This is definitely that time of year when winter has dragged on for too long and we’re anxiously awaiting spring. It’s also a time when we can look back on what’s taken place over the winter and ahead to what might be coming up.
First and foremost is the celebrated publishing of my book, which is a compilation of the best of 10 years of my column: “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods.” The book was in print by mid-December and became an instant hit as a Christmas gift around the world. I can make that claim because my son, Navy Commander James Martello, and his wife, Heather, live in Naples, Italy, and gave the book as gifts to our relatives in Trieste and Milan — and they thought it was excellent.
The best Christmas story concerning my book was relayed in an e-mail I received a couple of days after Christmas. Carole Veronesi had ordered a copy of my book for herself and also copies to give as gifts. Prior to hearing from Carole, I sold six copies of my book to an occasional visitor to the South Holland McDonald’s McSenior’s group — Mike Veronie.
In her email, Carole told me that as she handed her brother a copy of my book and received her gift from him in return: also a copy of my book. Her father had changed the family name to “Veronie” and she had changed her last name back to “Veronesi.” She reported that the entire family had a good laugh and another great Roseland-connected memory was made about through my Fra Noi column and book.
Currently, I’ve been promoting my book through book signing and reading events. I even hosted an impromptu book signing at Roseland’s Pullman Library on Indiana Avenue that we all made use of while growing up.
Many people who have copies of my book let me know how much they enjoyed the trip down Roseland’s Memory Lane and “The Ave” — Roseland’s Michigan Avenue. I’ve heard taht people were moved to share stories of the good times of their youth and, in some cases, the mischief they got into. I find it interesting that just reading the name of a specific store or park or school brought stories pouring out.
It turns out that there are many mini-reunions of Roselandites that take place among longtime friends; everything from lunch among former grade school girlfriends to weekly golf, dinner and drinks for some of Roseland’s athletes. These events all present opportunities to talk about the many topics covered in my 10 years of columns.
Roselandites have always held Roseland near and dear in their hearts and now, they’re able to share their stories and memories with the younger members of their family. One of the best features of my book, I’ve been told, is that it can be picked up and a new story can be read or a story can be re-read, bringing a smile and fond memories each time.
The exposure my book is getting has led to my making new contacts and being able to talk about Roseland to people I would never have met otherwise. One example is 103-year-old Ziggy Krol, whom I met through former Fenger English teacher Diana Maddon and her husband, Ron Abernathy. I wanted to interview Ziggy due to his having grown up in Pullman and spending much of his adult life there.
After receiving a copy of my book as a Christmas gift, Ziggy had a lot of memories come flooding back. The stories that many of my readers shared sparked more stories. Thanks to his son Wayne and my friends Ron and Diana Abernathy, we arranged for me to interview Ziggy at his home in Grant Park, Illinois. Ziggy and I were able to talk for a couple of hours during which I repeated stories that I was aware of and he told me stories that he lived. It was fascinating to speak with someone 103 years old, who actually lived in Pullman and gave life to many of the old Pullman photos that we’ve seen posted online, at the Pullman Visitors Center or in books on Pullman.
Ziggy was born Sigmund Krol at 11309 Langley in Pullman, but has always been called Ziggy. He was born on June 22, 1916, and his family attended church at St. Salomea’s on 118th and Indiana Avenues. His earliest memory, at the age of 4 in 1920, is seeing a boarding house down the street burning as the Pullman firemen worked to put out the fire. He remembered the horse-drawn fire wagon with the large circular water tank in the middle. Another memory from that young age was when his father’s boss came by and gave them a ride in his car. The name of the car, “Star,” has stuck in Ziggy’s mind all these years.
Mike, Ziggy’s dad came from Poland and spoke English, Polish, Ukrainian and Yiddish. He recalled his dad taking him on shopping trips to Chicago’s Maxwell Street where his father haggled in Yiddish over prices with the Jewish vendors.
Mike eventually bought a grocery store on Langley but also worked in the Calumet Shops at 114th Street. There were many grocery stores in Pullman and the one that Ziggy remembers best is the Fabris Grocery store because it had a giant cheese wheel in the front window that amazed him.
When he was growing up, Ziggy said Lake Calumet was one of the best places to play and fish. He and his friends spent hours at the two local boathouses: Frazier’s at 111th Street and Muskrat Pete’s at 115th sSreet. Playing ball in the street was another fun pastime. However, there was one time he and his friends were playing ball in the street when they almost got hit by a speeding car.
There were many local bars in Pullman and when payday came on Fridays, they all had lots of cash on hand to cash the workers paychecks so at least some of the money would be spent in their bar. On this particular Friday, while the boys played in the street, a couple of bad guys decided to rob the Hi-Step Inn. Unfortunately, one of the customers in the bar happened to be a policeman who drew his weapon and was shot and killed by one of the robbers. The getaway driver was waiting and his buddy ran and jumped in the car and they he took off racing through the street towards the boys playing on Langley Avenue. As soon as the boys noticed the getaway car come flying around the corner they jumped out of the way.
