This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
When Henry Bremer walked into the Comerford yard one day back in the Great Depression, he was careful to point out to Ruth Comerford and four neighbor children that he was not a tramp, he was a hobo. "A tramp is a beggar," he explained, "a hobo is a gentleman of the road who works for his vittles."
The children were glad to hear that. They had the perfect job in mind: play house.
Ruth had stopped the hobo on his way up to the front door to prevent him from bothering her sick father who needed quiet. Instead, she proposed that he come down to their playhouse in the corner of the property. He was reluctant until she said, "We've got food."
The play home turned out to be an entire carriage house turned over to the children to keep them and their noise out of the main house. The carriage house—a grand affair with gables and a large veranda—had stood empty since horses had given way to automobiles.
Ruth and her friends scattered to their various kitchens for food—cold lamb, iced tea, apples, pie, and chocolate cake—and soon the hobo grew friendly and relaxed. All afternoon, the children sat amazed at tales of hobo camps, riding the rails, policemen.
That evening, the children decided to invite him to spend the night, but he was already asleep on a pile of straw in the corner. He remained for several days, eating and sleeping well. The children named him "Our Person" and kept him hidden from the grownups. For playing house, a hobo sure beat rag dolls.
One day he happened to mention that he had always wanted to belong to a fine church—like the Baptist church across the street, just then in the middle of a revival. The children scrounged a fine suit and tie, gave the hobo a name—Henry Bremer—took him to church, and watched him get baptized in the tank.
When the children returned to the carriage house that evening, Henry Bremer was gone. On the table lay five candy bars and five jaw breakers, proof that their Person truly had been a hobo, and not a tramp.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.