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Edward Weston Baumann, 86, ‘journalist, author, railroader ... circus roustabout’

Obit phoEd Baumann former Chicago journalist worked as reporter editor for Chicago papers. | Provided photo

Obit photo of Ed Baumann, former Chicago journalist worked as a reporter and editor for Chicago papers. | Provided photo

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Updated: December 10, 2012 6:17AM

Ed Baumann interviewed seductive fan dancers, hardened killers, legendary journalist Ben Hecht, and the first lady of the American stage, Helen Hayes.

A graceful writer and editor with a deadpan-but-wicked sense of humor, he had a front-row seat to the follies that made their way across the front pages of four Chicago newspapers over a span of four decades.

Mr. Baumann, 86, who specialized in covering crime, courts and politics, and also wrote 10 true-crime books, died Tuesday at his stepdaughter’s home in Paxton, Ind.

Meticulous and thorough, he actually penned his own obituary, calling himself a “journalist, author, railroader, road builder, world traveler and circus roustabout.”

He wasn’t kidding. At the age of 66, he wrote, “he realized every boy’s dream and ran away to join the circus.”

He and his wife, Lenore, spent 13 summers volunteering at the Great Circus Parade grounds in Milwaukee, where he was a cowboy, animal handler and roustabout — a worker who sets up and breaks down tents.

Mr. Baumann was a lifelong resident of Kenosha. He commuted to jobs at the Chicago Daily News, Chicago’s American, Chicago Today and the Chicago Tribune.

At 18, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He worked as a cryptographer in New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines, decoding messages about troop movements, said his stepdaughter, Lisa McCammon.

Mr. Baumann said the officers “all had orders that if your camp was overrun [by the enemy], that they were to shoot the cryptographers,” in case they might break under torture, his stepdaughter said.

“ ‘If we get overrun,’ ” he wisecracked, “I’m shooting an officer!’ ”

He returned to the Badger State and studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin with journalist Harlan Draeger.

“He really kind of just symbolized an era that’s long gone, the glory days of newspapering, when the newspapers were king, and setting the news agenda,” said Draeger, a retired Chicago Sun-Times reporter.

And, “he had this wicked sense of humor,” Draeger said. He recalled the inscription Mr. Baumann wrote to Draeger in a book he’d written: “Harlan, don’t sit in any strange chairs.”

“He really a had a sweet writing style,” Draeger said. “It flowed, and it was conversational. It was an enviable writing style.”

“He could do anything,” said Bob Herguth, former columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times. “He was a fine writer, an excellent reporter and a very good editor.”

Mr. Baumann began his career in 1951 at the Waukegan News-Sun. He joined the Chicago Daily News in 1956, where he covered trials and executions, and did editing. He moved to Chicago’s American and became city editor. It turned into Chicago Today. In 1974 he became a senior writer at the Tribune.

“He was a superior writer and a super manager,” said Dan Friedlander, a former Chicago newspaper reporter and editor.

Mr. Baumann covered President Eisenhower, Queen Elizabeth, actor Robert Redford and fan dancer Sally Rand, whose burlesque stylings gave new meaning to the “Century of Progress” theme at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair.

His chillingly named book, “May God Have Mercy on Your Soul,” told the history of executions in Chicago, where an electric chair nicknamed “Sparky” — and before that, the gallows — killed the condemned of the Criminal Courts.

Mr. Baumann also co-wrote a book on Pops, Peanuts and Butch Panczko, titled “Polish Robbin’ Hoods: the Gang that Couldn’t Steal Straight.”

Pops Panczko, who started out stealing chickens as a child before moving on to more expensive booty, was arrested hundreds of times. Columnist Mike Rokyo said that when the cops asked Panczko to list his occupation, he replied: “I’m a teef.”

“He was the nicest crook I ever met,” Baumann once said.

A member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame, Mr. Baumann was nominated three times for a Pulitzer, and he received the Chicago Headline Club’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2007.

He kept the ties alive between alums from all the newspapers where he worked by organizing breakfast clubs and luncheons. His sense of humor glimmered again when he founded a group he called MAGGOTS, or “Michigan Avenue Gin Guzzlers or Total Sots.” It met at the old Millionaires Club on Michigan Avenue, a restaurant where you paid for your dinner, but the drinks were free.

A marriage to his first wife, Ann Cacciapaglio, ended in divorce. His second wife, Carole Skeels Karber, died before him. He married Lenore Schend Leonard in 1976.

He is also survived by his son, Corey; two other stepdaughters, Leslie Ferraro and Carole Reid; 12 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandson.

Mr. Baumann ended the obituary he wrote for himself with this line: “He was an organ donor, and there will be no funeral service.”

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