Het is vandaag 55 jaar geleden dat James J.Kilroy is overleden. Hij ligt mogelijk aan de oorsprong van de steeds weer opduikende tag “Kilroy was here” (op bovenstaande foto on the WWII Memorial, gefotografeerd door Luis Rubio voor Wikipedia).
The Oxford English Dictionary says simply that Kilroy was “the name of a mythical person”. However, a popular theory identifies James J. Kilroy, an American shipyard inspector, as the man behind the signature. The New York Times indicated J.J.Kilroy as the origin in 1946, based on the results of a contest conducted by the American Transit Association to establish the origin of the phenomenon. It noted that Kilroy had marked the ships as they were being built. Thus, the phrase would later be found chalked in places that no graffiti-artist could have reached, which fed the mythical significance of the phrase.
During World War II, Kilroy worked at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, where he claimed to have used the phrase to mark rivets he had checked. The builders were paid by the number of rivets they put in. A riveter (*) would make a chalk mark at the end of his shift to show where he had stopped and the next riveter had started. Dishonest riveters would erase the previous worker’s mark and chalk a new mark farther back on the same seam, giving themselves credit for part of the previous riveter’s work. Kilroy stopped this by writing “Kilroy was here” at each chalk mark. Ships were being sent out before they had been painted, and when sealed areas were opened for maintenance, sailors found his unexplained name. Thousands may have seen Kilroy’s name on the outgoing ships and his apparent omnipresence created a legend. The phrase began to be regarded as proving that a ship had been checked well, and served as a kind of protective talisman. Later, soldiers began writing the phrase in newly captured areas or landings, and then phrase it on a connotation of U.S. armed forces’ protection.
After the war, James Kilroy served as a member of the Boston City Council and the Massachusetts House of Representatives. [Wikipedia]
(*) Pour la petite histoire, ik heb zelf ook nog heel even voor een vakantiejob als een riveter gewerkt, met name voor Capsugel in het industriepark van Bornem.