Hobo King held court in Jacksonville, FL FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 16 Feb 1998 17:58:47 -0800 (PST)

FWD by senior writer Bill Foley <tulib@tu.infi.net>
Feb 11, 1998 - The [Jacksonville] Florida Times-Union


Maybe the homeless need a king.

Hoboes always had kings.

Hoboes were homeless people on the road.

Hoboes went from town to town and were nuisances.

Hoboes were cartoon characters.

Clowns in circuses dressed up like hoboes, but hoboes did not dress up like

Hoboes were fair game for cops, dogs and housewives with brooms. Hoboes
stole pies out of kitchen windows. Most of all, hoboes were all over
America, once upon a time.

Indigenous homeless people lived in the woods and in shantytowns and were
mostly ignored.

People that Jacksonville Beach is trying to keep from sleeping in public
places are not called hoboes but homeless people. Yet few of the homeless
are indigenous to the Beaches. Not a whole lot of them are surfer dudes or
went to Fletcher.

Maybe there are no hoboes anymore. Just homeless people.

Anyway, there were tons of hoboes before World War I, and Jeff Davis was
their king.

Like all significant people do sometime in their lifetime, Jeff Davis at
least once found himself in Jacksonville.

The King of the Hoboes dropped off on a fact-finding mission in January 1916.

That and also because he was on his way to Havana for the winter.

Davis's visit coincided rather awkwardly with the first great Southern
conclave on what to do about the traveling vagrant.

Mayors from 109 cities in nine states met in Jacksonville in their first
annual Southern Mayors Conference.

(The second annual meeting, held in Savannah, Ga., was on world peace,
which will give you an idea of the magnitude of the hobo problem.)

The King of the Hoboes did not participate directly in the Jacksonville

Davis did, however, accommodate the press. He expounded on the nature of
the vagabond to The Florida Times-Union.

First, said the King, you got your regular top-of-the-line hobo, who is a
person who travels from place to place in search of honest work. A prince
of a fellow.

Then there is the ''intellectual hobo,'' sort of a dilettante who is
looking to avoid honest work while thinking up important stuff.

There is the tramp, who is a tourist in rags who refuses to work, and last
and certainly least is the bum, a poor relation of the tramp who has fallen
to drink, drugs or disease or any combination thereof.

Davis, in fact, fell into none of these categories, him being King and all.
He principally was a lobbyist. Also, he was a hotelier, being founder of
the Hotel de Gink chain of hostelries for the itinerant in Seattle,
Cincinnati and New York.

Indeed, Davis said if he decided not to go onto Havana immediately after
his Jacksonville sojourn he intended to go to Tallahassee to confer with
Gov. Park Trammell on the possibility of establishing a hobo home in the
Everglades. Pity to see all that land go to waste on birds and bugs.

Davis had been on the road 19 years, since he ran away from home in
Cincinnati at age 13. He was a newsboy on the Bowery in New York City and
became enchanted with the anarchist Emma Goldman before succumbing to his

The King allowed to the local press he found Jacksonville quite to his liking.

''Yes, I was down and out in Jacksonville for a couple of days. I wanted to
see how you folks treated stray men and boys.''

Davis said a woman on Hogan Street cooked him a big meal. He rapped on five
doors for a bite to eat and no one turned him down.

''At night I carried the banner [walked the streets]. The air was great. I
wandered over to Hogan Street and went into the park and fell asleep on a
bench. About midnight I was awakened by an officer who asked me in a kindly
manner to give an account of myself. I did not feel like sleeping in the
police station so I told him I was a fresh-air fiend and he laughed and
walked away.''

Davis said he was again becoming hungry the following day and applied for
work at a barbershop in exchange for a shave. The shop had a porter,
however, and the King said he would not scab on him. By chance he
encountered David Garrick, who was director of the Gaumont movie studio,
one of several making movies in Jacksonville at the time.

Garrick took Davis to the dining room at the Aragon Hotel and treated him
there to a large plank steak covered with mushrooms and different
vegetables - I mean, this was the King of the Hoboes, after all.

Davis bid adieu to the newspaper folk, telling them again that Jacksonville
was a beauty of a city and that the people who lived in Jacksonville were
beautiful people and that he intended to extol the virtues of Jacksonville
to the vagabond host of the entire nation.

Which just thrilled the bejabbers out of the Chamber of Commerce.

[Times-Union senior writer Bill Foley can be reached on the Internet at


HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page
ARCHIVES  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN
TO JOIN  <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <wgcp@earthlink.net>