Visiting “The Jungle”

In 1987, after fifteen years either coaching college soccer or running an indoor soccer club, I was hired to teach history for the first time. It was Wheaton Christian Grammar School and I taught U.S. History to 8th graders.

In preparing a unit on the Progressive Movement I began to re-read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, as I remembered how fascinated I was (grossed out?) when one of my history teachers back in California somewhere along the line read the gruesome description of how sausage was made and the number of human fingers that went into it. I knew 8th graders would love it.

Of course, now as I re-read Sinclair, it was with a whole new understanding of the purpose of his socialist sermon. At the time it was written the book was marketed to readers as an expose of the meatpacking industry, not as an expose of capitalism. Sinclair said, “I aimed for their hearts and hit them in the stomach.” Anyway, as I went through the book, penciling and dog-earing the passages I would read to my classes, I was struck with a sudden and obvious thought: this all happened right here in Chicago. I’m 25 miles away from the setting of this book. And so it was that a new chapter of historical exploration opened for me.

One spring Saturday afternoon I drove to Halsted and 43rd , and with Sinclair’s book in hand, began to try to understand the lay of the land. It was at this corner that Jurgis and Elzbieta departed from a streetcar and stood, in wondering awe, looking to the west over the vastness of the stockyards, and beyond them to Packingtown. Would there be anything recognizable left?

(Side Note: When I was a student at Wheaton College, I made the acquaintance of Alan Chase, a Soc/Anthro major who had developed a working ministry with what at that time was the gang called the Blackstone Rangers. One Friday night (1970?) at about 11:00, Alan grabbed me and said, “C’mon, we’re going down to the south side.” And off we went on a tour. I only remember two things. 1. We drove to 43rd and Halsted where Alan said I needed to see the famous Chicago Stockyards. It was the middle of the night when we got out of the car in front of some pens. The yards were deserted. I remember leaning on the edge of one of the stockyard pens, looking into it in vain for a glimpse of a cow. By this point in time, the yards were on their way into the pages of history. In fact, the pens were almost all empty. But not completely. Buried in my brain for all the remaining time it functions is the sound of cattle lowing and sheep bleating out of the darkness from a few random locations around the yards. My feeling at the time was disappointment. Now I treasure those few moments, because within just another few years the yards were closed. 2. A southside rib joint we stopped in at at around 2 a.m. called… the Rib Joint. I can’t remember what I got but I hope it was rib tips.)

On this day I pulled from Halsted around the corner onto a deserted 43rd St. and parked. To my right stood the old Stock Exchange Bank building (Fig. 1), shuttered and abandoned.

Stock Exchange Bank Building - Photo from

Figure 1
The old Stock Exchange Bank Building

On the left, sitting far south at the far end of a large parking lot, sat the dilapidated old Chicago Amphitheater. My own personal memory of it dated to 1974 when Rose and I paid the exorbitant amount of $12 for two tickets to watch the 1974 World Cup final between Holland and Germany on a big screen. The interior was a dump. There were maybe a few hundred rickety wooden folding chairs set up on the main floor. I remember being disappointed not only in the fact that there seemed to be NO other Dutch fans there, but also in the fact that the picture was amazingly bad and the sound was worse. We left with the fairly firm knowledge that Germany had somehow won the game.

The old Chicago Amphitheater - Photo from

Figure 2
The old Chicago Amphitheater

Of course just a scant six years prior, the floor of this building was home to the infamous 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention (Fig. 2). This is the building all those protestors in Grant Park were trying to march toward, but Chicago’s police intervened and would not allow them to proceed. This was the floor (perhaps I had sat where he sat?) where Mayor Richard J. Daley, his young son Richard M. just behind him, had booed and catcalled and shouted “Fuck you! Fuck you!” to New York’s Senator Jacob Javits who stood on the podium and declared to a national viewing audience that the Chicago Police Department were that night acting like the Gestapo in Grant Park. Quite a charge in and of itself, but more damning coming from the mouth of a Jewish senator.

Right in front of me now stood the preserved original gateway to the yards (minus the attached building on the left), designed by Louis Sullivan and preserved as a work of art in its own right (Fig. 3). Without the yards behind them they were a lonely reminder of a bygone era – a historical marker hammered that point  home.

Union Stock Yard Gate - Photo from

Figure 3
Union Stock Yard Gate

Through the gate would have been the stockyards themselves (Fig. 4). They had stretched from 39th down to 47th and from Halsted west halfway to Ashland.

Union Stock Yards - Photo from

Figure 4 (looking southwest across the yards to Packingtown, may well have been taken from the cupola of the Stock Exchange building.)

By 1987 they were gone and a light industrial park interlaced with nicely paved streets stood where the pens and the overhead runways had been (Figs. 5 and 6).

Photo from

Figure 5

Photo from

Figure 6 (looking northeast toward the Loop – not nearly as romantic an image, is it? Skyline’s a lot cleaner, though.)

