The Jungle | #9

...and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off.

One of the first consequences of the discovery of the union was that Jurgis became desirous of learning English. He wanted to know what was going on at the meetings, and to be able to take part in them; and so he began to look about him, and to try to pick up words. The children, who were at school, and learning fast, would teach him a few; and a friend loaned him a little book that had some in it, and Ona would read them to him. Then Jurgis became sorry that he could not read himself; and later on in the winter, when some one told him that there was a night-school that was free, he went and enrolled. After that, every evening that he got home from the yards in time he would go to the school; he would go, even if he were in time for only half an hour. There were teaching him both reading and speaking English—and they would have taught him other things, too, if only he had had a little time. He would have liked to have Ona go also; he promised himself that some day the time would come when she would not have to work herself to death, but might have some strength left to go with him.

Also the union made another great difference with him—it made him begin to pay attention to the country. It was the beginning of democracy with him. It was a little state, the union; a miniature republic; its affairs were every man's affairs, and every man had a real say about them. Every man had rights, which other men had to respect; and they did respect them; the laws were enforced. And just as soon as Jurgis had come to understand this and to get used to it, he had a standard by which to judge the larger state, the country in which he lived, in which the laws were not enforced, and in which a man, as a man, was nothing.

In other words, in the union Jurgis learned to talk politics. In the place where he had come from there had not been any politics. Lithuania constitutes five provinces of the Russian Empire, and there Jurgis had learned to think of the government as an affliction like the lightning and the hail, something that was there, and had been there and would be there forever, leaving a man nothing to do but keep out of its way. "Duck, little brother, duck," the wise old peasants would tell one; "everything passes away." And when Jurgis had first came to America he had supposed that it was the same. He had heard people say that American was a free country—but what did that mean to him? He found that here, precisely as in Russia, there were rich men who owned everything, so that there was no way to live save by serving them; and if one could not find any chance to serve, was not the hunger he began to feel the very same sort of hunger? Also there were policemen to see that he did not steal, and kept out of people's way; only in Russia the policemen were friendly, and would call one Brother while they pushed him along—whereas the policemen here in America were Cossacks. Out in the stockyards they were all Irishmen, and rated a Slav of any sort as lower than a yellow dog. They would curse at him and kick him; they would search him on the street, or break into his own house, if they felt like it, and if he protested, like as not they would crack his head open. And if that did not shut him up they would drag him to the station-house and lock him in, and he might stay there two or three days without any one's knowing where he was. Often they did not even enter his name on the station-house register—that was the way they laughed at the law with a poor man. It would be worse yet if he were taken to court, for they would charge him with anything that came into their heads, from drunkenness to burglary, and when he told his story to the judge the interpreter would say that he was confessing and begging for mercy!

When Jurgis had been working about three weeks at Smith's, there had come to him one noon-time a man who was employed as a night-watchman, and who had asked him if he would not like to take out naturalization papers and become a citizen. Jurgis did not know what he meant, but the man explained the numerous advantages. In the first place it would not cost him anything and it would get him half a day off, with his pay just the same; and then when election-time came he would be able to vote—and there were opportunities in that. Jurgis was naturally glad to accept, and so the night-watchman said a few words to the boss, and Jurgis was excused for the rest of the day. When later on he wanted a holiday to get married he could not get it; and as for a holiday with pay just the same—what power had wrought that miracle heaven only knew! However, he went with the man, who picked up several other newly-landed immigrants, Poles, Lithuanians, and Slovaks, and took them all outside, where stood a great four-horse tally-ho coach, with fifteen or twenty men already in it. It was a fine chance to see the sights of the city, and the party had a merry time, with plenty of beer handed up from inside. So they drove downtown, and stopped before an imposing granite building, which had taken some twenty years to finish, and had cost the city uncounted millions of dollars; in it they interviewed an official, who had the papers all ready, with only the names to be filled in. Each man in turn took an oath of which he did not understand a word, and then was presented with a handsome ornamented document with a big red seal and the shield of the United States upon it, and was told that he had become a citizen of the great republic and the equal of the president himself.

A month or two later Jurgis had another interview with this same man, who got him a second holiday and told him where to go to register. And then finally when election-day came, the packing-houses posted a notice that men who desired to vote might remain away until nine that morning—it was supposed to be a legal holiday—and the same nightwatchman took Jurgis and the rest of his flock into the back-room of a saloon, and showed each of them where and how to mark a ballot, and then gave each two dollars, and took them to the polling place, where there was a policeman on duty to see that they got through all right. Jurgis felt quite proud of this good luck, till he got home and met Jonas, who had been sharper than he. Jonas had been making inquiries for himself, and had taken the leader aside and whispered to him, offering to vote three times for four dollars, which offer had been accepted.

