world of shipwrecks below the surface is revealed. Out of an estimated 6000 maritime disasters on the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan played host to 1500 shipwrecks. (To this day, Great Lakes commerce remains a dangerous business; the lakes are unpredictable, massive, and unforgiving.) Here are just eight of the famous shipwrecks that can be found at the bottom of the lake.

1. LADY ELGIN

The sinking of the Lady Elgin on September 8, 1860 resulted in the most open water deaths in the history of the Great Lakes. During a strong gale, the 252-foot wooden hulled steamship was rammed by a much smaller vessel, the 129-foot schooner Augusta, at a speed of 11 knots. Though the Augusta’s second mate had reportedly spotted the Lady Elgin half an hour before the collision, the schooner did not correct its course until just 10 minutes before impact.

The captain of the Augusta sailed away, believing that his schooner had in fact sustained more damage than the sturdy steamer, and according to the clerk of the Lady Elgin, at the moment of impact there was music and dancing in the forward cabin. But the Augusta had torn a hole in the port side of the Lady Elgin. Fifty cows in the cargo hold were pushed over the side in order to lighten the ship, while appliances and other heavy items were moved in an attempt to bring the gash left by the Augusta above the water level. A lifeboat was lowered, but not secured, and it floated away before passengers could board it.

All told, over 300 people lost their lives in the disaster. As a result, a law was passed a few years later mandating that all ships crossing the Great Lakes must have running lights. The wreck of the Lady Elgin was largely forgotten until the mid-1970s, when a shipwreck enthusiast named Harry Zych began searching for it, and discovered the wreck in 1989. Today, the majority of the shipwreck lies several miles off the Illinois coast in four main wreckage sites, which can be explored by the public, with permission from Zych.

2. SS CARL D. BRADLEY

Between 1927 and 1949, the 639-foot SS Carl D. Bradley was the largest ship on the Great Lakes. As the “Queen of the Lakes” (the term used for the longest ship on the lakes), it was an engineering marvel—the largest and longest self-unloading freighter of its era. The Carl Bradley served as an icebreaker as well as a freighter used to haul limestone from Lake Superior and Lake Huron to Lake Michigan’s deepwater ports. In 1957, the Carl Bradley collided with another ship, the MV White Rose, on the St. Clair River, resulting in damage to the hull.

This structural damage is said to have contributed to the disaster that befell the ship and its crew in 1958. On the evening of November 18, the Carl Bradley was returning from a delivery in Gary, Indiana, heading north in upper Lake Michigan, when a massive gale-force storm hit. With winds reaching up to 65 miles per hour, and waves up to 20 feet tall, the storm battered the massive freighter until around 5:30 p.m., when the hull began cracking in two. Despite three radio calls of Mayday before the power lines were severed, the Carl Bradley went down before a rescue attempt could be mounted. Only two out of its 35 crewmen survived.

In 1959, the wreck of the Bradley was discovered using sonar technology by the Army Corps of Engineers, sitting 360 feet under the water. The discovery did little to answer the question of exactly how the huge ship sunk. The two survivors of the wreck claimed that they witnessed the ship break in two, but the sonar imaging did not confirm this claim. It wasn’t until 1997 that this claim was verified. Two maritime writers and adventurers took a submersible down to view the wreck, bringing with them one of the survivors, Watchman Frank Mays. They were greeted by two separate pieces of the ship, lodged upright in the mud, 90 feet apart.

3. THE ALPENA

The Alpena was a Great Lakes steamboat that conveyed people and supplies throughout the Midwest beginning in 1866. The ship was notable for its twin 24-foot side wheels and partially visible engine. No one knows where the ship’s final resting place actually is, but if the wreck is ever located, these distinctive features will help identify it.

