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Photo by Sara Krueger

(Above) Chicago artist Sara Krueger (left) coaxed Walking Dude to stop walking long enough to pose for this photo on October 9, 2012.

More than $30k raised for ‘Walking Dude,’ recovering from assault on Lower Wacker

  • Suspect who beat Joseph Kromelis with baseball bat is in custody
  • Yes, we finally know Walking Dude’s name

26-May-16 – Two funds created at a crowdfunding site have collected more than $30,000 to help Joseph Kromelis, better known as downtown’s enigmatic “Walking Dude.”

Kromelis, age 69, was brutally beaten Tuesday morning on Lower Wacker Drive, near the city’s Central Auto Pound and Lake Shore Drive.

At around 11 a.m., a police sergeant responding to a report of a battery found Kromelis on the ground and another man standing over him, holding a baseball bat. The sergeant told the man to drop the bat and step away, which he did. According to Kromelis, he had said “hi” to the man, who then started punching him. A witness says the man also tried to throw Kromelis over a railing, presumably onto a lower level.

Both Kromelis and the man who attacked him were taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Kromelis suffered severe cuts to both eyes, leg injuries where he was hit with the bat, and other injuries, but according to a published report he was listed in fair condition on Wednesday afternoon.

The attacker, 41-year-old Perry McCarlton, was taken to the hospital for observation and then transferred to the 1st District police station. On Thursday, Chicago police announced that McCarlton has been charged with reckless conduct.

One of the gofundme.com funds was created by Vytas Vaitkus, who says Kromelis is his uncle. Although he was not allowed to visit his uncle at the hospital, Vaitkus says he saw him from outside his room and that he was asleep and “looked severely battered, bruised, and swollen.”

Walking Dude has a name and a family

Many people walk downtown but Kromelis stands out by apparently doing nothing during the day but walk. Though easily recognized, with his tall frame, long hair that turned gray about seven years ago, moustache, and blazer, described as both “shaggy” and “dapper,” he rarely speaks or interacts with anyone.

“He is a myth, mystery, and enigma,” wrote photojournalist Peter Bella (right) in 2015. “He shuns conversation. He is very good at turning away from cameras. He walks through his chosen neighborhoods like a wandering vagabond. No one knows where he lives or even if he is homeless.” Peter Bella

According to Vytas Vaitkus, there is nothing wrong his uncle, the man downtown residents have known for many years only as “Walking Dude.” He just likes to walk.

“He has been walking and peddling on the streets of Chicago for at least the last 40 years,” says Vaitkus, whose mother was Kromelis’s sister. “The streets are his home; the place he has always felt at home until [Tuesday].”

Vaitkus says his uncle’s eyes were “almost gouged out” and “it is not sure if he will regain use of his eyes.”

“He really has no other life than peddling and walking the streets. This is all he has known for a long time.”

All three of his brothers – Bruno, John, and Peter – have died, along with a sister, Irene. He has one remaining sister, Erika Singree, who lives in Kenai, Alaska.

He has a sister-in-law, Linda Kromelis, who was married to Peter.

According to Linda, Joseph moved to Chicago from Lithuania with his family and grew up above a bar on Halsted Street. When Joseph was 19 years old, his parents sold the bar and moved to Michigan. Joseph stayed in Chicago and sold jewelry and other items on the streets in the Loop.

He lived in Lincoln Park until three years ago. According to his City of Chicago Peddler License, his address was 2807 North Lincoln Park West. Kromelis had the license as far back as 2005 but after several renewals, it expired on May 15, 2015.

“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Linda told Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s not mentally ill. He just likes walking. It’s that simple. My husband couldn’t figure it out but he accepted it. That’s Joe. He loves the city.”

David Jones David Jones, chief creative officer for a Chicago advertising agency, who has spent years capturing Walking Dude on video, says Kromelis is lucid and articulate.

“He isn’t outwardly crazy,” Jones (left) told Loop North News in 2009, “although other behavior suggests otherwise. When you follow him for any length of time you find his path is kind of like a moth – zig-zagging back and forth.”

A second gofundme.com fund was created by Janice Riggs. She says she will close the fund this week and get the money to Kromelis directly or give it to the fund created by Vaitkus.