And now in the union Jurgis met men who explained all this mystery to him; and he learned that American differed from Russia in that its government existed under the dead forms of a democracy. The officials who ruled it, and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters, known as political parties, and the one got the office which bought the most votes. Now and then the election was very close, and that was the time the poor man came in. In the stockyards this was only in national and state elections, for in local elections the democratic party always carried everything. The ruler of this district was therefore the democratic boss, a little Irishman named Tom Cassidy. Cassidy held an important party office in the state, and bossed even the mayor of the city, it was said; it was his boast that he carried the stockyards district in his pocket. He was an enormously rich man—he had a hand in the all the big graft in the neighborhood. It was Cassidy, for instance, who owned that dump which Jurgis and Ona had seen the first day of their arrival. Not only did he own the dump, but owned the brick factory as well; and first he took out the clay and made it into bricks, and it then he had the city bring garbage to fill up the hole, so that he could build flimsy houses and sell them to people for three times what they were worth. Then too, he sold the bricks to the city, at his own price, and the city came and got them in its own wagons. And also he owned the other hole near by, where the stagnant water was; and it was he who cut the ice and sold it to the people; and what was more, if the men told truth, he had not had to pay any taxes for the water, and he had built the ice house out of city lumber, and had not had to pay anything for that. The newspapers had got hold of that story, and there had been a scandal; but Cassidy had hired somebody to confess and take all the blame and then skip the country. It was said too that he had built the brick-kiln in the same way, and that the workmen were on the city pay-roll while they did it; however one had to press closely to get these things out of the men, for it was not their business, and Tom Cassidy was a good man to stand in with. A note signed by him was equal to a job any time at the packing-houses; and also he employed a good many men himself, and worked them only eight hours a day, and paid them the highest wages. This gave him many friends—all of whom had gotten together into the War-Whoop League whose club house you might see, just outside of the yards. It was the biggest club house, and the biggest club in all Chicago; and they had prize fights every now and then, and cock-fights, and even dog-fights; all these were against the law, but the law was nothing to Cassidy. The policemen in the district all belonged to the league (which was also against the law), and instead of suppressing the fights, they sold tickets for them. The man that had taken Jurgis to be naturalized was one of these "Indians," as they were called; and on election-day there would be hundreds of them out, and all with big wads of money in their pockets, and free drinks at every saloon in the district. That was another thing, the men said—all the saloon-keepers had to be "Indians," and to put up on demand, otherwise they could not do business on Sundays, nor dare they have any gambling at all. In the same way Cassidy had all the jobs in the fire-department at his disposal, and all the rest of the city graft in that district; he was building a block of flats somewhere up on Ashland Avenue, and the man who was overseeing it for him was drawing pay as a city inspector of sewers. The city inspector of water-pipes has been dead and buried for over a year, but somebody was still drawing his pay for Cassidy. The city inspector of sidewalks was a bar-keeper at the War-Whoop Cafe—and maybe he could not make it uncomfortable for any tradesman who did not stand in with Cassidy!

Even the packers were in awe of him, so the men said. It gave them pleasure to believe this, for Cassidy stood as the people's man, and boasted of it boldly when election day came. The packers had wanted a bridge at Ashland Avenue, but they had not been able to get it till they had seen Cassidy; and it was the same with "Bubbley Creek," which the city had threatened to make the packers cover over, till Cassidy had come to their aid. "Bubbley 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 nature. It is constantly in motion, as if huge fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans disporting themselves in its depths; bubbles 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 and never been seen again. The packers used to leave it 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 soap out of; then the packers took the cue, and got out an injunction to stop him, and afterwards gathered it themselves. The banks of "Bubbley Creek" are plastered thick with hairs, and this also the packers gather, and clean.

And there were things even stranger than this, according to the gossip of the men. The packers had secret mains, it was said, and were stealing the city water by the millions of gallons every year. That meant hundreds of thousands of dollars in their pockets; and make believe that Cassidy was not coming in for a piece of that pie! Green as he was to Chicago, Jurgis could hardly believe that story; but some time afterwards the papers were full of the scandal, and the city government was forced to dig round the packing-houses and investigate. They came upon several unregistered water-mains—only the night before there has all been dug out and cut and stopped, and the plugs treated with chemicals to make it seem that they were many years old. Then, after the impudent newspapers had had time to satisfy themselves, one night the mains were again connected and buried, and once more there was a long lull, until this story too began to be whispered.