“There is over a square mile of space in the yards, and more than half of it is occupied by cattle pens; north and south as far as the eye can reach there stretches a sea of pens. And they were all filled–so many cattle no one had ever dreamed existed in the world. Red cattle, black, white, and yellow cattle; old cattle and young cattle; great bellowing bulls and little calves not an hour born; meek-eyed milch cows and fierce, long-horned Texas steers. The sound of them here was as of all the barnyards of the universe; and as for counting them–it would have taken all day simply to count the pens. Here and there ran long alleys, blocked at intervals by gates; and Jokubas told them that the number of these gates was twenty-five thousand.”“There were two hundred and fifty miles of track within the yards, their guide went on to tell them. They brought about ten thousand head of cattle every day, and as many hogs, and half as many sheep–which meant some eight or ten million live creatures turned into food every year.”

But it was that other half I was interested in today – the half that started where the stockyard pens ended and stretched over to Ashland and then up and down the east side of Ashland for a mile or so in each direction. When you look at the picture below (Fig. 7), that’s Packingtown dominating the foreground. This is where once stood, crammed together side by side the great names of the dirty business that gave Chicago its reputation as “hog butcher for the world”. Names like Armour, Brown, Swift, Libby, Morris, Durhams, Robinson and many, many others.

Looking northeast across Packingtown and the yards toward the Loop - Photo from

Figure 7
Looking northeast across Packingtown and the yards toward the Loop

This was what I came looking for that day. In reality I expected to find nothing. I really just wanted to get the lay of the land and to get a feel for the area, maybe to be guided by Sinclair to find my way around the neighborhood. To explore Bridgeport on the east and Back of the Yards on the West, the neighborhoods out of which poured the thousands who labored by day and night in both the yards and the packinghouses. [The Social Problem at the Chicago Stock Yards]

So I got out of the car, book in hand, turned to the following passage:

“It was an elemental odor, raw and crude; it was rich, almost rancid, sensual, and strong. There were some who drank it in as if it were an intoxicant; there were others who put their handkerchiefs to their faces. The new emigrants were still tasting it, lost in wonder, when suddenly the car came to a halt, and the door was flung open, and a voice shouted–“Stockyards!” They were left standing upon the corner, staring; down a side street there were two rows of brick houses, and between them a vista: half a dozen chimneys, tall as the tallest of buildings, touching the very sky–and leaping from them half a dozen columns of smoke, thick, oily, and black as night. It might have come from the center of the world, this smoke, where the fires of the ages still smolder. It came as if self-impelled, driving all before it, a perpetual explosion. It was inexhaustible; one stared, waiting to see it stop, but still the great streams rolled out. They spread in vast clouds overhead, writhing, curling; then, uniting in one giant river, they streamed away down the sky, stretching a black pall as far as the eye could reach.”

I looked to the west, and while there was nothing like the cluster of buildings described by Sinclair (or as shown in the picture above), there were a few buildings that might fit the description.

I got back in the car and headed west on 43rd (or Exchange Boulevard, as it’s called there). After driving around the Sullivan gates and a few blocks further, Exchange dead-ended. A one-story brick building of recent vintage blocked the way. But just to the south of that building was an alley that led west right into the heart of what was formerly Packingtown USA. I now had a better view of the few 7-8 story abandoned buildings that stood back there. They simply must have been packinghouses. But… problem. The alley was blocked by those heavy concrete parking barriers. I got out of the car to see if they were moveable, and sure enough, I was able to shove them aside enough to get my car through. With a certain degree of trepidation, trumped by the fear of being discovered, I shoved them back in place again after I pulled through. Had I just blocked off my only avenue of escape in case of… well, in case of what? I had no idea. But ignorance is fear and I was nervous.

I crept down the alley toward the open space which used to contain wall to wall packinghouses. I say crept because of the condition of the alley. Potholes that looked to be at least a foot deep in places. As I drove past one of them, I stopped and got out of the car because something in the pothole had caught my eye. Sure enough. The top layer of pavement being gone, it was clear that the original paving bricks of the boulevard were exposed. Here’s a picture (Fig. 8) of a postcard of Exchange Blvd. I found later where you can clearly see these stones (at least in the picture as I have it).

Exchange Blvd - Scanned image of postcard in my possession

Figure 8
Exchange Blvd.

I knelt down and began to dig one out. I remember it taking a lot longer than I thought it would and being amazed at how big and heavy the thing was. Into the trunk of the car it went (and it now sits on the driveway next to our garage).

Then onward. I had crossed into history. It was maybe 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Not that the time of day or even day of week would have made any difference in here.

The impression I had as I crept past the overgrown empty lots (Fig. 9), scaring up rabbits as I went  into what was left of Packingtown, was this: what a perfect place for the Mob to dump bodies. I got the creeps, again feeling like I was definitely trespassing in an area I didn’t belong.

Abandoned Fire Station in the old stockyards - Photo from

Figure 9
(Abandoned Fire Station in the old stockyards)

Today I recognize that the yards were basically between Racine and Halsted on the east, and Packingtown was between Racine and Ashland on the west. It was a moonscape. I picked my way around the potholes and drove toward the first tall building that looked like it might be old enough to have been a packinghouse (Fig. 10). It loomed taller and taller, grimmer and grimmer, the closer I got. Death was the operative word then. Death was the operative word today.

Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987

Figure 10
(Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987)

I parked as close to it as I felt comfortable, due mostly to things like broken glass, chunks of concrete and metal shards. I got out of the car. It was chilly (was it April?). Walking up to the building, my question of how to get in was quickly answered – I could just walk in. So I did. (Fig. 11)

Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987

Figure 11
(Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987)

I was now in another new world, a combination of cold concrete and the musky odor of old paper and pigeon shit. I was in a room, probably 50 feet long, that faded into darkness as it led to the center of the building.

