Opinion: Remembering Chicago's famed Walking Man NPR's Scott Simon reflects on the life Joseph Kromelis, Chicago's famous "Walking Man", and the harsh conditions that many unhoused people live with every day.

Opinion: Remembering Chicago's famed Walking Man

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You could get a glimpse of Walking Man almost any day in Chicago - a tall, lean man with long, bushy hair, sharp features and a wide moustache who wore a blazer to stride more than stroll along downtown streets and bridges. Walking Man once peddled jewelry, then made his life on the streets after he lost his rented room a decade ago. But he was never seen to hold his hand out and ask for money or food.

What he mostly did was walk and walk. Up the street, across, diagonal and back down, David Jones, who tried to make a documentary film about Walking Man told the Chicago Sun-Times. There didn't seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to us, but to him, I think it made perfect sense.

Walking Man, whose given name was Joseph Kromelis, died this week at the age of 75 of injuries he suffered back in May. He was asleep under blankets on a street below a downtown bridge. A man poured a flammable liquid over him and started a fire. The man told police he was angry and didn't know there was a human bundled up below the blankets. He's been charged.

Joseph Kromelis had also been attacked in 2016 by a man with a baseball bat on a street below another bridge nearby. Those attacks may remind us of the dangers of life on the streets - cold, hunger and fear and the challenge just to sleep safely for a little while.

Joseph Kromelis had family in small-town Michigan who say they tried to persuade him to stay with them, but he chose to live on his own as Walking Man. There's nothing wrong with him, his sister-in-law, Linda Kromelis, told the Sun-Times in 2016. He's not mentally ill. He just likes walking. It's that simple.

He had spirit, Scott Marvel told us. He runs a video production company and organized fundraising efforts to help Walking Man with medical bills after his attacks. There are people who live outside the normal path of society, he said, and they deserve our respect, dignity and compassion.

It may be a natural reflex of the heart to feel pity for Joseph Kromelis, but everything I saw in his stride the times I glimpsed him strutting across the Michigan Avenue Bridge, looking poised, urbane and elegant, tells me that Walking Man would prefer to be remembered for making his own way through life. He cut a vivid figure against a great skyline.


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