The great advantage that the packers enjoy in these things in that they are so big that people will not believe they can be dishonest; they are a national institution, and it is absurd to suppose that they would stoop to things like this. And all the time the fact is that it is exactly by stooping to things like this that they have become big! And then the foolish people keep talking about the risk—as if there were risk in doing anything at all in Chicago, unless you are poor! they talk about the loss to their reputation, and so on—as if the packers had any more need of reputation than a highwayman who knocks you out with a club! The men used to laugh at all this, understanding it to the full; they had no end of it, with visitors wandering about the place questioning them. From the room where they kill the hogs, in each of the plants, go daily a certain number of carcasses marked with red tags: "U.S. Condemned." These hogs have been found to be tuberculous, which means that the flesh had ptomaines in it. These ptomaines are deadly poisons—and not germs which cooking can kill, but poisons, which remain and be fatal, no matter what may be done to the meat. The government requires that these carcasses be "tanked," that is destroyed and turned into fertilizer; and it has stringent regulations as to exactly how it shall be done. The tanks are to be sealed at the bottom by a government employee, and the seals may not be removed till certain things have been done to destroy the meat. And with these laws before them, the men found it quite impossible to convince any inquirer that these tanks were ever kept open, and the condemned meat, that was thrown in at the top, taken out at the bottom and made into sausage. Yet Jurgis met man after man who had seen this done with his own eyes, and some who had helped to do it. He grew interested, and found that the knowledge of it was an every day, matter-of-fact thing among the men, and they would laugh, and tell how newspaper reporters and visiting wise men had demanded to know if they would make affidavit to it, and been answered, "Certainly, if you will go under bond to find me a job for the rest of my life!"

Originally printed illustration - Men taking condemned carcasses out of the vats

Yet the visitors need not have given up in despair; there were plenty of other things they might have seen with their own eyes, if they were fairly lucky in dodging the "spotters" of the companies. It was quite easy, for instance, to be an eye witness of how the law regarding meat packed for shipment was heeded. Anyone can get this law from the Bureau of Animal Industries in Washington, and read how there must be an official inspector, with a force of assistants, wherever meat is packed and shipped; and that he shall examine each package, and then affix a numbered paper stamp, which he shall then cancel in a manner elaborately specified—so that the wavy lines of the cancellation shall run over each side of the stamp. The object of this is, of course, that the stamp shall be canceled after it is on the box and not before; and when the visitor has made sure of that, there are several thousands of employees in Packingtown who can tell him a dozen places to go and watch, while the foreman of the shipping-room goes over to the far-distant inspector's office and gets a big bunch of canceled stamps, and comes back and pastes one on each tightly sealed box of meat. There were men with whom Jurgis talked at the union meetings who had been working in the shipping-room for years, and had never seen that law complied with once in all the time.

There was never any inspection of meat at all after it left the killing-floor save by the packers themselves, and with meat intended for export. Jurgis asked why this was, and the men told him that there were some foreign countries in which the laws were enforced. For this reason all the best met was sent abroad—it was impossible to get it in this country, not even the richest hotels and clubs could get it. The good went to France and England, and the very best to Germany, which was apparently the one country there was no deceiving. Germany has caused the packers no end of trouble,—for which, with characteristic ingenuity, they had recouped themselves by putting out imitations of German meat for home markets! The great Anderson printing plant made labels by the tens and hundreds of thousands, French, German, Italian, and what not; one of the men had some of them in his pocket, and showed a whole set, for smoked and canned meats, labeled in brilliant colors: "August Bauer, Frankfort-Am-Main."

Jurgis heard of these things little by little, in the gossip of those who were obliged to perpetrate them; every time you met a person from a new department, you heard of new swindles and new crimes. There was, for instance, a Lithuanian who was a cattle-butcher for the plant where Marija had worked, which killed meat for canning only; and to hear this man describe the animals which came to his killing-floor would have been worth while for a Dante or a Zola. It seemed that they must have agencies all over the country, to hunt out old and crippled and diseased cattle to be canned. On the prairies nearby for instance, were hundreds of farms which supplied the city with milk; and all the cows that developed lumpy jaw, or fell sick, or dried up of old age—they kept them till they had a carload, which was twenty, and then shipped them to this place to be canned. Here came also cattle which had been fed on "whiskey-malt," the refuse of the breweries, and had become what the men called "steerly"—which means covered with boils that were full of matter. It was a nasty job killing these, for when you plunged your knife into them they would burst, and splash foul smelling stuff into your face; and when a man's sleeves where smeared with blood, and his hands steeped in it, how was he ever to wipe his face, or to clear his eyes so that he could see? It was enough to make anybody sick, to think that people had to eat such meat as this; but they must be eating it—for the canners were going on preparing it, year after year! There must be a big graft in this too for the government inspectors; all they ever did was to order cut out any part of the carcass that was green and yellow, and then pass the rest. No doubt it was stuff such as this that made the "embalmed beef" that had killed several times as many United States soldiers as all the bullets of the Spaniards; only the army beef, besides, was not fresh canned, it was old stuff that had been lying for years in the cellars; and Jurgis's informant added that the old scoundrel who had been Secretary of War and gotten that graft was now an honorable senator in Washington.

