A famous hobo of the early 20th century who went by the name “A No. 1” was played by actor Lee Marvin in the 1973 film, “Emperor of the North Pole.”
The man, whose real name was Leon Ray Livingston, left his mark wherever he went by carving “A No. 1” on trees and buildings, along with an arrow pointing in the direction he was headed next.
Hugh “Cubby” Swan of Greenwood has one of Livingston’s signatures. Swan found it in the 1960s in the remains of a building in Hastings, which had been a thriving logging village along Route 113 in Batchelders Grant at the turn of the 20th century.
“I had been talking with a fellow employee (at the mill in Locke Mills) who had worked in Hastings with his father,” Swan said in a recent presentation in Gilead.
Curious about the area, “I decided to go and look around,” Swan said. “I was turning over sections of boards from the old buildings. I came across this signature someone had taken time to carve into the building.”
He brought the wooden slat home with him, and later learned from Bethel historian Eva Bean that Livingston had also carved his moniker into a telephone pole near the Bethel train station and on a tree at Swan’s Corner.
But both the pole and tree had since disappeared, he said.
Swan wanted to learn more about the man with the signature carvings. He found articles about him in the Oxford County Citizen newspaper, and more recently, on the Internet.
He learned that Livingston had been born in San Francisco in 1872, and left home at the age of 11.
Over the course of the next three decades, he rode freight trains, ferries and ocean-going ships, traveling across the U.S. and around the world.
Livingston apparently picked up his nickname in Louisiana, where another hobo told him he was “A No. 1.”
As he traveled, he did odd jobs to earn what little money he needed. And, said Swan, “he was self-educated.”
Educated enough that after two dozen years on the road, he wrote a series of books about hoboing.
Among the titles: “The Ways of the Hobo,” “Life and Adventures of A-No. 1, America’s Most Celebrated Tramp,” “The Curse of Tramp Life,” and “From Coast to Coast with Jack London.”
The books apparently were a hit. But Livingston didn’t use the proceeds to settle down and enjoy a more restful life.
Instead, he continued hoboing — on a mission to talk youngsters who had recently hit the road to go home.
“He paid their fare to go home,” Swan said.
Livingston made two trips to the Bethel area.
The Oxford County Citizen of 1912 published an interview with Livingston.
He returned in the late 1920s. Swan said there was a newspaper record of him being at the Congregational Church in Bethel in December of that year.
Livingston died in 1944 and is buried in Pennsylvania with the epitaph, “A-No.1, At rest at last.”