Kilroy Was Here - The Original Meme October 12 2023, 0 Comments

Imagine thousands of tired and bleary eyed GI's Marching through the war torn streets of Europe during WWII, scanning ahead and looking for unknown dangers when they encounter, etched on a wall, a childish but altogether familiar face peering over a ledge: a round bald head, a bulbous nose, and fingers clutching the edge of the wall. An accompanying proclamation, ‘Kilroy Was Here,' a sort of signature always scribbled nearby. 

Kilroy is an enigma wrapped in chalk and wall scribbles, a graffiti ghost from World War II, who seemed to be everywhere even before the GIs could get there and has made appearances in every conflict since. He was scribbled on the bulkhead of ships, painted on the walls of the places they were sent to liberate, etched on the sides of Zippo lighters and drawn on sides of tents the GI's slept. 

Kilroy. A name with an irresistible allure of mystique. His omnipresence during the tense days of the 1940s wasn’t just a doodle; it was a thread weaving through the solidarity of soldiers, an unspoken nod that whispered: You're not alone - Kilroy was here, and now, so are you.

Where did he come from?  There are many legends, but the one that most scholars believe is the story of James Kilroy, a rivet inspector at a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts during the war. As the ships were being built, it was his job to check the completion of rivets since the riveters were paid by the number of rivets completed. After counting finished rivets, James check-marked a completed block with a piece of chalk to avoid a double-count.

While James was off duty, the riveters erased the chalk marks so an on-duty checker would count the rivets a second time; consequently the riveters received double pay. After being questioned by his boss about exorbitant riveter wages, James investigated and determined the cause. His answer was simple, he would continue to mark the rivets but add "KILROY WAS HERE' in king-sized letters next to the chalk marks. He later added the historic sketch of a bald-headed,  beady-eyed man peering over an imaginary fence.  His name etched all over the ship, allowed thousands of GI's crossing the Atlantic ample time to stare at James' graffiti and must have come to understand that Kilroy had arrived before them and everything is okay--and so if Kilroy Was Here, then you would be fine as well.

Today, Kilroy hasn’t entirely vanished. He pops up in unexpected corners, on the walls of historic sites, in comic strips, restaurant names and sometimes, in modern street art. To me Kilroy is a nod to the past, a slight chuckle threading through history, linking us back to moments of weariness, hope, mischief, and perhaps a shared understanding amidst chaos that we are in this together. 

Hook & Irons has contributed to the legend of Kilroy by adding his likeness to the American Fire Service.  He is a nod to the humor that the American soldier had, the symbolism that has persisted and the the humor we must have in this job where chaos can come at any time.

You can purchase a Kilroy shirt here.

You can purchase a sticker here.