Weather patterns on Lake Michigan are notoriously unpredictable, and it was a sudden storm that would come to be called “The Big Blow” that sunk the Alpena in 1880 (not to be confused with another “Big Blow” on the lakes in 1913). When the ship left Grand Haven, Michigan October 15 at 10 p.m. laden with passengers and a cargo of apples, en route to Chicago 108 miles away, the weather was perfect—calm and sunny, with temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees. Once the vessel was underway, the crew noted a change in the winds, indicating a possible storm. The steamer’s veteran captain apparently figured that the Alpena would reach Chicago before the worst of it hit. A few hours later, he was proven fatally wrong.

By 3 a.m., the temperature had dropped to below zero and gale-force winds along with snow and ice began hammering the lake. The Alpena was reportedly spotted at dawn struggling in storm-tossed waves. The next time she was sighted, the ship had capsized. Only after the storm abated was the extent of the devastation clear: The steamer had been battered so badly by the storm that the ship's wreckage, as well as the bodies of its victims, were spread across 70 miles of beaches.

Over 90 ships went down during “The Big Blow” on Lake Michigan. The Alpena left no survivors and no trace of its present whereabouts.

4. SS APPOMATTOX

One of the largest wooden ships ever constructed for use on the Great Lakes, the SS Appomattox measured 319 feet, featured a sturdy hull and had a massive triple expansion steam engine. The ship hauled iron ore and coal to ports all over the Midwest until a stroke of bad luck befell her on the night of November 2, 1905. Loaded with a full cargo hold of coal off the coast of Wisconsin, the huge wooden steamer was blinded by smog from the busy port of Milwaukee. As a result, the Appomattox ran aground. Despite two weeks of effort to free her, the ship remained stuck and eventually abandoned. Today, the Appomattox sits in 15 to 20 feet of water, 150 yards out from the beach in Shorewood, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, and remains remarkably intact. The wreck is a popular dive site and a living reminder of the perils of shipping on Lake Michigan.

5. ROUSE SIMMONS

The schooner Rouse Simmons is one of the most legendary shipwrecks in the history of Lake Michigan commerce. The 123.5-foot ship was christened in 1868, a point in the history of Great Lakes shipping when sails were still the dominant form of power, soon to be eclipsed by steamers. The Rouse Simmons spent several decades traveling the Lakes in the service of prominent Midwestern lumber barons. After years of crisscrossing the perilous Great Lakes waterways, the schooner was in desperate need of repairs at the turn of the century, by which point the Rouse Simmons had joined about two dozen other ships in hauling Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago during the holiday season. The Rouse Simmons remains the best-remembered of these “Christmas tree ships.” The gregarious captain Herman Schuenemann would sell trees off his deck in the port of Chicago, to the delight of countless families. On Friday, November 22, 1912, the schooner left the dock at Thompson, Michigan, carrying thousands of Christmas trees in its holds and on its decks.

What happened when this Christmas tree ship left port is not exactly known. What is known is that a powerful November gale caused the ship to founder, possibly due to its poor condition and heavy load. None of the crew survived, and Christmas trees continued to wash up on the shores of Lake Michigan in the following weeks. The loss of the Rouse Simmons heralded the end of the schooner era on Lake Michigan. The ship has spawned numerous legends and ghost stories, and its legacy is celebrated every December, when the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw makes a ceremonial run from Michigan to Chicago to deliver Christmas trees to the less fortunate.

For years, the location of the wreck remained a mystery. In fact, its discovery in 1971 was an accident. A local scuba diver named Gordon Kent Bellrichard was using sonar to search the bottom of Lake Michigan near Two Rivers, Wisconsin for the wreck of the Vernon, a huge steamer that sunk in 1887. Instead, he came upon the three-masted Rouse Simmons, resting well-preserved in the mud in 172 feet of water. The wreck had eluded searchers and divers for decades and can now be explored six miles northeast of Rawley Point, Wisconsin.