Gang graffiti on an interior wall confirmed my suspicions and sharpened my senses. I came across the remnants of a dead campfire in front of which a legless moldy couch (where did THAT come from??) sat. Crack den? Homeless “shelter”?

At just the point that my ears were straining for any sound of human activity, I was startled — no, scared shitless — by a sudden clapping sound from directly over my head. Several pigeons flew away and out the window, and I have never since heard the clatter of the first flight of a startled pigeon without going back to that moment.

The basement (first floor?) was a mess. Piles of absolutely unidentifiable, soggy “stuff”. The kind of stuff your mother would say never to touch. Nothing that gave any clue to the history. No machinery of any kind. Certainly sold as either machinery, parts or scrap. No tables, benches, just concrete floors, walls and ceilings, interrupted by concrete support posts. I had to get upstairs, but how? There was no chance of moving into the center of the building. Pitch black. Maybe stairwells in a corner? Yes. Good solid concrete stairs. No concerns (well…) of any structural weakness. Up to the second floor where I wandered aimlessly, walking carefully around the junk piles. Now the lighting was better and it became clear that the factory working space surrounded a core of inner offices. There was no probing the inner offices. Pitch black. WHY hadn’t I brought a flashlight?! Also a new realization. There seemed to be random holes cut in the floor, maybe 3×5 ft., some of which were covered or partially covered by the damp piles of whatever. Heads up.

“So through various yawning holes there slipped to the floor below–to one room hams, to another forequarters, to another sides of pork.”

Third floor. Same wandering. Same holes. Fourth floor. Same concept but a noted difference. The floor was scattered with all kinds of paper and large soft-cover books. I picked the papers up, looking for anything that would tell me something about who occupied this building. What company? When? I don’t remember anything about the content of any of them, but found some that were dated from the 1950s and early 60s. I don’t remember the company name, but it was a business that clearly had no relation to meatpacking. Disappointment. I guessed that the building owners were by the 50s just leasing the building to any company that could use the space.

Fifth floor. More paper. Thousands of sheets, scattered to the winds that whipped through the building. Also more of those big books. It was a quick jump to realize that the “books” were ledgers. I picked one up and read, stamped on the cover, “Libby McNeill & Libby”. The name didn’t ring a bell. I opened it and the cover broke off. The first sheet was a printed list of names on the left followed by numbers next to each name. I realized I was holding a pay ledger. It was dated 1922. As I turned the pages, it became clear that the employees were listed by department: “tin shop”, “lard pail division”, “maintainence”, “clerks”… and then… “corned beef”… and then the Mother Lode that sank it… “cutting floor”. There must have been a hundred pages with at least 25 names on each page. I was holding a pay ledger from Packingtown!

“There was scarcely a thing needed in the business that Durham and Company did not make for themselves. There was a great steam power plant and an electricity plant. There was a barrel factory, and a boiler-repair shop. There was a building to which the grease was piped, and made into soap and lard; and then there was a factory for making lard cans, and another for making soap boxes…. Meantime, heedless of all these things, the men upon the floor were going about their work. Neither squeals of hogs nor tears of visitors made any difference to them; one by one they hooked up the hogs, and one by one with a swift stroke they slit their throats. There was a long line of hogs, with squeals and lifeblood ebbing away together; until at last each started again, and vanished with a splash into a huge vat of boiling water…. In still other places men were engaged in cutting up the carcasses that had been through the chilling rooms. First there were the “splitters,” the most expert workmen in the plant, who earned as high as fifty cents an hour, and did not a thing all day except chop hogs down the middle. Then there were “cleaver men,” great giants with muscles of iron; each had two men to attend him–to slide the half carcass in front of him on the table, and hold it while he chopped it, and then turn each piece so that he might chop it once more…. And then the visitors were taken to the other parts of the building, to see what became of each particle of the waste material that had vanished through the floor; and to the pickling rooms, and the salting rooms, the canning rooms, and the packing rooms, where choice meat was prepared for shipping in refrigerator cars, destined to be eaten in all the four corners of civilization.”

The ledgers were scattered all over the floor – dozens? hundreds? I walked around, trying to find a combination of good condition and date. I collected several from the early 20s, but the prize? I found one in excellent condition from 1906, the year Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. I made the mistake of giving this one to a prized student, and it has disappeared into the mist of her history.

“A poor devil of a bookkeeper who had been working in Durham’s for twenty years at a salary of six dollars a week, and might work there for twenty more and do no better, would yet consider himself a gentleman, as far removed as the poles from the most skilled worker on the killing beds; he would dress differently, and live in another part of the town, and come to work at a different hour of the day, and in every way make sure that he never rubbed elbows with a laboring man. Perhaps this was due to the repulsiveness of the work; at any rate, the people who worked with their hands were a class apart, and were made to feel it.”

It was cold. I periodically checked outside, trying not to be seen in the window, concerned about how far I was away from my car and who might possibly be between me and it. When I looked out and saw a person walking across the open lot pushing a wheelbarrow with a tv in it, the first person I had seen all morning, I grew more apprehensive. He was apparently no threat – just walking by – but I decided it was time to leave.

Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987

Figure 12 (Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987)

But I had found a meatpacking plant that was in operation at the time The Jungle was written. I was happy with the day’s work. As I went down the stairs and out to the car, I felt confirmed in my feeling that the handful of other similar buildings scattered around the area must also have been packinghouses. Could I get into them? What would I find? I’d have to come back.

Back home, as I read more from Sinclair, I found this passage:

Bubbly Creek” is an arm of the Chicago River, and forms the southern boundary of the yards: all the drainage of the square mile of packing houses empties into it, so that it is really a great open sewer a hundred or two feet wide. One long arm of it is blind, and the filth stays there forever and a day. The grease and chemicals that are poured into it undergo all sorts of strange transformations, which are the cause of its name; it is constantly in motion, as if huge fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans disporting themselves in its depths. Bubbles of carbonic acid gas will rise to the surface and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide. Here and there the grease and filth have caked solid, and the creek looks like a bed of lava; chickens walk about on it, feeding, and many times an unwary stranger has started to stroll across, and vanished temporarily. The packers used to leave the creek that way, till every now and then the surface would catch on fire and burn furiously, and the fire department would have to come and put it out. Once, however, an ingenious stranger came and started to gather this filth in scows, to make lard out of; then the packers took the cue, and got out an injunction to stop him, and afterward gathered it themselves. The banks of “Bubbly Creek” are plastered thick with hairs, and this also the packers gather and clean.”

Now here was another adventure. Where exactly WAS this Bubbly Creek. Was it still around? I found a Chicago street map and saw the only “arm of the Chicago River” extending southward just east of Ashland, dead-ending just shy of 39th. It definitely did not “form the southern boundary” of the yards; if anything the northern boundary, but I had another goal now on my next trip back to Packingtown.

And so, now armed with a flashlight and some other tools, I headed back to the city at the next opportune weekend. I first concentrated on finding Bubbly Creek. After fumbling around for awhile, I crossed it on 35th St. between Ashland and Racine. Sure enough, here was a fairly wide arm of the Chicago River’s south branch (which goes east-west a little farther north), shooting off to the south, headed right toward Packingtown! Fumbling around on some more side streets, I found my way along the west bank of the river, looking for some place I could get access to it. And sure enough, by going east on 37th off of Ashland, I found my way through a couple of blocks of old brick buildings and found another abandoned building right on the west bank of the river, just south of 37th. I parked, once again distinctly aware of the fact that I was trespassing, and went into this crumbling building, discovering it to in fact be another packinghouse, although smaller than the one I was in the week before south of 39th (Pershing). In a corner elevator shaft, half-covered with twisted steel and broken concrete, I found an old iron-framed dolly. I worked hard to extract it, thinking it to be probably one like Sinclair describes here:

“Jonas pushed a truck loaded with hams from the smoke rooms on to an elevator, and thence to the packing rooms. The trucks were all of iron, and heavy, and they put about threescore hams on each of them, a load of more than a quarter of a ton. On the uneven floor it was a task for a man to start one of these trucks, unless he was a giant; and when it was once started he naturally tried his best to keep it going. There was always the boss prowling about, and if there was a second’s delay he would fall to cursing; Lithuanians and Slovaks and such, who could not understand what was said to them, the bosses were wont to kick about the place like so many dogs. Therefore these trucks went for the most part on the run; and the predecessor of Jonas had been jammed against the wall by one and crushed in a horrible and nameless manner.”

This thing was massive, and ergonomically disastrous. The placement of the handles made it the equivalent of bench-pressing a hundred pounds by holding the bars as far out toward the weights as possible. It had two small iron wheels at the other end that would catch on any crack or bump it came across. I came back a week later with my friend Steve Baker and a pick-up truck to keep it. It sat in my backyard in Wheaton for years and my daughters used it as a playhouse. Unfortunately the thing was just too big and heavy to store anywhere and I believe it has since gone out with the trash. I did get a metal sign made for it with some of the above paragraph inscribed on it, but I never had a place to display it.

After rummaging around in this building and finding little else of “value”, I went down to the edge of the river bank behind the building, which dropped sharply about 15 feet to the river. Lots of trash, junk, broken chunks of concrete, detritus, scrubby trees and underbrush. Not a pretty place. Was this Bubbly Creek? And had it started to sprinkle? The surface of the river showed the pattering of raindrops, but I felt no rain. Odd. I looked up at the sky – same cloudy gray day as before, but not raining. What in the world… and then of course it hit me. It was the creek. Bubbling. Holy crap! Almost 100 years later? Really??? I picked up a chunk of concrete and hurled it between some trees into the river, trying to get some sense of its depth from the sound. When what to my wondering eyes did appear, after several seconds an ugly blackish stain rose to the surface of the creek and began spreading. And this stain was positively fizzing – fizzing like a freshly-poured 7-Up. Wow. This was a good day.

In the years to come I took hundreds of my students on field trips to (among other places) the banks of Bubbly Creek so that they, too, could toss in a chunk of concrete and see Upton Sinclair’s Packingtown come alive. In later years the building was torn down and the property blocked off. We had to find another way in, which we did by going just south onto Chicago Streets and San. property, past a huge salt pile, across defunct railroad tracks (more Packingtown history, right?), zigzagging around mud puddles, avoiding twisted, rusted metal junk, abandoned trucks, stacks of concrete slabs… in other words, we violated probably every law of teacher sensibility on the books. I’m pretty sure it was worth it.

