Christmas Ham | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Christmas Ham 

Pig dies in police chase on Dan Ryan Expressway: it it edible?

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At first Dorothy Stewart of Englewood thought she was living out a Christmas parable, the modern-day tale of a Good Samaritan.

She runs a Salvation Army food pantry in Englewood. It was just a few days before Christmas and the phone rang. The state police wanted to donate a dead pig, a great big 225-pounder.

Praise the Lord! she thought. Their prayers had been answered! They were frantically preparing 400 to 500 Christmas food baskets, and the one item they were sorely lacking was meat. She'd put out the word in the community that meat donations would be very much appreciated, and some nameless benefactor had come through. These 225 pounds of free pork could feed all 500 and more! It was a pig sent from heaven!

So she called some volunteers to tell them the wonderful news and to make plans for a pig roast. At that point she didn't know that this was the pig that had somehow gotten loose on the Dan Ryan earlier in the day and, while being chased by state troopers, died of a heart attack, according to the official police version. "They said it had been run over," Stewart recalled later. "We didn't know it was that one."

They said a truck would be around shortly and all she had to do was supply the means to haul the pig in from the truck. "And then someone got the brainy idea we should use a city garbage can," Stewart said. "So we went out in back and emptied out all the garbage."

The men from the city came with their truck, rolled the garbage can out to it, and rolled the can back in. When they lifted the lid, Stewart nearly screamed. "There's this big old black pig with all the hair and skin still on it. And I said, 'Oh my God!'"

She'd expected a succulent pig all skinned and dressed, apple in its mouth and ready to roast. Maybe they could do something with this one anyway. It would be a shame to let it all go to waste. She called a butcher at the local grocery store, and he said no way he'd ever eat an anonymous pig like that. You don't know where it's been, what kind of diseases it might have.

It was a great learning experience for the food-pantry volunteers. They decided to keep the pig packed in ice outside under the porch, where it's always very cold. One of the first things they learned was that it takes five people to tote a 225-pound dead boar. Then they tried to think of some way to salvage something out of all this.

One thing Captain Michael Vogler, the Salvation Army commander in Englewood, learned when he contacted a meat expert was that for a pig to be considered optimum for human consumption, it should have died under unstressful conditions. He wasn't sure how you could kill a living thing without it being stressful. But putting himself in the pig's place, he couldn't imagine a more stressful way to go than being chased down the Dan Ryan by the state police. The meat expert said the only thing he would make out of it would be dog food.

So they kept the pig on ice for two days and pondered the alternatives. Taking a stab in the dark, Vogler went on the radio to speak about his pig albatross. Maybe someone drunk with yuletide cheer would offer him 50 bucks for it or something.

Meanwhile, Stewart says, "Someone got the brainy idea 'Why don't we make perfumed soap out of it? Then we could give all the people a bar of soap!'"

That idea didn't go far. And no one called to make an offer on the pig. So Vogler called the city, the department that picks up animal carcasses.

And the men from the city came and hauled the pig away.

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