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.
“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.
|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)|
|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.|
Chicago’s ‘Walking Man’ lit on fire, suffering burns to half his body in a second brutal attack in 6 years: ‘To single him out for this kind of abuse is shocking and inhuman.’
—Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2022
A 75-year-old man known affectionately to Chicagoans as the “Walking Man,” was in critical condition early Wednesday after someone doused him in flammable liquid and lit him on fire as he lay on the ground overnight on Lower Wacker Drive, according to Chicago police.Joseph Kromelis, who once told the Tribune he “roams as a way of life,” had been resting or sleeping when a man he didn’t know came up to him in the 400 block of North Lower Wabash Avenue about 2:50 a.m., police said.The stranger doused him with lighter fluid and “then proceeded to ignite the victim before fleeing the scene,” according to a media statement from police.A security officer working at a nearby building in the Near North neighborhood saw the man engulfed in flames and rushed over with a fire extinguisher, which he used to put the fire out, police said.Paramedics took him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where the man was listed in critical condition. Authorities said he suffered burns “to nearly half his body.” He was scheduled to be transferred to Stroger’s burn unit.The attacker, who is wanted on suspicion of aggravated battery and arson, took off running west and into the Blue Line CTA tunnel after setting the man on fire.The attacker, of an unknown race, had a thin build and was wearing a baseball hat, black pants, a black and white hooded “Hoodrich” sweatshirt, and gray sandals, police said in a community alert.Police have not suggested a motive for the attack but are reviewing security footage.In May 2016, also along Lower Wacker Drive, Kromelis was beaten by an attacker wielding a baseball bat. He spent several weeks hospitalized and he rallied back.Back in 2016, Janice Riggs started a GoFundMe account for Kromelis. Reached on Wednesday, Riggs was appalled.“I’m crushed. I think this is a horrible thing to attack someone who is nothing more than a friend to everyone around Chicago,” Riggs said. “He’s is a totally harmless individual. To single him out for this kind of abuse is shocking and inhuman.”Strangers, who for decades recognized him by his distinctive long, wavy hair, mustache, and sport coat as he wandered downtown streets, were so moved by his plight in 2016 that they donated more than $33,000 to the GoFundMe account. Well-wishers spent another $5,500 on charity T-shirts bearing the slogan “Walk on, Dude.”Kromelis has been a fixture in downtown street life, often seen browsing inside stores and walking the streets of the Magnificent Mile and Streeterville. He has been featured in news stories and videos, including a YouTube feature titled “Dudementary.” A few years ago, someone created a Facebook page where people post sightings.Kromelis once joked: “I’m like the Kardashians — I’m famous for doing nothing.”Riggs saw him most recently in Millennium Park near the skating rink about three months ago.She decided against striking up a conversation because she didn’t want to jolt him out of his routine. But he seemed happy and healthy.When she would stop and briefly chat with him after the attack, he never really “made the connection” that she was the person who had instigated the GoFundMe, which was later taken over by Kromelis’ relatives.He’s always been tough and obviously in very good shape but after the beating, there were “long lapses” where she would not see him, and then, the pandemic.He “didn’t engage” as much as he used to, and moved much slower, Riggs said. “He was more isolated with himself.”“He used to be the fastest man in Chicago. I would see him in Palos Heights and then a half a day later see him in Edgewater or near Wrigley Field,” Riggs said.“He was everywhere.”When people on the street talk to him and ask how he is doing, he would respond but was never very forthcoming.“It wasn’t like he was isolated on the street. He was always very polite and was very reticent about discussing himself. He would talk about anything in the world but not himself.”No arrests had been made as of Wednesday afternoon and no description of the attacker had been released by police.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.