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Bottles from Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine

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This is the detailed story of my finding the rarest bottle from Kenosha for my collection this summer. You may remember I posted a picture of it in last month’s newsletter. My story begins with the two main ingredients of a lifetime collection/obsession – Optimism and Luck. Any one person can have one or the other, but in order to achieve the happy balance of really enjoying your hobby and actually finding new amazing stuff for your collection, you need both. Maybe not at the same time, but some of each at varying times is absolutely necessary. The day I found my treasure, I started out with lots of Optimism. I work in an older part of Kenosha and regularly see homes anywhere from the 1850’s to the 1920’s all around the area. There are times when opportunities present themselves for exploration including estate sales, demolitions, and the County of Kenosha (my employer) buying the occasional property or taking it for unpaid back taxes. Thankfully, my boss the County Executive is supportive of my hobby and has given me Rock Star access to some great potential digging sites over the years.

I had been in a recent run of getting great access to many new properties however, each and every one of them were coming up empty. I know it comes with the territory, but I have to admit I was getting discouraged. I had recently been given access to three or four old city lots (houses were on a 1880’s map I checked out) that I was expecting to be terrific. On this day, I invited a digger friend of mine that is very knowledgeable and skilled in the art of probing for privies to join me on the properties. We located a shallow garbage pit that produced two common Kenosha pharmacy bottles and nothing else. We literally probed for hours in soil that was hardened from the recent drought of summer. It was only after I could not raise my arms above my head without grunting in pain that I finally decided to give up. If there were any privies on these lots, it would take Luck and someone with arms like Mr. Universe to find them. As we made our way back to our vehicles to put away our probes and shovels, a feeling of despair came over me. It is exactly the opposite of the hair raising adrenaline surge you get from finding something great for your collection. I had within the last 48 hours had an outpatient procedure involving my colon and was tired and crabby already and this recent development was not helping. I have to admit I began to vent with and on my digger friend. He is a very prolific digger and has had great Luck over the years. I am generally a very Optimistic person and I was not behaving in my typical way. I told him that maybe I should just stick to buying stuff at estate sales and Ebay and stop torturing myself by trying to find things in a more satisfying way, digging it for myself. I told him I should just give up and stop trying to “compete with you Lucky guys with horseshoes up their ass”. Like I said, I am not proud of how I was behaving but that is how I felt at that moment. To my friend’s credit, he tried to cheer me up with the regular platitudes “Tomorrow’s another day” and my favorite “You have to dig so many empty pits before you find the good ones”. He saw he was still not cheering me up and suggested we check out an area that he had tried before and had good Luck. I really did not feel like it at all but had a Honey Do List that was a foot long that would be waiting for me at home if I went home defeated. Optimism returned, if only in a small measure but it was better than nothing.

We drove to an area of town that I had never dug in and recognized the typical 1880’s style homes that were commonly built during that time period. We drove down a few alleys that cut through the middle of the block to eye up the backside of these homes. My friend remembered there was an abandoned boarded up home on this particular block that he thought had a privy right next to the garage that he probed out a while back and had not followed up on. We stopped and confirmed the existence of this privy and got to digging. Within the first couple feet, a quart Schlitz blob top with Baltimore loop seal closure popped out and I was getting more Optimistic. Unfortunately, as we dug farther down, only unembossed medicine bottles and shards were turning up. I was thinking that my bad Luck was starting to rub off on my friend and he would be better off digging without me. I was at this point, that both of us were startled by a guy who came down the alley unnoticed and yelled out “What the hell do you think you are doing there?” I thought, great, now I can add a trespassing ticket to my wonderful day. We turned around and thankfully it was not a policeman but a just a guy that my friend knew. My friend had dug a couple privies in his yard down the alley a few months back. This guy invited us to look over his yard again but my friend was not Optimistic as he had probed the yard fairly well at that time. He decided to check it out anyway while I was throwing dirt and finding nothing. He came back about 10 minutes later with a big grin on his face and told me to start filling in the barren hole I was toiling in. My friend excitedly explained that the guy’s yard had a couple of junk cars removed and he had probed a privy in an newly uncovered patch of ground. He described the privy as “stuffed with glass”. Even with dead arms, the privy was filled in short order and we raced over to the over yard to start digging.

I stuck a probe in the 5 foot by 5 foot square my friend had marked out in the dirt and indeed it gave all the indications of a good privy – nice glass scraping noises off my probe and a nice void in the middle of a hard packed area of yard. This privy right off started showing signs of being an unusual one. Large chunks of metal began turning up including axe heads, a piece of railroad line, wheel spokes (from what looked like a baby buggy), railroad spikes, and what took me a few minutes to figure out was barrel bands. Oh boy, a barrel lined privy, I thought, this could be good. Household items began to show themselves with dish shards, pipes, oil lamp pieces, soap dish pieces, a chipped spittoon, machete like knife, clock parts, and other typical privy items popping out. It wasn’t until I dug out the next item, did my other friend, Optimism fully return. There it was in all its glory, a horseshoe. We both laughed as we remembered my comment from before and we knew that Luck may be back. It was confirmed with the first whole bottle, a Hayes Bros blob top beer (loop seal again) from Chicago with a giant horseshoe on the front. Of course, we thought that was the funniest thing again and we got weird looks from the guy’s family that decided to set up folding chairs and watch us dig. A few shovelfuls more and a rare Peter Steinbach Kenosha hutch rolled out of the dirt. Moments later another quart blob beer Henry Becker from LaPorte, Indiana turned up. It never ceases to amaze me when these out of town bottles show up. How did this end up in Kenosha, nobody will ever know. It was at this point my friend sensing that I needed to get in there and start finding bottles to fully get over my bad mood suggested I take a turn.

My first item was of course another horseshoe. It was at this point that I decided to clean out the bottom corner of the spot where my friend was digging. Only a few inches below the dirt was the side of a bottle- a large bottle. Thankfully, I was digging carefully and not just chopping down carelessly. The bottle was laying face up with embossing clearly visible. It looked old and my heart starting beating quickly. I thought about getting on my hands and knees to take a closer look but decided I wanted carefully get it totally out of the ground before I messed with it. What seemed to take forever, I slowly brushed away the dirt and exposed another large quart bottle. I popped it out and tucked it under my arm until I could lean against the side of the privy. It was then as I raised the bottle up to my eyes that I detected the coloring of the bottle was not normal. Not aqua- not amber but some kind of greenish color. I raised it up to the sunlight and as I read J.G. Gottfredsen & Son Brewers Kenosha, Wis. my brain simultaneously registered that the coloring was citron greenish not because of some privy crud that seeped into during its 130-140 year nap in the dirt but it was actually that color. I instantly recognized the bottle as the one that only a piece of a bottle exists in any collection. I honestly don’t remember jumping up and down and shouting but that is what my friend told me later that I did. I hopped out of the privy and we high-fived each other. All the frustration and exhaustion left me in an instant. My friend asked me if was still going to give up digging with a grin. We ended up finding a couple more bottles (one was actually a super rare Kenosha hutch variant that my friend accidently broke while digging) but the legendary moment was etched in our brains. The four of us (me, my friend, Optimism and Luck) filled in the hole and walked back to our vehicles basking in the joy of an unforgettable day.
Author: Barna Bencs
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Categories: Discovery, Brewery, PopularNumber of views: 6641


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