Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Kilroy Was Here - Merry Christmas!
I have posted this piece of “Americana” for several years, and always to great response. It’s the true story behind “Kilroy Was Here”, as well as a story about the Christmas spirit. I hope you enjoy it…
“Kilroy Was Here” has been a part of the American vocabulary ever since World War Two. And the story behind it is not often told. In a way, it involves Christmas, so I figured this was a good time to tell the story as I understand it.
During the Second World War, when the United States was turning out ships and planes at a rapid rate, "checkers" were required to make the rounds of the shipyards and factories, inspecting the work. When they were done they placed a mark, with chalk, on the item to show that it had passed inspection. The appropriate riveter/welder would then get credit for the work, and hence, paid accordingly.
Soldiers began to see these marks, along with the words "Kilroy Was Here", wherever they went during the war. Wherever they went, they assumed they were the first, only to be greeted by the words that had become a slogan. There were now several Kilroy’s from coast to coast. But only one was the original.
There is even a story about the Potsdam Conference in 1945 which concerns “Kilroy.” A modern outhouse had been built for the exclusive use of Truman, Stalin, and Churchill. The first person to use it was Stalin. When he finished and came out he asked his aide, "Who is this Kilroy?"
At any rate, fast forward a bit to the end of 1946. The Second World War was over and the shipyards were shuttered. James Kilroy was facing a bleak Christmas, with no toys for the kids. That's when he first heard of the search for the real Kilroy!
The photo above, from the Boston American, dated December 23, 1946 shows the Kilroy family with a trolley car in their front yard. They had won the trolley in a radio contest put forth by The Transit Company of America, offering the trolley as a prize to the individual who could prove that they were the "real" Kilroy. Of the forty odd men who made that claim, only James Kilroy was able to produce officials from the shipyard, and even some of his fellow riveters, to prove his claim. Having won the prize, he now had to get it home! And there was a blizzard coming! So, the real story involves how it almost didn't make it on time.
But, with the help of the Transit Company of America, and a local railroad spur, along with a truck and a crane, the trolley was delivered on time, where it served many years as a playhouse for James Kilroy's children. It was a Christmas they would never forget. And that, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.