Back in the car now, to go back to the building I first visited just off Exchange, this time armed with a flashlight or two and a backpack to assist in carrying things out. This time I explored every floor all the way to the roof, malfunctioning camera in hand (Fig. 13).

Looking northeast toward the Loop from the roof – Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987

Figure 13 (Looking northeast toward the Loop from the roof – Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987)

I don’t remember which floor it was, but I wanted to get into those pitch-black offices in the center of the building. I believe I chose several floors before striking gold – the personnel offices. I found wooden filing cabinet after filing cabinet. I’d pull a drawer out and it would begin to fall apart. My flashlight was of course inadequate lighting for much reading, but I took a number of files and a couple more ledger books before departing.

It took some time poring through the ledgers at home before I understood just what (or who) Libby, McNeil and Libby was. Libby. Libby. Libby. Now where have I heard that name before? Of COURSE! “When it’s Libby Libby Libby on the table table table…” What does Libby’s make? CANNED fruits and vegetables, right? Things began to fall into place. Before refrigeration, most meat was canned. Libby’s wasn’t in the meatpacking business – it was in the canning business. The ledgers, with page after page of “lard pail division”, “tin can division”, etc. etc., were demonstrating a simple fact: it took more employees to make/paint/fill the cans than it did to butcher the cattle and hogs. What did Libby want to do? Fill those cans with any and all kinds of products.

“They don’t waste anything here,” said the guide, and then he laughed and added a witticism, which he was pleased that his unsophisticated friends should take to be his own: “They use everything about the hog except the squeal.”

Book excerpts that confirmed the things I was finding and seeing

 “At the end of this hog’s progress every inch of the carcass had been gone over several times; and then it was rolled into the chilling room, where it stayed for twenty-four hours, and where a stranger might lose himself in a forest of freezing hogs.”

“There were those who worked in the chilling rooms, and whose special disease was rheumatism; the time limit that a man could work in the chilling rooms was said to be five years.”

Door to a Chilling Room – Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987

Figure 14 (Door to a Chilling Room – Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987)

“Before the carcass was admitted here, however, it had to pass a government inspector, (Fig. 15) who sat in the doorway and felt of the glands in the neck for tuberculosis. This government inspector did not have the manner of a man who was worked to death; he was apparently not haunted by a fear that the hog might get by him before he had finished his testing. If you were a sociable person, he was quite willing to enter into conversation with you, and to explain to you the deadly nature of the ptomaines which are found in tubercular pork; and while he was talking with you you could hardly be so ungrateful as to notice that a dozen carcasses were passing him untouched. This inspector wore a blue uniform, with brass buttons, and he gave an atmosphere of authority to the scene, and, as it were, put the stamp of official approval upon the things which were done in Durham’s.”

Any man who knows anything about butchering knows that the flesh of a cow that is about to calve, or has just calved, is not fit for food. A good many of these came every day to the packing houses–and, of course, if they had chosen, it would have been an easy matter for the packers to keep them till they were fit for food. But for the saving of time and fodder, it was the law that cows of that sort came along with the others, and whoever noticed it would tell the boss, and the boss would start up a conversation with the government inspector, and the two would stroll away. So in a trice the carcass of the cow would be cleaned out, and entrails would have vanished; it was Jurgis’ task to slide them into the trap, calves and all, and on the floor below they took out these “slunk” calves, and butchered them for meat, and used even the skins of them.

The people of Chicago saw the government inspectors in Packingtown, and they all took that to mean that they were protected from diseased meat; they did not understand that these hundred and sixty-three inspectors had been appointed at the request of the packers, and that they were paid by the United States government to certify that all the diseased meat was kept in the state. They had no authority beyond that; for the inspection of meat to be sold in the city and state the whole force in Packingtown consisted of three henchmen of the local political machine!”

Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987

Figure 15 (Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987)

“There was no heat upon the killing beds; the men might exactly as well have worked out of doors all winter. For that matter, there was very little heat anywhere in the building, except in the cooking rooms and such places–and it was the men who worked in these who ran the most risk of all, because whenever they had to pass to another room they had to go through ice-cold corridors, and sometimes with nothing on above the waist except a sleeveless undershirt. On the killing beds you were apt to be covered with blood, and it would freeze solid; if you leaned against a pillar, (Fig. 16) you would freeze to that, and if you put your hand upon the blade of your knife, you would run a chance of leaving your skin on it. The men would tie up their feet in newspapers and old sacks, and these would be soaked in blood and frozen, and then soaked again, and so on, until by nighttime a man would be walking on great lumps the size of the feet of an elephant. Now and then, when the bosses were not looking, you would see them plunging their feet and ankles into the steaming hot carcass of the steer, or darting across the room to the hot-water jets. The cruelest thing of all was that nearly all of them–all of those who used knives–were unable to wear gloves, and their arms would be white with frost and their hands would grow numb, and then of course there would be accidents. Also the air would be full of steam, from the hot water and the hot blood, so that you could not see five feet before you; and then, with men rushing about at the speed they kept up on the killing beds, and all with butcher knives, like razors, in their hands– well, it was to be counted as a wonder that there were not more men slaughtered than cattle.”

Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987

Figure 16 (Photo by Bob Graham, circa 1987)

In Closing

The yards are gone, but so too now (2013) are the original packinghouses, at least the ones I was in, and I believe any others that one might have been able to enter. They began disappearing in the early 90s and by sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, they were gone. I am grateful for the time I had with them, for my brief glimpse into the world of The Jungle. (In 2001 I had a principal who wanted me fired. He compiled his list of “violations” I had committed during his tenure, one of which was “bragging to his class about breaking and entering buildings in Chicago”.)

List of items taken from Libby, McNeill & Libby Building, circa 1987

  1. Piece Work  “Pay Rolls” ledger for Libby, McNeill & Libby, week ending August 23, 1924. Approx. 40+ pages. Cover torn off but still with the ledger. This one has division pages in the front, individual pages toward the back, followed by about fifteen pages of “Premium List” sheets. J. Maytic produced 618 chucks at a rate of “47”, earning $30.93. (Figs. 17 and 18)
Small Piece Work Pay Roll Ledger, Week Ending Aug 23, 1924 – Picture taken by Bob Graham, 2013

Fig. 17 (Small Piece Work Pay Roll Ledger, Week Ending Aug. 23, 1924 – Picture taken by Bob Graham, 2013)

Interior page of small Piece Work Pay Roll Ledger, Week Ending Aug. 23, 1924 – Picture taken by Bob Graham, 2013

Fig. 18 (Interior page of small Piece Work Pay Roll Ledger, Week Ending Aug. 23, 1924 – Picture taken by Bob Graham, 2013)

2. Four-page “Application for Fidelity Bond” for “The Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation, Limited, Fidelity and Surety Department”, dated Nov. 9, 1943 for one Kenneth Kenjiro Kono, a Japanese citizen who was transferring from the Libby plant in Honolulu to work as a chemist for Libby in Chicago

Obituary in the Honolulu Star Bulletin for Kenneth Kono, who died at age 89 in February, 2002. If only I had known. Here’s the obit:

Kenneth Kenjiro Kono, 89, of Pearl City, a retired chemist for Libby McNeil and Brewer Chemical, died last Saturday. He was born in Honolulu. He is survived by wife Tomiko “Atkins”; sons Fred and Michael; daughter Joann Fujioka; brother Thomas; sisters Irene Amazaki, Shizue Nakagawa and Katherine Kono; three grandsons; and a great-grandson. Services: 6 p.m. tomorrow at Mililani Mortuary-Waipio, makai chapel. Call after 5:30 p.m. Casual attire. No flowers.

Google books site to buy the book he wrote in 1935. It was his thesis for his Master’s Degree from the University of Hawaii.

Bulletin of International Christian University, 1963, in which Tomiko Kono is named in a list on P. 13 that I’m thinking is faculty members. It shows her with a degree in chemistry.

3. “Application for Employment with Libby, McNeill & Libby” – 3-page form filled out by John Ed Koston of 3627 S. Paulina, dated August 1, 1933. (Fig. 19) (a Google search turned up nothing on his name)

Application for Employment, John Ed Koston, August 1, 1933 – Photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 19 (Application for Employment, John Ed Koston, August 1, 1933 – Photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013)

4. Second “Application for Employment with Libby, McNeill & Libby” – 3-page form filled out by John Ed Koston of 3627 S. Paulina, dated August 1, 1933. (Note: “Do you read, write or speak any foreign language” Answer: “Yes, I speak the polish language”) (Note: He has been “Out of Work” since November, 1931.)

5. Four-page “Application for Fidelity Bond” for “The Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation, Limited, Fidelity and Surety Department”, dated August 1, 1933 for one John Ed Koston of 3627 S. Paulina (GoogleEarth streetview shows a home that could be from that time). It shows that he lived at home with his mother and previously worked at the World’s Fair. (Fig. 20)

Application for Fidelity Bond, John Ed Koston, Aug 1, 1933 – Photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 20 (Application for Fidelity Bond, John Ed Koston, Aug. 1, 1933 – Photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013)

6. A second four-page “Application for Fidelity Bond” for “The Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation, Limited, Fidelity and Surety Department”, dated August 1, 1933 for one John Ed Koston of 3627 S. Paulina. Some of the details, such as witness, are different.

7. A third four-page “Application for Fidelity Bond” for “The Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation, Limited, Fidelity and Surety Department”, dated August 1, 1933 for one John Ed Koston of 3627 S. Paulina. (Note: He worked for “Victor Bed” at 2256 S. LaSalle as a receiving clerk from May, 1925 until November, 1931. Reason for leaving: “Bankrupt”)

8. “Western Trunk Lines’ Division Street No. 701 Illinois Freight Association Tariff Bureau Division Sheet No. 97” “Showing Percentages Accruing To and From CAIRO, ILL., EAST ST. LOUIS, ILL, GALE, ILL., KANSAS CITY, MO., ST. LOUIS, MO., And THEBES, ILL.” “CLASS AND COMMODITY JOINT RATES”, a 33-page booklet issued July 25, 1935. (Fig. 21)

Western Trunk Lines Commodity Rates Sheets - Photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 21 (Western Trunk Lines Commodity Rates Sheets, photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013)

9. One 3×5 card, lined on one side showing a name of “Krasniewski, Jno. J.”. It appears to be a card noting his transfer from the Wholesale Market to the General Office in his role as a cashier.

