Packingtown Museum seeks to tell how Chicago became ‘hog butcher for the world’

SHARE Packingtown Museum seeks to tell how Chicago became ‘hog butcher for the world’

Livestock was kept in pens at the Chicago Union Stock Yard on the South Side, seen in this 1962 photo from the Sun-Times archives. The yards closed in 1970. | Sun-Times files

A museum dedicated to telling the history of Chicago’s Union Stock Yard — where millions of livestock were butchered and sent off to feed the nation — could be one step closer to reality if an online fundraiser that ends Saturday meets its goal.

Organizers have launched a Kickstarter with hopes of building the Packingtown Museum at The Plant, a former meatpacking facility in Back of the Yards at 1400 W. 46th St. that now is home to some 20 sustainable food-related businesses.

Soviet group visits the Chicago Union Stock Yard in 1955. | Sun-Times files

Soviet group visits the Chicago Union Stock Yard in 1955. | Sun-Times files

The stockyards occupied a square mile along South Halsted Street for more than a century, from 1865 to 1971. In 1924, its peak year, more than 18 million cows, hogs, sheep and horses were shipped to the yard, where they were slaughtered and processed and sent to be used around the country.

The goal of the museum is to highlight the “industrial roots” and the “cultural heritage” of the stockyards and nearby neighborhoods, including Back of the Yards, Canaryville, Bridgeport, McKinley Park, Bronzeville and Englewood, according to an information page on the Kickstarter.

“We are looking to tell the story of the importance of the stockyards, as well as labor rights,” said Carolee Kokola, director of enterprise operations for Bubbly Dynamics, which owns and operates The Plant and will run the museum.

Displays will feature maps, timelines, murals, images and graphics recounting the history. Exhibits will explore workers rights, the history of organized labor and “the changing relationship between people, machines, and food,” The Plant’s Facebook page says.

The museum will also explain the role of the factory system in food processing, refrigeration and the growth of meat and deindustrialization, according to a factsheet about the project.

“The museum will definitely make people think about what they eat, where it comes from, how it’s sourced,” Kokola said.

It will also tell the story of immigration’s role in industrial labor and explain the ethnic and religious mix in the neighborhoods and how that changed over time.

“Every wave of immigration came through the stockyards,” Kokola said.

The museum could open by mid-2019 and will be free to the public, Kokola said.

Bubbly Dynamics has already invested $40,000 on improving a 1,500-square-foot space — which was once used as a ham freezer — in the building to house the space.

The Kickstarter, which seeks nearly $25,000, ends Saturday morning. It was about $1,500 short of its goal late Thursday.

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