6. SS ANNA C. MINCH

The SS Anna C. Minch was a 380-foot steel steamer built in 1903 in Cleveland, Ohio. The steamer fell victim to one of the worst winter storms in the history of Lake Michigan and the Midwest as a whole—the Armistice Day Blizzard, which took place on November 11, 1940 and claimed three freighters, including the Anna Minch. The storm brought winds of at least 80 miles per hour along with 20-foot waves on the Lake. One theory is that the Anna Minch collided with the William B. Davock, another ship that later sunk or may have just sunk in the storm. Rescue attempts continued for three days but, nevertheless, the Anna Minch went down with all hands. The massive steamer split in two, and lies in the waters of Lake Michigan to this day, serving as a popular dive site. The two sections of the ship sit close together, one and a half miles south of Pentwater, Michigan in about 35 to 45 feet of water.

7. L.R. DOTY

The L.R. Doty, a 291-foot steamer, first set sail around the Great Lakes in 1893. She was one of the last wooden steamships to see service on the Great Lakes, as steel had become the industry standard for new vessels. The vessel had a steel-reinforced hull, which was rated A1*, the highest possible grade for a Lake vessel, by insurance association the Inland Lloyds. In addition, she had a massive and powerful engine, but she did not have electricity or modern communication technology. In spite of its sturdiness, the L.R. Doty was no match for the ferocious storm of October 25, 1898. Ships all over the lake were smashed, the Chicago boardwalk was destroyed, and the Milwaukee breakwall was broken. The Doty broke up, taking down its entire crew and cargo. The ship remained the largest wooden shipwreck unaccounted for in Lake Michigan until it was finally discovered in 2010, 112 years after sinking.

8. NIAGARA

The Niagara was built in 1846 in Buffalo, New York for service on the Great Lakes transporting both passengers and goods. The massive side-wheeled steamboat was considered one of the finest steamers of its era. On September 24, 1856, at around 6:00 p.m., the steamship caught fire in the area of the engine room. The exact cause of the fire is uncertain, but the prevailing theory is that some flammable cargo down in the hold was the cause. Many passengers and crew were able to jump overboard and were later rescued by nearby ships; however, out of the 300 passengers on board, 60 perished and the entire cargo was lost to the Lake. A testament to the treacherous nature of Lake Michigan, the Niagara sank only a mile from shore, as the Captain made a desperate run for dry land. The wreck is another popular dive site, with the bulk of the wreck lying in 55 feet of water near Belgium, Wisconsin, but it can be dangerous; two divers almost died a couple years ago exploring it.

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Animals
15 Reasons You Should Appreciate Squirrels
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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.

1. THEY CAN JUMP REALLY, REALLY FAR.

A flying squirrel soars through the air
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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].

2. THEY'RE VERY ORGANIZED …

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

3. … BUT THEIR FORGETFULNESS HELPS TREES GROW.

Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down
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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.

4. THEY HELP TRUFFLES THRIVE.

A man holds a truffle up for the camera.
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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.

5. THEY'RE ONE OF THE FEW MAMMALS THAT CAN SPRINT DOWN A TREE HEAD-FIRST.

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

6. SEVERAL TOWNS COMPETE FOR THE TITLE OF 'HOME OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL.'

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

7. THEY CAN AID STROKE RESEARCH.

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

8. THEIR FUR MAY HAVE SPREAD LEPROSY IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

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

9. THEY'RE MORE POWERFUL THAN HACKERS.

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.

10. THEY CAN HEAT UP THEIR TAILS TO WARD OFF PREDATORS.

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.

11. THEY HELP SCIENTISTS KNOW WHETHER A FOREST IS HEALTHY.

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

12. THEY CAN LIE.

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

13. THEY WERE ONCE AMERICA'S MOST POPULAR PET.

A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
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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.

14. THE MERE SIGHT OF JUST ONE COULD ONCE ATTRACT A CROWD.

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.

15. IN THE 19TH CENTURY, THEY WERE TASKED WITH TEACHING COMPASSION.

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.

BONUS: THEY USED TO HATE TAX SEASON TOO.

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.

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Retrobituaries
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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