The Railroad Park in Homewood was packed with families enjoying the annual Hobo Night celebration this past Saturday, Oct. 10.
Residents were treated to a rare opportunity to explore the train cars that are usually only seen from the outside as commuters drive by. The night also featured music from local musician M.G. Bailey, a hobo costume contest and stories about railroad and “hobo” history from Joseph “Hobo Joe” Krol.
Families sat on benches made of hay bales while volunteers handed out the makings for s’mores in bandana bundles and sticks to toast the marshmallows with around a roaring bonfire.
“I’ve never even seen this thing before,” said Homewood resident Ben Bartkus, who attended the event with his wife, Margaret, and twin children, Riley and Jackson.
Krol told the audience about the history of hobos riding the rails through the United States. He stood on the back of the Illinois Central caboose that has sat next to the Homewood train station since 2005.
Through his extensive research, Krol determined that after the Civil War thousands of troops from both sides needed to find their way home.
Most of these men were from rural areas. Krol said there were “no jets or airplanes.” The men had to travel by train to get home. Because there were not enough passenger cars, the returning soldiers would jump onto empty boxcars moving in the direction of their homes. Once they arrived back to their hometowns, the veterans couldn’t find work so they jumped back on the trains to find a place with jobs.
Krol said “I could fill a museum with what’s in my house.” He has an annual display of items at the Homewood Library every May. He brought a number of lanterns from his personal collection of Illinois Central, CN and local railroad memorabilia.
After the short history lesson, the audience was again entertained by M. G. Bailey’s renditions of railroad songs. Children danced to the music and their parents sang along. Bailey said, of the local event, “I think things like this are great.”
Photos by Ann Lawrence/HF Chronicle.