The Rambler and King of the Hobos
The Rambler. The King of the Hoboes. A-No. 1. He was a man of many monikers. Yet, to those who knew him well, he was simply Leon Ray Livingston, the most gentlemanly tramp they’d ever met.
He was born in San Francisco in 1872 to two loving parents. But Leon was always a dreamer: escaping reality through books while constantly being reprimanded at school for being lost in his thoughts. At age eleven, he was sent home from school with a scolding. Feeling ashamed, young Leon made an impulsive decision: he ran away and took a riverboat to Sacramento.
Leon's reality was now an adventure. He traveled extensively, hopping trains, sailing, and walking through various countries. In the course of this nomadic lifestyle, he travel more than half a million miles across the United State, South and Central America, and Europe, working odd jobs, carving wooden sculptures for food, and keeping sharp through reading and writing, while incredibly spending only $7.61 on fares over three decades! Everywhere Leon stopped he left his mark by inscribing his moniker, A-No. 1, and spreading the Hobo Code, a system of signs and symbols, he had developed during his travels.
Leon had a reputable image as a gentleman, always impeccably dressed, regularly bathing, shaving, and wearing clean suits in public. He abstained from swearing, smoking, and drinking. By his mid-thirties, he gained attention in newspapers, partly due to his clever self-promotion. Whenever he found accommodations, he sought out local newspaper reporters, helping spread his fame. One Texas newspaper dubbing him "the most distinguished tramp in the world." When asked why he didn't choose a more conventional lifestyle, the King of the Hobos responded, "I'm satisfied with my life. I have a good time and experience everything in this world. Tramping is my honest business, and apart from train rides, I've never stolen anything."
Leon's fame attracted other tramps who sought him out including a teenage Jack London, a he chronicled their adventures in "From Coast to Coast with Jack London." As other hobos claimed to be the real A-No. 1, Leon, to prove his identity, carried two crisp fifty dollar bills and a scrapbook filled with travel mementos such as newspaper clippings, letters, and autographs from the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, and Admiral George Dewey!
Of all the place Leon had traveled, Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, became his beloved haven and unofficial headquarters. During his time here, he began publishing stories about his adventures to earn income and preserve his own folklore. Each book carried a somber warning about the darker aspects of tramp life, yet despite promising "exact truths," inconsistencies, exaggerations, and embellishments were evident. Altogether he published 12 books, almost all during stays at Cambridge Springs.
In 1914, at the age of 42, Leon settled down in Erie with his 21-year-old wife, Mary Trohoske. They shared a deep connection, and he altered his plans to stay in Erie and complete his next book. The couple would eventually move into a house on W. 23rd Street near Ainsworth Field. He found employment at Burke Electric Company and later Erie Forge & Steel while continuing to publish his stories on the side. Throughout the 1920s, he led a seemingly ordinary life, raising children, working, writing, and delivering lectures.
On April 5, 1944, Leon Livingston passed away in his Erie home at the age of 71, with his wife Mary by his side. He was laid to rest in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Millcreek with a simple inscription on his headstone:
Leon Ray Livingston
1872 — 1944
Finally, the Rambler finds his rest
Based on the original article in the Erie Reader by local author Jonathan Burdick.