Ed Kramer is a WBEZ gem. Not just because, at age 87, he’s the station’s longest-serving volunteer, but because he’s a walking encyclopedia of Chicago history.
When it comes to relaying that history, Ed can conjure up 75-year-old memories — fishing on Navy Pier, confronting a Crane Tech bully and crunching into a new dish called an egg roll — as if he lived them last night.
So when I started researching a story for Curious City on Chicago’s Union Stockyards , I had to check in with my pal. I wanted to know if he’d ever visited the South Side livestock market in its heyday. And, of course, he had.
As soon as he started telling me about his eighth-grade teacher Mrs. Paulson, her squeamish son, and the trains his eighth-grade class took to during their slaughterhouse field trip in the fall of 1941, I implored him to join me in a studio to get it all on record.
To me, his tale speaks volumes about the quotidian nature of the massive livestock industry in 1940s Chicago — and about how far removed we’ve gotten from the source of our meat today.
As I’ve covered food and slaughter over the years, I’ve learned how uneasy people can be with the subject. I once got hate letters for letting my daughter see a slaughter on a farm. So a Chicago Public School field trip to watch a cow die today would be controversial at best.
“But there was no controversy at all,” Ed told me in the recording studio that day. “No one objected. None of their parents objected. We all just thought it was a normal thing to do.”
This audio postcard is the result of my impromptu recording session along with sound design by Curious City’s John Fecile and Jesse Dukes, who enlisted the help of current middle schoolers from Franklin Fine Arts Center.
As I listen to it again, I only wish I had more time each day to sit down and gather more of Ed Kramer’s stories.
Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.