Vol. 9 No. 6                                                                                                                                                                                                                    June 2011
Kalamazoo Antique Bottle Club New
Member club of the F.O.H.B.C.

Bottle Digging Full Speed Ahead!

Soft Ground!

With all the rain we have been getting this spring, the ground should be easy to probe and dig. I spoke with one friend who has been metal detecting and the ground moisture has been helping him recover some nice mid-1800's coins! But, he tells me that in the area he is hunting, he is hitting the water table at 8 inches!

I saw another fellow, who sold me some dairy bottles last year, at the auto repair shop next door to mine. I asked him if he had been digging any bottles lately. He told me that he didn't have time! He had just returned from Gaylord, MI, with 30 pounds of black Morel mushrooms and he was on his way back! If I did my math correctly, that is over $800.00 worth of fungus!

I haven't done a whole lot of antique bottle collecting since the last meeting. I did snipe in on some closing e-Bay auctions and managed to scoop up a couple of nice U.S. Large Cents! There is a connection with me. When you hold a nice 1818 Large Cent in your hand, how can you not wonder about the lives of the people who touched it?

Here is some better food-for-thought. At our metal detector club meeting we had a fascinating guest speaker named Ross Richardson. Ross is a realtor from Lake Ann, Michigan. Like me, he has long been fascinated by Great Lakes shipping and shipwreck history. The big difference between us is that I explore the bottom of the Great Lakes by reading and dreaming. Ross, on the other hand, is a professional wreck diver and he really goes searching for lost ships!

What a hobby! One of the ships that went missing in our Lake Michigan waters is the Ghost Ship "Chicora," which sank in the very early 1900's. Some of the wreckage washed up onto the Allegan County shoreline but, even after years of searching, the large old steamship has never been found. Another Great Lakes shipwreck that has been searched for many, many times is also considered a treasure ship, the Westmoreland. She went down in a winter storm back in December of 1854. The Westmoreland was a large, wooden, propeller-driven steamship 200 feet long and 28 feet wide; a big vessel in her day. The Westmoreland was a new ship, only one year old when she sank! She was designed for hauling passengers and freight and on her last voyage she was loaded with winter provisions and store goods for Mackinac Island. It is known that 17 lives were lost when the ship went down.

With many lost shipwrecks on the great Lakes, the rumors always seem to place a shipment of gold somewhere onboard. When the wreck did go down, there were records kept, and they show there were many things on board, but no mention of gold or the rumored cargo of high quality whiskey. Most of those rumors were actually spread by a salvage team who thought they had found the wreck.

First Mate Paul Pelkey of the Westmoreland survived the wreck and returned as a Captain himself in 1872, and then again in 1874 to salvage the wreck. And indeed he did salvage goods from a shipwreck. However, when Ross discovered the actual Westmoreland wreck, it became clear Captain Pelkey was salvaging the wrong wreck! Another team claimed they had located the Westmoreland in the mid 1950's and, according to their reports, the ship was little more that a huge pile of lumber!
This ship is almost a twin to the Westmoreland. Notice the supporting arches used in that day to strengthen the 200 foot hull.

This is the first sonar image of the Westmoreland!

That is often the case with shipwrecks exposed to Lake Michigan currents and ice flow. Hey, after all, there are thousands of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and many of them are in Lake Michigan!

This is something from the newspaper, The Democracy dated December 22nd, 1854 about the sinking of the Westmoreland:

" Mr. Clinton Wright, Chief Engineer of the Propeller WESTMORELAND reached our city, yesterday morning, and from him we learn the following particulars concerning the loss of the propeller.

