Saturday, April 30, 2011

A brick for your thoughts?

"Can you tell me where Schmidt's Sausage Haus is?"

I can, and I can also tell you the little bit of the history of it and why I know it. And so can many others who live within a stone's throw of what has become an historical landmark in German Village, one of the oldest communities within the boundaries of Columbus, Ohio.

Any time a car stops in front of my house and someone in it shouts "excuse me"... I can almost always know what they they want. Directions to Schmidt's, and I always point them straight ahead just two blocks down the street. I can see it from my front porch. A man who I knew as a boy when his father opened it along with his uncle in 1967 now owns it and his family might be the most famous klan in the neighborhood because of this little restaurant that was born from the building shown in this photo. (The J. Fred Schmidt Packing Company.)

Geoff Schmidt and I are about the same age and we were both high school kids when his father George and his brother Grover Schmidt opened it in the summer of '67. He was a football star at Upper Arlington High School when he and I worked there along with his brothers John and Andy. I was a student at Columbus South High School and along with my best friend Dan Sauer we were among those first employees working in the old stable that sat across the street from the old packing plant.

That building was demolished in the late 1960s and replaced by condominiums but I recall the days when its trucks rimmed the limestone curbs along East Kossuth Street and Jaeger Street and when we knew it simply as "the slaughter house". I also remember many of my neighbors who worked there as well as some who worked in another one like it on the same street about six blocks east of it called The Village Packing Company. Some of those who worked for Schmidt's took jobs there when this slaughter house closed and the restaurant opened. And at least one old meat packer, and maybe a few others stayed on to work in the restaurant.

I never knew it at the time but I was living in what I now regard as the tail end of what was really great about the south end of Columbus. Not the fancy expensive homes that now dominate the area lived in mostly by people of well means, but because of those like the old meat packers who lived in what was then a blue collar neighborhood where it seemed everyone was somehow connected. Either by where they worked or by who their kids went to school with. It was a time when many in the neighborhood could walk to work and when every kid did walk to a nearby school. And not just a few hundred students that live within walking distance of this place now, thousands.

German Village and the neighborhoods that surround it used to be heavily populated by kids, it was an area where families layed down roots because of places like Schmidt's Packing Company and all of the schools that were once packed to the rafters with students in the area. Many of them have also closed in recent years for lack of interest or even a need to keep them open.

One of the reasons I love this old photo is because I remember this place, one that if it were still around would be out of place. I remember the bouquet that was in the air from the livestock that died in it everyday to become what the company called "Montrose Meats" (sausages and such.)

If the men in this picture were alive now they could tell you about the ball park they are facing, the one that saw a Big Bear supermarket spring up in the old infield around 1955, the one now called Giant Eagle. The field where the Ohio State Buckeyes played their first football game on and where some of these guys might have sat on bleachers eating their lunch from brown paper sacks on workdays. Al Capone may have eaten a sandwich made with the meat from this plant at the Mohawk Grill just a block west of this spot when folklore says he had ties there.

During prohibition it is said that Capone supplied the alcohol there and that he had a mistress who operated a whorehouse above it. One of these guys might have seen him there. Of course there is a lot of speculation here but that is another reason I love this picture. It represents many things to me and not least among them was the sadness I felt when Dan and I walked around in the rubble of it when it was torn down. Sifting through debris of unused sausage casings and printed meat advertisements that I wish I would have salvaged and hung onto.

Walking over a few broken bricks that I should have bothered to pick up and keep as memento's or thick shards of glass that would mean something to me today if I had them. Something to hold onto from the end a great era. Anything that was lying around waiting to be hauled away or bulldozed under.

Today all that remains is the limestone curbs that these guys and me stepped from to cross the street. That and the DNA that exists in Geoff's place.

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