Shortly after noon on an unusually hot October day in 1949, a Hereford bull escaped from a slaughterhouse on Jane Street and embarked on a blocks-long rampage through the South Side. The beast plowed through six fences and five gardens before pausing at Minnie Spriesterbach’s 21rst Street home.
The bull rudely announced its presence by stomping through a cellar door in Minnie’s backyard. Then the beast attempted to enter Minnie’s abode. Minnie was 77 years old and no match for an angry bull. But she possessed a plucky dog named Brownie, who nipped at the legs of the bull until it fled west, followed quickly by a mob armed with picks, sticks and ropes.
It was a bizarre scene in a city known for steel production and not cattle drives. Editors of The Pittsburgh Press took note, leading the day’s late edition with a banner headline: “Wild Bull Terrorizes South Side Crowds.”
The story focused on the bull’s antics and its capture, not on the fact that it escaped from a slaughterhouse squeezed into the heavily residential 2700 block of Jane Street. People living there endured the sights, sounds and smells of cows being led to their deaths as well as the racket emanating from the J&L steel mill just a few blocks away. This apparently didn’t strike the writer as being unusual.
The slaughterhouse occupied a narrow, two-story brick building that, in photographs, looks as though it could have been a candy store, which it was in 1912, according to an old city directory. A few years later it was listed as a grocery. And by the late 1940s, it was known as the Jake Stein Slaughterhouse.
A farmer named William Curtis was delivering a bull there on Oct. 11, 1949, but the bull broke away from the stall entrance and took off along a nearby set of railroad tracks. Perhaps heat made the bull restless — temperatures that day neared 90 degrees.
After startling bystanders and causing a few automobile accidents, the bull was cornered in front of South Side Hospital. Soon, the animal was on its way back to the slaughterhouse to be carved into steaks.
The slaughterhouse at 2712 Jane St. subsequently disappeared from the news for a dozen years before reappearing in October 1961, when a group of annoyed housewives barricaded the entrance of the business and halted the delivery of a truckload of cattle.
The slaughterhouse was by then known as Fine Packing Co. and its neighbors were up in arms. Dorothy Szymkowiak who lived next door complained that cows banged against the wall all night long. Blood from the slaughterhouse entered Dorothy’s cellar through a sewer. The company’s freezer rattled and hummed.
Sometimes truckloads of cows remained parked in front of the business for hours. Dorothy worried about neighborhood children who were always climbing on delivery trucks to get a look at the doomed animals.
The women’s complaints reached the Board of Adjustments, which decided to rule Nov. 10 on whether the business could keep its permit to operate a slaughterhouse.
We at the Digs checked Nov. 10 and 11 editions of the Post-Gazette and the The Pittsburgh Press and found no stories about the Fine Packing Co. But we did discover a front-page story about another escaped bovine, this one a 900-pound cow named Chloe who fled from the Bloomfield Packing Co. and enjoyed a brief but short romp before being recaptured.
Chloe’s escaped resulted in no banner headlines. Rampaging cattle were becoming routine.
As for the Fine Packing Co., its permit was revoked for good in 1962. Today, 2712 Jane St. is a parking lot.