A truck rumbled down Rhode Island Avenue Monday afternoon and spilled what appeared to be the secrets of Washington on the doorstep of graphic designer Earnest Williams, 36.
"It looks like a U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation of meatpackers all over the country," said his partner, Ellen Lively Wetze, as they waded together into the blizzard of apparently sensitive documents blowing Willy-nilly about the corner of 15th Street and Rhode Island Ave NW.
On closer inspection, the files were less titillating than the Pentagon Papers: government records on the sanitation levels of meat packers, phone bills, memoranda and letters from veterinarians like John P. Davis of Shreveport, La., who assured inspectors in 1964 that, in the future, all Lymph glands and tonsil tissue would be removed from animals slaughtered by local packing company.
Williams and Wetzel began picking through their sidewalk secrets and boxing them up. The truck never came back.
Wetzel was passed from bureaucrat to bureaucrat at USDA. Finally, a woman said she'd try to get someone to come out and if they were important," said Wetzel.
No one ever came.
Wetzel called the FBI. "An agent said he would check into it," she said. No one ever called back.
"Our Washington field officer is very concerned," said an FBI public affairs officer asked about the incident by a reporter. He suggested Wetzel's call might have fallen through the cracks during a shift change.
"Normally, it's something we would respond to. We want to maintain the integrity of any confidential files."
"They could just be trash documents on their way to being destroyed," he said. No one seemed to know.
"Look at this!" said Wetzel, fingering what appeared to be a confidential memorandum of a phone conversation between a meat packer and a government inspector. "There are overdue bills for government inspections; IBM cards with government inspection stamps . . . . help yourself."
On first examination, the files' purpose remains largely unexplained. They include such items as:
A 1969 survey of the Ridley Packing Company of Sweetwater, Tex., revealing that "an Old wooden wrapping table in the sausage kitchen should be replaced with one that could be cleaned."
A disclosure that "hog are bled into a metal trough above the floor and a drum is used to catch the blood . . .the beef boning and grinding room has no drain," at the Ritterberger Brothers Packing Plant of Zanesville, Ohio, in 1968.
Observations that the front cooler on the "paunch" truck of the Rosen Meatpacking Company in Los Angeles was badly worn in 1964.
A handwritten deposition from Little Rock, Ark., in 1964 disclosing that, "over a cup of coffee with Dr. Davis, Dr. Davis continued his pleading. 'Dr. Trim, as a favor to me, not the company, give us another chance. If you recommend withdrawl, I'm sure Mr. Crowley will try to have Calhoun fired."
A $93.05 bill for a drain pump owed to Forma Scientific, Inc. of Marietta, Ohio, by the USDA Scientific Services division in Kansas City.
The documents date from 1963 to 1975. Some smell like a sausage factory. CAPTION: Picture, Ellen Lively Witzel, and Ernie Williams inspect spilled documents By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post