WORKERS at the Esskay plant have gotten a five-week reprieve, but it still looks as if the venerable East Baltimore company will stop turning out franks and bacon here by the end of 1992.
Esskay, short for Schluderberg-Kurdle, is the last of the city's major meatpacking houses that provided employment for thousands. Gone are the days when so many Baltimoreans worked at Esskay, Goetze's and Corkran, Hill, famous sausage makers that clustered around the German communities in East Baltimore and the stockyards to the southwest. (Brewing had a similar tradition: Gottlieb-Baurenschmidt-Straus, Brehm's, Wiessner's, Free State, Gunther's, Arrow and American are gone, too. They complemented sausage as today's National Boh goes with Chesapeake Bay crabs.) It didn't hurt, too, that Baltimore had physical features that accommodated meatpacking, including streams for waste disposal.
As recently as 1961, Baltimore was among the top 10 meat-producing cities in the nation. The city's brand names were familiar throughout the East and even in some parts of Latin America. Two of the brands were certainly familiar to Baltimoreans: Corkhill ("CORKhill, CORKhill, CORKhill," in the rhythm of a steam engine's chugging) and Goetze's ("Don't guess, get Goetze's.")
But by 1975, only 14 years later, the Albert F. Goetze Co. had dismissed most of its employees from its plant at 2401 Sinclair Lane. The 50-year-old company had been deeply enmeshed in bankruptcy proceedings for months. "The Goetze company as we know it," said Jerry Menapace, president of Local 117 of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workers Union, "is out of business."
Corkran, Hill & Co. is another story. The firm, which traced its beginnings to 1875, once flourished at 1001-1009 South Dukeland St., near the old Baltimore Union Stockyards. It was forced to close its Baltimore operation in 1962. By that time, it was a division of Swift & Co., the meat giant. Four hundred people lost their jobs. (For about 10 years the plant operated on a smaller scale, producing meat under the Hygrade label.)
Though the Goetze and Corkran, Hill companies are gone and Esskay ("CUE-wality franks") is moribund, there are still several smaller meatpackers in the area: Parks ("More Parks Sausages, Mom!"), Boesl, Manger, European Kosher, Henry Heil, Schaefer, Ostrowski, Binkert.
Some of these produce sausage so good it will make you cry.