Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Story of Chicago's "Walking Man."

Joseph "Joe" Kromelis is known in Chicago as "The Walking Man" or "The Walking Dude.

Kromelis moved to Chicago with his family from Lithuania or Germany as a kid and grew up above the bar his parents ran on Halsted. It was near a ballpark, which one is still a mystery. His parents sold the tavern and moved to southwest Michigan when he was about 19. But Kromelis stuck around in Chicago. He tried a factory job but didn’t like it. He got a peddlers license and sold jewelry on the street. That’s when he began wandering the Loop. 
To most of his fellow downtown pedestrians, he was just "Walking Man," or "Walking Dude," a familiar, tall, mustachioed guy who wandered around town in a V-neck T-shirt and a kerchief tucked in the breast pocket of his suit jacket, going who knew where. Occasionally, he'd stop to comb his flamboyant hair. 

“There’s nothing wrong with him. He’s not mentally ill. He just likes walking. It’s that simple. My husband couldn’t figure it out, but he accepted it. That’s Joe. He loves the city,” his sister-in-law, Linda Kromelis said.
He lived in an efficiency apartment or an SRO (single room occupancy) building in Lincoln Park for about 30 years, until he had to leave because it was turned into condos in 2012. He never married and had no children.
Joseph Kromelis, second from left, stands with his now-deceased siblings in a family photo. From left are: John, Joe, Pete, Bruno, and Irene. (Photo provided by family)
Kromelis had been a fixture in downtown street life. Walking north near the Hancock Center, south near the Sears [Willis] Tower, on the Riverwalk and across the bridges, occasionally in more far-flung areas. He was often seen patiently browsing inside stores on the Magnificent Mile and in Streeterville. He liked peddling jewelry on the streets and preferred to keep to himself and walk the city, every day and in every kind of weather.
Walking was what Joseph Kromelis was doing around 11 AM on Tuesday, May 24, 2016, when he was attacked. He told police he was on Lower Wacker and said hello to someone he passed. That man began punching and hitting him with a bat, Chicago police said. A police officer responding to a battery call saw the attacker straddled over Kromelis, struggling with the bat, according to a police report. A witness told the sergeant the suspect also tried to throw Kromelis over a railing to the pavement about 20 feet below. Kromelis was taken by ambulance to Northwestern Memorial Hospital to be treated for several injuries, including severe cuts to both eyes, according to the report. He also suffered leg injuries from being hit with the bat. He was listed in fair condition.
September 19, 2019
Rich Kolar writes: I ran into him today. Joe Kromelis is doing fine. We talked for a minute or so in front of the Cultural Center. A nice intelligent man who graciously let me take his photo.
Today, he'd be 73 or 74 years old. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

4 comments:

  1. WOW.....I absolutely saw him last within the last 5 yrs...im not sure if it was 5 yrs ago or within 3 yrs ...but i absolutely saw him in Madison and Wabash where i always used to see him.....I used to work at the 29 East Madison Bldg from 1977 thru 1990.....id always see him....then i moved to Israel and was not in the city as much....that is why when i did see him again within the last 5 years...i was shocked to see that he was STILL around....Unbelievable!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting man, but sorry to hear he was attacked. Evidently, he likes to walk around.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I met Joe in the Early 1970's He used to come into my Fathers Pawn Shop on north Clark street and buy jewelry to sell at his hangouts. He was a nice guy and pretty knowledgeable about jewelry.

    ReplyDelete
  4. just saw him last saturday, 5/2/20, downtown

    ReplyDelete

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is rated PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Comments not on the article's topic will be deleted, along with advertisements.