10. “Employes Service Record” with two stapled half-slips on the back for one Lula Mae Marley of 4116 Federal, who was “Laid Off To decrease force” on 8/22/27. She worked in the Lard Pail division. Earliest date of employment seems to be 1923. (Fig. 22)

WJ Gilland, left, and Lula Mae Marley, right – photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 22 (W.J. Gilland, left, and Lula Mae Marley, right – photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013)

11. One 3×5 card, lined on one side showing a name of “Gilliland, W.J.” identifying him as a “Salesman”, location “Savannah, Ga.” and “Jaxonville, Fla. with an amount of “1000”. (Fig. 22)

12. One page of a pay ledger from “Week Ending Aug 22 1943” (mid-WWII) listing five women in the Sausage division. I love these names: Mary Kolpak, Stella Turkowski, Mary Paciga, Anna Landis, and Mary Tabak. They were paid between 62 and 64 ½ cents/hour. Her 40-hour week saw Mary net $25.32 after paying $2.00 for “Bond”, 29 cents toward her pension, 50 cents for “supplies” and 32 cents for group life insurance. $3.11 cents out of $28.58. Keep in mind no withholding tax, so she’ll have to pay full amount in April. It cost Libby $63.41 for all five women for the week.

Single page of a pay ledger, week ending Aug 22 1943 – Photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 23 (Single page of a pay ledger, week ending Aug 22 1943 – photo taken by Bob Graham, 2013)

13. One page of pay ledger from “Week Ending Jan. 5 1935” (heart of the Depression) in “Case Goods Shipping”. Ten male employees earning 50-53 ½ cents per hour. A 40-hour week grossed $20.56 with 45 cents taken out for benefits and insurance. These ten employees cost Libby $184.82 for the week.

14. Small “Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls” “Piece Work” ledger, week ending Sept. 4th, 1920. Approximately 30 pages. First pages devoted to single employee each, later pages devoted to men working on cutting floors, by different cuts of meat: chucks, ribs, rolls, rumps, etc. J. Reynolds produced 686 chucks during that week and was paid $39.23 at a rate of “57”. My calculations show that 686 x 5.7 cents arrives at $39.10. Not sure where the extra 13 cents comes in, but I guarantee they sucked it out of him somehow.

15. Small “Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls” “Piece Work” ledger, week ending May 10th, 1924. Also about 30 pages. Cover is torn off but still with the ledger. This one shows Jones producing 272 chucks by the end of the week at a rate of “500 ½”, earning $13.61. Work seems slower and paying less than 1920.

16. Single page from a pay ledger “Week Ending Jan. 5 1935” – Case Goods Shipping Division. Fifty cents an hour average.

And the Big One:

  1. “Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls” for week ending November 18, 1922 – a 226-page pay ledger containing (assumably) every single division of the company. The book was found on the floor with the cover open. At least several of the early pages, maybe up to ten, were missing. The first full exposed page was covered in dried pigeon droppings. After that, every page has 20 ledger spaces. Not every page is filled, but on average more are filled than not. (Figs. 24-27)
Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls for week ending November 18, 1922 - With cover closed - Photo by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 24 (Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls for week ending November 18, 1922 – With cover closed – Photo by Bob Graham, 2013)

Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls for week ending November 18, 1922  - With cover open, as found in 1987 – Photo by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 25 (Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls for week ending November 18, 1922 – With cover open, as found in 1987 – Photo by Bob Graham, 2013)

Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls for week ending November 18, 1922  - typical ledger page – Photo by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 26 (Figure 25 (Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls for week ending November 18, 1922 – typical ledger page – Photo by Bob Graham, 2013

Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls for week ending November 18, 1922 - Photo by Bob Graham, 2013

Figure 27 (Libby, McNeill & Libby Pay Rolls” for week ending November 18, 1922 – close-up of ledger page showing from left to right, typed hourly wage, hours worked per day, hours worked weekly, and total pay for the week. Photo by Bob Graham, 2013)

The following is a record of the pages of the above ledger in chronological order:

  1. Lard Pail – 4 pages (does not include the missing early pages)

“And so Stanislovas went down a long stone corridor, and up a flight of stairs, which took him into a room lighted by electricity, with the new machines for filling lard cans at work in it. The lard was finished on the floor above, and it came in little jets, like beautiful, wriggling, snow-white snakes of unpleasant odor. There were several kinds and sizes of jets, and after a certain precise quantity had come out, each stopped automatically, and the wonderful machine made a turn, and took the can under another jet, and so on, until it was filled neatly to the brim, and pressed tightly, and smoothed off. To attend to all this and fill several hundred cans of lard per hour, there were necessary two human creatures, one of whom knew how to place an empty lard can on a certain spot every few seconds, and the other of whom knew how to take a full lard can off a certain spot every few seconds and set it upon a tray.”

