Source: Italian Dramatist Giuseppe Giacosa
Offers his Assessment of American Slaughterhouses
The slaughterhouses of Chicago are famous even among [Europeans]. They are famous and fabulous because everyone thinks them more organized, polished, and mechanically perfect than in reality they are. To me they seemed the nastiest pits the human mind could imagine. It is enough to say that these immense places are entirely made of wood-floors, columns, stairs, and all-although in certain months of the year close to 60,000 head of cattle are slaughtered, bled, skinned, quartered, and packed there daily. The vapors of blood impregnate the pores of the walls, dribble down from the ceiling in rivulets of blood, soaking into the vats, the benches, the pillars, and the tables. On the floor the blood forms into a dark, pestiferous, glutinous, slippery mud; frequent washings cannot mop it out, only cause it to penetrate more deeply into the fibers of the wood. In addition, these places are low and crowded; the workers trample upon each other; and the visitors suffer loathsome contacts. The vapors that escape from the boiling water and from the palpitating meat render still more uncertain the uncertain light that penetrates from the little windows into those dark walls.
Hundreds of laborers move about in such quarters, each one fixed to a special job and constrained to furious and uninterrupted labor by a mechanical routine of a succession of operations. These unfortunate men have neither the face nor the body of humans. Their features are contracted by an overwhelming disgust and by an irritating intoxication from the blood around them. Their eyes are constantly strained by the necessity for distinguishing through the penumbra the precise point at which to strike. The greasy matter, reddish and shiny, that stains their foreheads and cheeks, the encrusted blood hardened on beards and hair, the abrupt and rapid movements by which they throw severed pieces to neighboring workers-all that amidst the smoke, the moldy smell, and the moans and gurgling cries-gives them an appearance altogether inhuman, and rather like the savage animals they destroy with so much dispatch. And the clothing! The shirts and trousers are so hard with dried blood that the men are forced to walk with long stiff strides. Stained from tip to toe, lined with blood and flowing with blood, the bottoms of their trousers drag in the bloody mud, so that every step makes a splash, and the feet, detached from the soles by force give forth a sucking sound and leave a bubble that seems like a live tumor.
Flee from this pit of horrors and the nausea will pursue you for a long time, will follow you through the streets and into the gardens; the sounds will continue to disturb you; and for several days any non-vegetable food will be disgusting. But should your mind allow you to spy at the exit of this intricate parcel of streets, alleys, buildings, huts, and viaducts . . . the sight that would greet you at the end of the working day would give you a more just conception of the complexity of American life.
A half hour after the end of work there come forth from the enclosure a lordly collection of gentlemen whom one of our courtly ladies would take as models of sporty elegance. They are often young, tall and blond, with well-trimmed mustaches and polished shoes. They wear handsome ties, plaid jackets in the English style, and little hard hats. The more mature men are clad in dignified black and in derbys. All are solemn and sober; you would think they were leaving an aristocratic club or a classical concert.
Who would recognize amidst such refinement the butchers and slaughterers of a while ago? Having taken off their filthy clothes, scrubbed their hands, arms, and faces, they are now disposed to enjoy politely the money they earned in the blood and mud. These men undertake the most loathsome and most fatiguing work, but they do not thereby renounce the good things of life, food in plenty, and curtain homes. . . . Born of a nation which knows no ease, the Americans accept the inequality of labor in order to attain a relative equality of goods.