The WESTMORELAND, Capt. Thomas Clark, left Chicago on Saturday, Dec. 2d, for this port with 29,000 bushels of oats, 90 bales of wool, 1,400 bbls of flour, 50 kegs of butter, 200 dressed hogs, 160 quarters of beef and a quantity of barreled beef, pork, lard and other store goods. The Propeller made a great deal of foe on the 4th and 6th, and labored heavily. On the 6th it blew a gale, and snowed very hard. She began to leak a little, but was kept free by the steam pumps, which were immediately set going. The storm continued, however, and on the morning of the 7th, the engineer discovered that the water was coming in rapidly. The pumps were again set to work, but the water gained so that all hands were called to bail her out. At 10 o'clock A. M., the water began to damage the fires from underneath the grates, and continued to rise steadily until all the fires were put out.

The Propeller was then abreast of the point near the South Manitou, and about two miles and a half from shore, and within sight of the Light House. The wind blowing a gale from the North West, took her out to sea, where she drifted about 12 miles. The crew were unable to head her for the shore, on account of an undertow After every attempt to get her in had proved unavailing, and no hopes were left of saving her, the boats were got ready for launching. They had three on board. Into the first got Captain Clark, the two women, both engineers, two passengers, one wheelsman, one deck hand, and the cook. This boat, after a pull of nearly two hours, reached the beach in safety. In the second boat were the two mates, the second mate and watchman of the Saginaw, one wheelsman of the WESTMORELAND, and three Germans. This boat also reached the shore in safety. The third boat, with several in it, got foul of the cabin in launching, and upset. All in it perished!

The propeller continued to fill, and finally went down, between two and three o'clock in the afternoon.. When last seen, several of the men WHO were to have taken the third boat, were clinging to the arches.

The first and second boats landed at Platt River Bay, eighteen miles from Manitou Islands. The second boat was upset in the breakers and two of its crew were drowned. The boat was soon righted and then got safely ashore. The men from the boats then went back into the woods and built a cabin of branches, a fire, and remained there over night. The next morning the third boat was found bottom side up the beach, having drifted ashore. The beach was strewn for miles with barrels of flour pork, butter, &c., from the unfortunate propeller.

The shipwrecked party stayed in their cabin from Thursday night until Saturday morning, when the storm abated and they started in the boats for Manitou Islands. After being out two hours the wind sprang up and both boats were driven ashore. Here they built a new cabin and remained four days, until the storm subsided. Prior to this, however, and on the second day, the mate and two others started for the Island, going round by the beach. On the fourth day the first mate, not having returned, the second mate and the first and second engineers started on foot on the beach for Manistee ninety miles distant. In their route they had to wade through several streams, one in which the water was three feet deep. They reached Manistee on Friday evening and on Saturday evening got on board the schooner Whirlwind bound for Racine, which port they reached on Wednesday."

This is from the underwater video that Ross shot. If you are a shipwreck nut like me, this is as pretty as it gets! This is the auxiliary wheel on the ships stern . . . the first trophy of a salvage diver!

The reason I am covering this in the Bottle Club newsletter is that when the Westmoreland was found, it was sitting on the lake-bottom upright with everything intact! There are hand tools lying on the deck!

On July 10, 2010, Ross confirmed the identity of the Westmoreland. The Westmoreland is in an incredible state of preservation and has remained unseen by human eyes for over a century and a half. The shipwreck is sitting upright and nearly completely intact in deep water. The depth and the steep walls of the uncharted hole she sits in seems to have protected her from currents and ice that have reduced most wrecks on the west shore of Michigan to nothing more that interesting board piles. Her bow points south and east, pointing down the course she was blown by the December gale in 1854.

At the very stern, on the passenger deck, is the auxiliary helm; a perfectly intact ship's wheel. It's in pristine condition considering the Westmoreland sank 7 years before the Civil War started, and was on the bottom of Lake Michigan over a decade before president Lincoln was assassinated.

Ross and his team left the ship just as they found it and, when I saw the video footage, I could see that leaving it undisturbed took a great deal of self discipline! You know, the treasure value aboard this ship in antique bottles alone would be staggering! She was no doubt carrying hundreds of bottled products as her cargo, but also goods for the captain and crew and passengers. Beer, Wine, Spirits, Food Products, Medicines, Inks, and everything is pontiled! This was a great presentation that really captured my imagination! It was just like all the treasure stories I heard as a kid!

