The National Cryptologic Museum opened a new exhibit entitled, "Looking for a Sign: Hobo Communication in the Depression." In the world of cryptology, few know of the secret signs used by hobos during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The new, interactive, exhibit presents many of the various symbols used by the hobos to send messages to other itinerant workers who would pass through the same location at a later time. Signs communicated everything from places to avoid to good spots to hop a train. However, the symbols were cryptic enough that even when spotted by townspeople, they were not understood.
The display includes a model train layout built specifically for this exhibit by the Meade Area Railroad Society. It incorporates many of the signs used by the hobos and asks patrons (young and old alike) to find the symbol within the model. With a push of a button, a working HO gauge train loops around a town and nearby farm, passing a hobo camp along the way.
"Looking for a Sign" is the latest in a series of temporary exhibits that have been installed in the museum lobby. Previous exhibits included children's cipher toys from the age of radio (Radio Orphan Annie decipher rings) and Elizebeth Friedman the U.S. Coast Guard's work against Rumrunner messages during Prohibition. The hobo exhibit will be on display through 2009.
The museum is the National Security Agency's principal gateway to the public. It shares the Nation's, as well as NSA's, cryptologic legacy and place in world history.
The National Cryptologic Museum is located at the intersection of Maryland Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD-295), adjacent to the headquarters of the National Security Agency. Hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday (except Federal holidays), and 10:00 am to 2:00 p.m., on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. Admission is free. For further information, please call 301-688-5849.