Old photo, Kent, 1925.
Price: $2.00 Size: 4 and 3/8 x 2 and 3/4″
I thought railbirds would be railroad workers, but no. The definition of railbird from Dictionary.com is:
- a horse-racing fan who watches racing or workouts from the railing or along the track.
- any kibitzer or self-stylized critic or expert
Origin: 1890-95, Americanism; rail + bird in sense of “frequenter,” as in jailbird, yardbird.
The term is also used today for billiards and poker spectators. But the estimated time frame for the word origin, 1890 – 1895, seems accurate at least as far as old newspaper mentions go. Prior to 1890 – ’91 one can find many articles and clips on an actual bird called a railbird (rail-bird, rail bird). From the Reading Times, 1869:
“Railbirds have been less numerous this season on the Delaware marshes….”
And from the Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph, 1879, a good description of the feathered ones:
Back to the photo….Kent, 1925, but which Kent? Ohio….England….or other? And it could have been taken at a horse racing event, either that or it was just a clever caption, because the guys (all but one) are perched (back to the bird theme, no pun intended) on an outdoor railing. We can read wording behind them that says “Billiards.” And there’s some lettering on the awning, but not enough to figure out a business name. But the guys’ boots…almost all the same, that makes it seem like they were workers of some type.
Sources: railbird. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/railbird. (accessed September 19, 2017).
Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) October 13, 1869. Wednesday, p. 2 (Newspapers.com)
“English Rail-Birds in Monroe County.” Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph (Ashtabula, Ohio) December 5, 1879. Friday, p. 4.