Palmer Park was another place Ziggy spent a lot of time playing ball or swimming or — surprise — taking Polish lessons. He also recalled spending a lot of time at Market Hall where the basketball team was the Market Hall Red Devils and the football team was the Market Hall Bears and both teams played at Palmer Park.
Pullman Tech was the high school Ziggy attended and he remembered getting a much-appreciated ride with the Olivi boys, Fred and Emil, to school on many days. Fred became the co-pilot of Bockscar, which dropped the bomb on Nagasaki to help end WWII, while Emil became a well-known neighborhood dentist. The school offered four trade classes for boys: drafting, mechanic, electricity, and the tool worker class which Ziggy chose.
He graduated Pullman Tech in 1934 and worked at various jobs. One of the jobs was at the Pullman Shops where he worked with Barney who later owned Barney’s on 111th and Langley across from the Pullman Railroad Station. Ziggy’s first job was as a metal worker in 1935 paid 32-cents an hour fabricating metal chain saw blades for the Mall Tool Company. He left that first job and began a career that spanned about twenty years of taking on various jobs that led to not only higher pay but also learning and excelling at the trade of toolmaker.
The first car Ziggy owned cost him $300 and that was in 1938. I said I thought that was quite a bit of money in 1938 and Ziggy agreed. However, he said the car was worth it because it was in great shape and it was a 1932 Chevrolet Confederate BA model. He remembers taking his mother on a trip to Cleveland to see her relatives and how proud she was of him and his car.
In 1941 at the age of 25 he married Jen Seliga at St. Salomea Church and lived in Burnside for a while. Ziggy’s Uncle Carl had lived with the family for many years and only moved out when he got into a serious relationship with a widow who owned a bar. Fortunately for Ziggy and Jen, the bar his uncle became partner in also had a hall. Ziggy bragged that thanks to Uncle Carl he didn’t have to worry about renting a hall for his wedding reception.
Ziggy mentioned that during Prohibition, Pullman was big in the bootleg business. One time about ten police patrol wagons came storming into Pullman. They didn’t have cops on them but they did have G-men — enough to pull ten surprise raids at one time — so no one got any advance notice. Each team had their own axes and pitchforks. Ziggy and his friends stood and watched in shock as one team of G-men were at the top of a second floor and smashed their pitchfork into a vats of mash and the mash just poured down the stairs. Ziggy’s dad managed to get hold of those wrecked vats and did his own metal work to make a great metal bathtub for his family.
A funny story Ziggy remembered while talking about horse wagons was one about his dad and uncle gardening. They had pulled a covered wagonload of manure up to their garden plot and lifted the cover off and tossed it to the ground. As it hit the ground it made a loud noise which caused the horse to bolt. The horse ran all the way from 111th and Langley and didn’t stop until it got to its stable which was at 115th and Front Street.
Mike, Ziggy’s dad, bought his grocery story from an Italian family named Gorretti. When Mike went to take over the business Mr. Gorretti handed Mike a small stack of accounting books that he said went with the business. In those days, when people were short of money between paydays, stores gave them credit by listing them “on the books” and these were the books of those customers who still hadn’t paid up their accounts. Ziggy claims that is the reason he always pays cash because if you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t buy it — indelible words from his dad.
After getting married in 1941 Ziggy and Jen ended up living back in Pullman when a friend of his lost both of his parents and a brother. He lived alone in his building and asked Ziggy and Jen to move in with him. After living in Pullman for a number of years, their family grew to include Wayne and his brother Glen and so they moved to 126th and Wentworth and spent many years there before moving to Dolton. Ziggy and Jen and his son Wayne, moved to Grant Park, Illinois in 1981 where he and Wayne live today. Ziggy’s other son Glenn, his wife Cindy and their two children Caroline and Brian live in Downers Grove.
As I had mentioned, Ziggy worked many jobs until 1954 when he and Jen decided he’d be better off staying with one company. He made a wise choice by going to work at Argonne National Laboratories. Ziggy had a long and successful career of 27 years at Argonne from which he retired in 1981.
This interview took place due to my friends Ron and Diana Abernathy and Ziggy’s son Wayne. Ron was a mailman for many years in Riverdale as was Wayne. A special thanks goes out to them and a great big thanks goes to Ziggy for having such a great memory and being willing to sit and put up with my questioning for a couple of hours so I could share his story with all of Fra Noi’s readers of this column.
For information on purchasing my book, you can go to Amazon.com or contact me at CJ Martello, 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60628. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 773-701-6756.