Kilroy really wasn’t there at all

iconic graffiti actually represents a real person from the Second World War

He’s been following me all my life.

Correction: I’VE been following HIM all my life.

He’s beaten me to every significant place I’ve visited: national monuments, public washrooms, bulletin boards — even pages of books.

It’s Kilroy I’m talking about.

You know the guy?  Leaves a cartoon drawing of himself — just two eyes and a big nose peeping over what looks like the top of a fence.  Under that he prints his characteristic one-line calling card — KILROY WAS HERE.

The Kilroy trademark began appearing ‘way back during the Second World War when American GIs took up the practice of scrawling Kilroy’s inquisitive schnozz and tag line at battle sites in Germany, Italy — even on palm trees of engagement zones in the Pacific.

It wasn’t long before civilians got into the act.

The slogan began showing up all around the world. You could find KILROY WAS HERE graffiti on the Sphinx, the Arc de Triomphe, the Statue of Liberty — even atop Mount Everest.

Legend has it that an Apollo astronaut even scrawled it in dust on the moon.

It’s a fascinating illustration of how even a trivial, meaningless bit of pop culture fluff can, for no discernible reason, go viral and spread around the globe.

Except for one thing: KILROY WAS HERE is not a meaningless phrase. There really was a Kilroy and he really did come up with that famous slogan.

His full name was James Kilroy and he was an inspector at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA. One of his jobs was to keep track of the number of rivets shipyard workers installed every day. He would tally up the number and put a check mark beside the last rivet so that they wouldn’t be counted twice. The workers — who got paid by the number of rivets they placed — quickly wised up and started erasing the check marks, fooling the next inspector into re-counting the rivets and paying them extra.

When James Kilroy wised up to the scam, he added his cartoon and the line KILROY WAS HERE to the check mark. End of accounting problem — and beginning of a world-wide phenomenon.

The story goes that when Joseph Stalin emerged from the VIP washroom at the Big Three conference at Potsdam in 1946 the first question he had for his aide was “Who is this Kilroy?”

Reminds me of the Stan and Si.

‘Stan and Si’ is a sandwich.  When I was younger and lived in Thunder Bay, Ontario I frequently went into restaurants and ordered a Stan and Si — as did many others.  It wasn’t always printed on the menu, but the waitress inevitably knew what you meant — basically a hot roast beef sandwich with some extra trimmings.

A Thunder Bay newspaper editor explained to me that Stan and Si were two Thunder Bay railroad workers who liked to shoot a game of pool on their lunch hour.  They didn’t have time to sit down so they’d order their favourite sandwich and eat it while they played. Pretty soon their lunch became known as ‘the Stan and Si’. It’s still available at select Thunder Bay establishments as far as I know.

Next time I’m in The Lakehead I plan to find out for sure.  I’ll hit the first restaurant I see and order a Stan and Si with a side of fries.

If they know what it is and bring me one, I’ll scrawl KILROY WAS HERE on the menu.

 

— Arthur Black lives on Salt Spring Island.

 

 

Just Posted

Retired Nanoose Bay teacher ‘Set for Life’ after $675K lottery win

Shannon plans to buy new sails for his sailboat

Country music star Aaron Pritchett back in Qualicum Beach to play benefit concert

Singer to headline Thalassa restaurant fundraiser for Ronald McDonald house

Qualicum school district sees utility costs go down

Capital funding opportunities promote clean energy and drive efficiencies

Order in the chambers: Qualicum Beach votes for council code of conduct

Coun. Robert Filmer’s motion passes unanimously at town meeting

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Expanded support to help B.C. youth from care attend university still falling short

Inadequate support, limited awareness and eligibility restrictions some of the existing challenges

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Cross-examination begins for B.C. dad accused of killing young daughters

Andrew Berry is charged in the deaths of six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey in 2017

Dog attacked by river otters, Penticton owner says

Marie Fletcher says her dog was pulled underwater by four river otters in the Penticton Channel

BC SPCA overwhelmed with cats, kittens needing homes

Large number of cruelty investigations, plus normal ‘kitten season’ to blame

Wife charged in husband’s death in Sechelt

Karin Fischer has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Max

B.C. Hydro applies for rare cut in electricity rates next year

Province wrote off $1.1 billion debt to help reverse rate increase

Most Read