History: Ford workers at Michigan Central Station discover a message in a bottle dating back to 1913


A rolled-up message in a beer bottle hidden in the Michigan Central Station in 1913 by two labourers has been discovered by two modern-day construction workers.

Foreman Leo Kimble and labourer Lukas Nielsen of plaster contractor Homrich found the pre-Prohibition-era bottle in the station’s tea room on May 4 this year.

It was discovered upside-down, stuck behind the top of a high section of crown moulding the duo had been preparing to remove while riding on a scissor lift.

When the message — much of which is unclear — was carefully unrolled later on, experts found it contained the names of two men and the date ‘July 1913’.

The men, whose surnames appear to be ‘Hogan’ and ‘Smith’, must have been working to build the station, which opened to the public on January 4, 1914.

The date of ‘7-19-13’ stamped on the bottle — whose label identifies is as once containing ‘Stroh’s Bohemian Beer’ — narrows down when the message was left.

Long vacant, Michigan Central Station was bought by the Ford Motor Company in 2018. Renovations will see it transformed into a technology hub by late next year.

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A rolled-up message in a beer bottle (pictured) hidden in the Michigan Central Station in 1913 by two labourers has been discovered by two modern-day construction workers

A rolled-up message in a beer bottle (pictured) hidden in the Michigan Central Station in 1913 by two labourers has been discovered by two modern-day construction workers

When the message (pictured) — much of which is unclear — was carefully unrolled later on, experts found it contained the names of two men and the date 'July 1913'. The men, whose surnames appear to be 'Hogan' and 'Smith', must have been working to build the station, which opened to the public on January 4, 1914

When the message (pictured) — much of which is unclear — was carefully unrolled later on, experts found it contained the names of two men and the date ‘July 1913’. The men, whose surnames appear to be ‘Hogan’ and ‘Smith’, must have been working to build the station, which opened to the public on January 4, 1914

STROH’S BREWERY 

The message from 1913 was found rolled up and stuffed into a bottle of Stroh’s Bohemian Beer.

Located just three miles from the station, the Detroit-based brewery was founded in 1850 by German emigrant Bernhard Stroh.

Their ‘Bohemian Beer’ was noted for winning the blue ribbon at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. 

During Prohibition, Stroh’s switched to selling non-alcoholic ‘near beer’, soft drinks, malt products and ice cream.

Messrs Kimble and Nielsen are among the some 400-strong workforce presently working in Michigan Central Station, conducting masonry repairs, and performing the necessary installations to adapt the Beaux Arts-style structure for its new purpose.

Archivists from Ford commended the duo for showing restraint and not attempting to open the bottle themselves.

‘It was extremely tempting, it really was,’ said Mr Nielsen. 

However, he added, ‘if we did anything to remove it, we would have destroyed it.’ 

This is not the first time that the pair have found antique bottles inside the station — although this is the only instance in which one contained a message.

‘I think the bottle was left there with the hope that someone finds it in the future,’ said project superintendent David Kampo, who works for Christman-Brinker, the construction team overseeing the renovations of the station building.

The bottle is not the only find turned up during the construction. 

Pictured: an advertisement for Finck’s 'Detroit Special' overalls. A button lost from a pair was also found in the Michigan Central Station

Pictured: an advertisement for Finck’s ‘Detroit Special’ overalls. A button lost from a pair was also found in the Michigan Central Station

In fact, on the same evening, Messrs Kimble and Nielsen went on to find a button from a pair of Finck’s-brand overalls that is believed to have been lost during the original construction.

During the early 20th century, around the time that the station was constructed, Finck’s ‘Detroit Special’ denim overalls were regarded as a quality choice for workers.

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In total, some 200 historical artefacts have been recovered from the station over the course of Ford’s multi-year project to renovate the building.

Among these finds is a saucer from a china set that was found in the station’s basement, old tickets and payment ledgers for bills and invoices.

Furthermore — during the removal of an elevator shaft — an entire forgotten room was discovered on an intermediate level which contained an  adding machine, both baby and women’s shoes and other items.

All the items recovered from the station will join Ford’s historical collection at the firm’s purpose-built archives space in Dearborn, Michigan. 

Foreman Leo Kimble and labourer Lukas Nielsen of plaster contractor Homrich found the pre-Prohibition-era bottle (pictured) in the station's tea room on May 4 this year

Foreman Leo Kimble and labourer Lukas Nielsen of plaster contractor Homrich found the pre-Prohibition-era bottle (pictured) in the station’s tea room on May 4 this year

Long vacant, Michigan Central Station was bought by the Ford Motor Company in 2018. Renovations will see it transformed into a technology hub by late next year. Pictured: a postcard, dated back to 1913–15, shows the station in its heyday. The 21-acre building cost $15,000,000 to build, had 11 tracks and, according to the postcard's reverse, passengers' accommodations that would 'not be outdone by any railroad station in the world'

Long vacant, Michigan Central Station was bought by the Ford Motor Company in 2018. Renovations will see it transformed into a technology hub by late next year. Pictured: a postcard, dated back to 1913–15, shows the station in its heyday. The 21-acre building cost $15,000,000 to build, had 11 tracks and, according to the postcard’s reverse, passengers’ accommodations that would ‘not be outdone by any railroad station in the world’

The paper on which the message was written will be preserved by Ford’s archivists in a special, temperature controlled space after being re-humidified and placed into a special protective storage box

‘The main thing you have to do is slow down the deterioration of the paper,’ said Ford’s Heritage and Brand Manager Ted Ryan.

‘With the bottle, that’s easy because it’s glass, but we’ll also have to make sure the rest of the label doesn’t deteriorate. It’s just like the pieces of a classic car.’ 

Mr Nielsen — who lives in Garden City, 10 miles west of Detroit, and was born in the area — began working at Michigan Central Station back in February.

He said that he hopes the message in the bottle proves to be important to the story of the grand old building. 

‘I would drive past it and wonder what’s going to happen to the train station. Now, we are going to be part of the history of the building,’ he said.

‘It’s good to see it being revitalized after sitting derelict for so long.’ 

In total, some 200 historical artefacts have been recovered from Michigan Central Station, in the centre of Detroit, over the course of Ford's multi-year project to renovate the building

In total, some 200 historical artefacts have been recovered from Michigan Central Station, in the centre of Detroit, over the course of Ford’s multi-year project to renovate the building

MICHIGAN CENTRAL STATION 

Pictured: Michigan Central Station

Pictured: Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station is a former main passenger rail depot located in the centre of Detroit. 

The 21-acre building cost $15,000,000 to build, had 11 tracks and, according to one description, had accommodations for passengers that would ‘not be outdone by any railroad station in the world.’ 

Pictured: Bill Ford Jr, Ford Motor Company's Executive Chairman, posing in the Michigan Central Station in Detroit in 2018 after his firm purchased the building

Pictured: Bill Ford Jr, Ford Motor Company’s Executive Chairman, posing in the Michigan Central Station in Detroit in 2018 after his firm purchased the building

Dedicated on January 4, 1914, the station operated until Amtrak services there ceased on January 6, 1988, when the building fell into disrepair.

After changing hands several times, the station and its 13-storey high office structure was purchased by the Ford Motor Company, who are working to revamp it into a technology hub dubbed ‘Michigan Central’ which is scheduled to be completed late next year.

The site will feature public-facing shops, restaurants and community amenities, alongside facilities for Ford and its partners.



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