Many people detest pigeons and say that they are disgusting and dirty. I even have heard people call them “flying rats.” People curse pigeons when they find bird poop on their car. But one Chicago man was different and gave pigeons the love and care that all living creatures deserve.
Joseph Zeman would sit for countless hours on a red fire hydrant near Western and Lawrence Avenues. He was called “the pigeon man of Lincoln Square.”
Numerous pigeons would be perched on Zeman. They would be on his head, shoulders, arms, his lap, and just wherever they could find a place.
He would sit for hours motionless with the pigeons surrounding him. Zeman would coo at the birds, kiss them, rub them, and he even had names for some of them. Everyday, he would go to his hydrant at least twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the late afternoon.
Zeman said in a 2004 interview, “Soon as I take a seat, they want to be loved and kissed like a mama’s baby. Like I’m their father, and they’re my child. See ‘em waiting here now, they know I’m coming. They’re waiting for me so they can say, `Here I am, here I am, do what you want to do with me. We’re not worried about you.’ I just tell ‘em all, `You’re my baby, you’re my baby too.’”
He lived in an attic a few blocks from his hydrant. Zeman used his money to buy pigeon supplies: bags of white rice, oatmeal cookies, birdseed, and loaves of bread. Each night, he would separate the food into plastic bags or baby food jars.
But now, the Pigeon Man is no longer with us. This past Tuesday, Zeman died after being hit by a van as it was pulling out of a parking lot. He just turned 77 a couple of days before.
In his 2004 interview, Zeman said that he considered his time on the hydrant as the most important work he has ever done. He stated, “I’m really advertising to the public how easy it is to be good without an attitude; it’s just as easy to show decency as it is to hate today.”
Zeman added, “All my life I had so much backstabbing at home, real problems there. I got to love the animals more, so trustworthy. Because I had so much trouble at home, I learned not to say nothing, keep to myself, just so I can’t be wrong anymore. So they came up to me [the pigeons]; I appreciated the friendship out of a bird more than a person. They’re wordless. They come up with pure appreciation.”