  1. Tin Shop – 5 pages (one unidentified page in these five pages)
  2. Lard Pail – 1
  3. Tin shop – 4
  4. Tin Shop – Repairs – 1
  5. Tin Shop – lithograph- 3
  6. Tin shop – 1
  7. Tin Shop – Lard Pail – 5
  8. Tin Shop – 4
  9. Tin Shop – Square Can – 2
  10. Tin Shop – 3
  11. Unidentified page
  12. Tin Shop – Lard Pail – 3
  13. Two pages of what looks like totals of some kind – no names
  14. Tin Shop – 2
  15. Label Room – 17
  16. C.D. Beef – 9
  17. Beef extract – Boullion Cubes – 2
  18. Bulk Extract – 1
  19. Square Can – Corn Beef Stuffing – 8
  20. Square Can – Trimming – 1
  21. Square Can – Stuffing Corn Beef – 2
  22. Square Can – 2
  23. Square Can – Cook Room – 3
  24. Square Can – 8th Floor – 1
  25. Unidentified page – 1
  26. Square Can – (looks like totals) – 1
  27. Smokehouse – 1
  28. Restaurant – 2 (total of 7 names on the two pages)
  29. Store Room – 1
  30. Print shop – 1
  31. Watchmen – 1 (total of ten names)
  32. Night Watch Service – 1 (total of 17 names)
  33. Night Janitors – 2
  34. Janitors – 1 (looks like a totals page)
  35. Round Can – 7
  36. Round Can – Kitchen – 1
  37. Round Can – 3
  38. Round Can – Potted Meats – 1
  39. Round Can – 2
  40. Round Can – Sc. Room – 3
  41. Unidentified page – 1 (possibly continuation of names from previous page??)
  42. Round Can – Cook Room – 1
  43. Sc. Room – Kitchen – 1
  44. Kitchen – Round Can – 2
  45. Round Can – Janitors – 1
  46. Unidentified page – 1 (looks like totals)
  47. Round Can – Sausage – 4
  48. Sausage – 1
  49. Sausage – Round Can – 1
  50. Cutting Floor – 14
  51. Bf. Cutting –  1
  52. Unidentified page – 1 (looks like totals)
  53. Tallow Bone – 1 (page contains one name)
  54. Freezers – 4
  55. Cutting- 1
  56. Wholesale Market – 2
  57. Salesman – Wholesale Market – 2
  58. Wholesale Market – 1
  59. Retail Market – 3
  60. Carpenters – Mechanical – 2
  61. Mechanical – Job Shop – 1 (2 names)
  62. Mechanical – Machinist – 2
  63. Mechanical – Oiler & Elevator – 1
  64. Mechanical – Blacksmith – 1 (5 names)
  65. Mechanical – Pipe Shop – 2
  66. Mechanical – Steam & Power – 1
  67. Mechanical – Electrician – 1
  68. Mechanical – Recap – 1 (looks like totals)
  69. Autos – Drivers – 1
  70. Drivers – Stables – 1
  71. Stable Gang – 1
  72. Coopers – 4
  73. Mince Meat – 4 pages (2 pages with only 1 or 2 names each)
  74. Label Room – Sample Packing – 2
  75. W.B. Box Fact. – 1
  76. Box Factory – Wire Bound – 5
  77. C.G. Shipping – 4
  78. Pickle Cellar – 5
  79. F.M. Shippg. – 2
  80. Roustabouts – 3
  81. Roustabouts – Recap – 1 (looks like totals – no names)
  82. C.D. Beef – 1
  83. Label Room – 1
  84. Rd. Can Stuffing – 1
  85. Tin Shop Repairs – 1
  86. Restaurant – 1
  87. Store Room – 1
  88. Plant Administration – 1
  89. Mechanical – 1
  90. Stable Gang – 1 (1 name)
  91. Team Shipping (lower on same page – 9 names)
    1. C.G. Shipping – 1
    2. Pickle Cellar – 1 – (1 name)
    3. F.M. Shipping – (lower on same page – 2 names)
    4. Roustabouts – (lower on same page – 2 names)
      1. Cutting Floor – 1 (2 names)
      2. Tallow and Bone – (lower on same page – 1 name)
      3. Freezers – (lower on same page – 3 names)
        1. Watch Service – 1 (five names)
        2. Night Janitors (lower on same page – 1 name)

(MY NOTE: Remaining pages are combinations like 91, 93, 94, 95)

92. Coopers – Mincemeat – Sample Packing – Wire Bound Box Factory – 1

93. Unidentified page with hand-written names, side notes, such as “Off all week” and “Late Saturday” – 1

94. Unidentified page with typewritten names, same kinds of side notes

95. Unidentified pages with handwritten names and what look like weekly hours written in – 6


Approximately 80 pages devoted to some aspect of making, filling or painting the cans. Approximately 55 pages devoted to the actual slaughterhouse aspects (cutting floor, sausage, etc.). Approximately 60 pages devoted to support staff (janitors, mechanics, electricians, sales, etc.). 1 page devoted to Management.

Thus ends the regular ledger pages. There are several additional small sheets stuck in the back binding, as well as maybe up to 50 very thin 1/8-page length sheets of other data on individual workers. They are very hard to read as they are small and crammed so tightly into the top binding.


About robertwallacegraham

Retired high school teacher, curmudgeon, soccer coach, bicyclist, etc. etc.
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One Response to Visiting “The Jungle”

  1. Heather Somers says:

    Thank you so much for this. I just finished reading The Jungle, and I am amazed at your find. I am a teacher myself, so I understand how excited you were when you came across this. Thank you for sharing.

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