Changing Gears: Kilroy is still here -- but where did he come from?By JAY HORNING
© St. Petersburg Times,
Sometime during our senior stage, many of us begin to realize that our craniums have become well-stuffed with information. Much of it, at least in my case, is trivia. And much if not all of it is not readily accessible; nevertheless, it is there, and sometimes an insignificant morsel of information will pop up at a strange time, say, 3 a.m., when you suddenly remember a name or place you tried unsuccessfully to recall 12 hours earlier.
In those cases, I'm guessing that little nugget was always near the surface, something not forgotten; it just left us temporarily.
I got to thinking about this recently when I was signing in at our exercise facility. The sign-in sheet has two columns, with each line numbered, and I noticed that someone had skipped a line earlier in the morning, thus leaving a blank space. One of the young exercise therapists was at the desk, and I commented to him that I was of a mind to fill in that blank -- not with my own name, since I had already signed in -- but with a name that suddenly popped out of that stuffed cranium: Kilroy.
The blank look on his face told me immediately that he hadn't the faintest idea who Kilroy was, but I imagine it would be difficult to find anyone who lived during World War II -- and maybe even during the years we were fighting in Korea and Vietnam -- who couldn't identify Kilroy.
During World War II especially, he was everywhere, peering over a fence or a wall with only his hands, head, eyes and oversized nose showing, along with his message: "Kilroy was here."
I hadn't seen a "Kilroy was here" sketch for a long time, until I checked out old Kilroy on the computer. Sure enough, a Web site for Kilroy popped right up (www.kilroywashere.org). It may tell you far more than you wanted to know about the little guy, who must have been more widely traveled than anyone in world history.
There are many theories about Kilroy's "birth." According to the most widely accepted, he began his ascent to worldwide recognition when a Massachusetts shipyard inspector, James J. Kilroy, 87chalked the words and sketch on bulkheads as evidence of his visit and made an inspection of the new ships' rivets.
The troops that were carried on the ships so marked had no idea what, if any, meaning the message had. GIs being GIs, they began spreading it. Soon, "Kilroy was here" appeared everywhere. It is even said that when Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met at Potsdam, Stalin emerged from an outhouse that had been built for their exclusive use and asked, "Who is Kilroy?"
There are many other legends about the origin of Kilroy. In 1946, the Transit Co. of America sponsored a contest to try to identify the real Kilroy. Almost 40 men laid claim to the name, but James Kilroy had witnesses.
Officials from the shipyard and other riveters who were employed there vouched for him, and he was declared the winner. The trolley car he won was given to his nine children as a Christmas gift and was set up in their lawn as a playhouse.
Meanwhile, the Web site continues to collect reports of "Kilroy was here" sightings. He has been in the movies (On Our Merry Way, Kelly's Heroes, To Hell and Back, Patton), in television shows (Seinfeld, M*A*S*H, Home Improvement) and on trucks, buildings and walls all over the world, including one at a bus stop in Alice Springs, Australia, described as "the dead center of nowhere." That sighting was in 1991.
Kilroy is in our midst; there are eight in the St. Petersburg telephone directory alone.
Edward J. Kilroy, a retired Air Force major who served in Vietnam, says he gets an occasional comment about his name from people in their 70s. J.F. Kilroy, also an Air Force veteran, says his experience has been the same. Craig Kilroy, whose family immigrated to St. Petersburg from Ireland in 1980, since has moved to Boston, where he discovered a P.J. Kilroy's pub on Beacon Street.
"They wouldn't believe me when I showed them an ID," Craig Kilroy said. But he said he is accustomed to comments about his name, especially from older people. He is alert to Kilroy references, pointing out a song about Kilroy in an album by the rock group Styx and a book with the title Kilroy Was Here. Actually, he says, the name Kilroy (English derivative of Mac Giolla Rua) means "son of the red fox" or "son of the red devil."
Today, with the nation engaged in a war on terrorism, "Kilroy was here" is likely to be called out of semiretirement. And perhaps he might like to borrow Craig Kilroy's family's coat of arms with the legend, "Faithful to the end."
It sounds like a perfect fit.
- You can write to Jay Horning c/o Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Or send e-mail to email@example.com.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times