Local Digging

       I'm sure a few of you have been out digging. I would love to cover your digging stories in the newsletter, but you have to get them to me. I could use the help!

    I did hear from Chuck and Scott who have been doing some digging in western Kalamazoo County. The guys were not far from one of the several ghost town locations in the area. The house they gained permission to dig had a giant trash pit in the yard! Some of the bottles located were: Dewitt's Stomach Bitters, Stearn's (cornflower blue medicine), several aqua threadless lightning rod insulators, 5 Payne's Celery Compound, Cripe & Merrman Plainwell Pharmacy Bottle, several sample cures, Mesick & Perrigo medicines, an unusual peppersauce and 3 poisons. The guys tell me that they found many interesting toys, including marbles and a cast iron train set that only needs a little sand blasting. I'm happy for the guys, but I cannot help but think another great club dig just passed us by again. What really gets in my craw is that they took a guy digging who has told me in the past that he thinks clubs are stupid! Oh well, to each his own.

    All together the guys dug about 500 antique bottles! I believe Scott said something about having the best of these bottles to show at the meeting. I would love to look at that peppersauce and those train cars!

When first spotted the Mason jar had that blue tint and Scott thought they had hit the Jackpot! A great Chicago Bitters, beautiful stoneware bean pot and a very cool Bird-On-Nest whistle! Also seen: some Lightning Rod Insulators

Carved bone toothbrush 1860's


Last Month

Last month we met for a short meeting at the library. Kevin usually dates my sign-in sheet but this one is not dated, so I hope it is the correct one. I show: Kevin Seigfried, Chuck Parker, Mary Hamilton, Scott Hendrichsen, Dee Cole, Ed Nickerson and Al Holden. Our meeting theme last month was to feature spring and mineral- water bottles and padlocks.

I think everyone was pre-occupied with what was to be the second half of our meeting, the pizza party! I say that because very few bottles were on display. I recall seeing only two padlocks. Scott dug a 'Saint Louis, Kansas City and Colorado Railroad' padlock! Very few collectibles are as hot as railroad items. Over the years that I have been metal detecting, I have found several tokens, but I have only sold one. It read, "M.C.R.R." on one side and "1 Cord" on the other! It was good for one cord of wood for the steam engine. When the wood supplier turned the token in to the Michigan Central Railroad, he was paid for one cord of split cord-wood. Pretty cool, huh? I sold the token back in the early 90's for $100.00 because the buyer kept bugging me! Chuck and Scott had just started digging at the big dig that I mentioned and Scott had some of their early finds on hand.

Then we took a short drive over to the great Bimbo's Pizza where we all settled in for the best pizza anywhere! I thought I was one of Bimbo's biggest fans, but actually Chuck is almost co-owner! Chuck has one that he likes called the "Heart Stopper" and is it EVER GREAT! The only problem is, every bite takes 12 days off the end of your life! I think smoking is healthier! We ate pizza until the pull of gravity seemed to double.

Well, I thought I would be on vacation before this next meeting, but it looks like I can make it after all. We have to wait until my granddaughter is out of school for the summer and that isn't until June 16th. Seems like we had most of June off back during my school days.

We are just featuring "Latest Finds" for our June meeting theme. I just purchased a vase with Old Ironsides on it from Eddie, and I asked a fellow who wants to pay me $3,000 if he will wait until you see it! Just kidding, Ed! He just popped a Nitroglycerin pill!

We have never traveled to the western U.P. this early. I am hoping that the bugs aren't too bad. There is a ghost town where I have dug bottles in the past and I am hoping to do some digging there again. Hope to see you all at the meeting!

The Kalamazoo Antique Bottle Club meets at the main downtown Kalamazoo Library, located at 315 South Rose Street. We meet on the third floor in the Van Deusen Room and sometimes in the conference room right next door. This meeting is June 14th. Meeting starts at 7:00 pm.

For questions e-mail

Or call 269-685-1776