Then one Sunday evening, Jurgis sat puffing his pipe by the kitchen-stove, and talking with an old fellow whom Jonas had introduced, and who worked in the canning-rooms at Anderson's and then Jurgis learned a few things about the great and old Anderson canned-goods, which are a national institution. They were regular alchemists at Andersons; they advertised a mushroom catsup, and the men who made it did not know what mushrooms looked like. They advertised "potted chicken,"—and it was like the boarding-house soup of the comic papers, through which a chicken had walked with rubbers on. Perhaps they had a secret process for making chickens chemically—who knows? said Jurgis's friend; the things that went into the mixture were tripe, and the fat of pork, and beef suet, and hearts of beer, and finally the waste ends of veal, when they had any. They put these up in several grades, and sold them at several prices; but the contents of the cans all came out of the same hopper. And then there was "potted ham," and "devilled ham"—de-vyled, as the men called it. "De-vyled" ham was made out of the waste ends of smoked beef, that were too small to be sliced by the machines; and also tripe, dyed with chemicals so that it would not show white; and trimmings of hams and corned beef; and potatoes, skins and call; and finally the hard cartilaginous gullets of beef, after the tongues had been cut out. All this ingenious mixture was ground up and flavored with spices to make it taste like something to the dear guileless public. Anybody who could invent a new imitation had been sure of a fortune from old Anderson, said Jurgis's informant; but it was hard to tell anything new to a man who even went out and gathered up carloads of cinders along railroad tracks, and brought them in and powdered them, to adulterate his bone fertilizers with! Up to a year or two ago it had been the custom to kill horses in the yards—ostensibly for fertilizer; but after long agitation the newspapers had been able to realize that the horses were being canned; now it was against the law to kill horses in Packingtown, and the law was really complied with—for the present at any rate. Any day, however, one might see sharp-horned and shaggy-haired creatures running with the sheep—and yet what a job you would have to get the public to believe that a good part of what it buys for lamb and mutton is really goat's flesh!

There is another interesting set of statistics that one might gather as his acquaintance broadened in Packingtown, and that is of the afflictions of the workers. When Jurgis had first inspected the packing-plants with Szadwilas, he had marveled while he listened to the tale of all the things that were made out of the carcasses of animals, and of all the lesser industries that were maintained there; now he found that each one of these lesser industries was a separate little inferno, in its way as horrible as the killing-floor, the source and fountain of them all. The workers in each of them had there own peculiar diseases; and the wandering visitor might be skeptical about all the swindles, but he could not be skeptical about these, for the worker bore the evidence of them about on his own person—generally he had only to hold out his hand.

There were the men in the pickle rooms, for instance, where old Antanas had gotten his death; scarce a one of these that had not some spot of horror on his person. Let a man so much as scrape his finger pushing a truck in the pickle-rooms, and like as not he would have a sore that would put him out of the world; all the joints in his fingers might be eaten by the acid, one by one. Of the butchers and floormen, the beef-boners and trimmers, and all those who used knives, you could scarcely find a person who can the use of this thumb; time and time again the base of it had been slashed, till it was a mere lump of flesh against which the man pressed the knife to hold it. The hands of these men would be cris-crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails—they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan. There were men in the cooking-rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years, but the supply is renewed every hour. There were the beef-luggers, who carried two hundred pound quarters into the refrigerator-cars; this was a fearful kind of work, that began at four o'clock in the morning, and that wore out in the most powerful men in a few years. 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. There were wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle-men; the pelts of the sheep had to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off. There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands too were a maze of cuts, and any cut might cause blood-poisoning; some worked at the stamping machines, and it was very seldom that one could work long at these at the pace that was set and not give out and forget himself and have a part of his hands chopped off. There were the "hoisters," as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor; they ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam. Old man Anderson's architects had not built the killing-room for the convenience of the hoisters, and so every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four steep above the one they ran on; this got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees. No man who worked as a hoister had ever been known to reach the age of fifty years. Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the rendering-rooms. There could not be shown to the visitor—for the odor of the fertilizer men would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men who worked in tank-rooms full of steam, and in which there were open vats upon a level with the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting. Sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Anderson's Pure Leaf Lard!