Parades are almost a given at any Homecoming celebration, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is no different. However, in the early years of the 20th century, Illinois Homecoming weekend featured something other than floats: the Hobo Band Parade.
The actual origin of the Hobo Band Parade is lost to history; however, the tradition had already been established on the U of I campus for many years by the early 1900s, actually predating the Homecoming celebration it became associated with.
It was traditional for seniors to dress as a hobo, clown, or other character, grab an instrument, and lead the way to Illinois Field for the annual Freshman-Sophomore pushball game. In 1910, the pushball game became part of the program of activities for the First Annual Fall Homecoming, and the senior class Hobo Band came along too1.
The annual pushball game and other “class scraps” fell out of favor in the 1910s2, but the Hobo Band Parade marched on for 37 years as an annual Homecoming tradition. The Hobo Parade was eventually dropped from Homecoming festivities; no football program or Daily Illini makes mention of it after 1946. It is difficult to say why. It has been suggested that masquerade-type entertainment simply went out of style, and that post-WWII campus culture was a little less silly than before3.
Similar traditions existed at other universities, and some even continue to the present day4. However, after 66 years, it seems UIUC’s Hobo Band is relegated to retirement.
1. Daily Illini, (October 14, 1910), p. 1.
2. Daily Illini, (November 16, 1916), p. 1.
3. Daily Illini, (October 29, 2004), p. B-12.
4. For example, September 5th, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of South Dakota State’s Hobo Day celebration.