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November 23, 2013

Famous hobo discouraged youths from becoming wanderers

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The Daily Star

---- — A-No.1 made an appearance in Oneonta 80 years ago this week.

While this might sound like a good name for a rap artist in today’s hip-hop music world, Leon Ray Livingston was considered a world famous hobo in the early 20th century. Livingston traveled far and wide under this nickname. While this was a lifestyle he’d once preferred, he also spoke out against youngsters following it.

A-No.1 had a capacity audience on Sunday evening, Nov. 19, 1933, at what was then the Lutheran Church of the Atonement at 12 Grove St., now the Community Gospel Church. 

The Oneonta Star reported that Livingston told the crowd, “Runaway boys and girls should be assisted to return to their homes, even if it is necessary to arrest them in order to get them back.

“Himself a runaway from home at the age of 11 (1883) and a wanderer for 30 years, Mr. Livingston said it would have been a genuine help to him had someone been enough interested in him to have him arrested and sent back to his home city of San Francisco.”

Livingston said that a “comparatively unimportant incident” had caused him to leave home. Before returning to San Francisco 16 years later, he had wandered all over this country and had gone to Europe as a stowaway. When he finally did get back to California, Livingston found that his parents had died, heartbroken, after spending nearly all their fortune in the unsuccessful effort to find him. After all those years of wandering, Livingston was converted through the influence of a Christian worker whom he later married. By 1933, the couple had two teenage children and made their home in Erie, Pa.

While Erie was called home, A-No.1 often got back on the road, this time to urge youngsters not to take on the “glorified” life of a wanderer. There were plenty of transients or hobos passing through Oneonta during the Great Depression, and one of their means of transportation was by the D&H Railroad.

“Scarcely a day passes that from five to ten roamers do not appear at the Community house to see if they cannot procure second hand clothes or a meal ticket from the Red Cross,” The Star reported on Nov. 30, 1933. The Community House was once found on Ford Avenue, nearly across from today’s YMCA, now part of the Dietz Street parking lot. “Many of them carry discharge papers from the army showing them to be former service men.”

At the time of the visit from A-No. 1, Star readers were learning of plans being made for a form of transient welfare, including the establishment of concentration centers in the New York, Albany and Buffalo districts. When transient centers were established in many other communities and counties, the transients would be sent there. Railroads cooperated with the plan, arresting transients riding on their trains, taking them to these centers. One local center established in April 1934 was at the former Hartwick Seminary, south of Cooperstown, previously documented in this column. From here a transient could possibly be returned to his point of origin, or sent to a job once it was confirmed.

A-No.1 had been no stranger to Oneonta. The Star reported on May 5, 1913, that “the most famous tramp in tramp-dom” had returned for the first time since 1901.

“In years gone by this unique character earned sufficient money to pay for his food carving faces out of raw potatoes and his usual bed when in the city was a bag of waste paper in The Star pressroom. Now he is a guest of The Oneonta (Hotel) and dines well.” In his 1933 visit, the Star article said that Livingston also used his jackknife to help carve wooden signs and other objects, especially for the late Frank Miller, an Oneonta businessman.

Livingston had started cleaning up his act by 1913 and became an author of books, earning him a steady income. His best-known publications of the time were “Life and Adventures of A-No.1,” “Hobo Camp Fire Tales,” and “The Curse of Tramp Life.” All were aimed to prevent youths from taking up life as a hobo.

Livingston died in 1944 and is buried in Pennsylvania with the epitaph, “A-No.1, At rest at last.”

On Monday: A bit of our local life and times in November 1978.

Oneonta City Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorHistorian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.