Message in a bottle found in Michigan Central Station wall

Work crews restoring Michigan Central Station in Detroit have discovered a message in a beer bottle left there in 1913 when the station was being built. The bottle of Stroh’s Bohemian Beer, much of its label intact, contained a rolled up piece of paper stuffed into its neck. The message reads:

“Dan Hogan and Geo Smith stuck this.

(Unreadable word) of Chicago

July 1913.”

The historic Beaux Arts building, the tallest train station in the world at the time of its completion, opened ahead of schedule right after a fire devastated Michigan Central Station on December 26th. It was located in the Corktown district south of downtown and relied on passengers taking mass-transit options like streetcars and interurban railways. There was no parking to speak of, and after World War II as people rapidly adopted automobile travel, the station’s usage plummeted. Most train services stopped running through the station in the 60s and the last Amtrak limped out of the station in 1988.

Various plans have been made since then to repurpose it and restore it, but none of them ever came to fruition and the building’s decline has been unrelenting. Finally in 2018 Ford Motor Company bought the station  and it has been undergoing a massive restoration which will continue through the end of 2022 when it will be the jewel in the crown of Michigan Central, a mixed used campus of shops, restaurants and Ford research facilities.

So far construction crews have discovered 200 items from women’s shoes to original elevator call button parts. More than 400 people are currently employed in the restoration, which is focused on the once-glamorous ground floor including the grand waiting room which has 65 foot-high tile vaulted ceilings. The space is filled ground to ceiling with scaffolding so workers can do the necessary repairs to the masonry and plaster moldings high on the walls and ceiling. That’s where the message in a bottle was found.

The bottled, stamped with the date 7-19-13 – the station opened in 1913 – was discovered at around 6 p.m. on May 4 by Lukas Nielsen and Leo Kimble, laborer and foreman, respectively, for Homrich, a plaster restoration contractor working in the station’s tea room. The men were praised for resisting the urge to open the bottle themselves.

“It was extremely tempting, it really was,” said Nielsen. “If we did anything to remove it, we would have destroyed it.”

Nielsen and Kimble were on a scissor lift to reach a high section of plaster cornice that would be removed from the wall when Nielsen noticed something behind the cornice – a glass bottle stuffed upside-down and situated behind the wall’s crown molding. Kimble was about to strike the wall when Nielsen stopped him. They stopped working and removed the bottle instead.

The men were filled with excitement as they returned to the floor at 6:45 p.m., taking the bottle straight to David Kampo, project superintendent for Christman-Brinker, the construction team leading the restoration project. Later that night, they also found a Finck’s overalls button believed to have fallen off a worker during the original construction. It too was found inside the wall. In the early 1900s, when the station was built, Finck’s “Detroit Special” overalls were synonymous with quality denim garments for laborers.

“I think the bottle was left there with the hope that someone finds it in the future,” said Kampo.

The bottle, its message and the other artifacts recovered during the restoration will be conserved and stored in the Ford archives in Dearborn. Eventually they will be integrated into the larger Ford collection.

11 thoughts on “Message in a bottle found in Michigan Central Station wall

  1. “––Dan Hogan and Geo Smith stuck this ceiling of Chicago, July 1913––”



    PS: It seems as if recently the Stroh Brewery was risen from the dead. “In 1865, Stroh adopted the heraldic lion emblem from Kirn’s most famous landmark, the Kyrburg Castle, and named his operation the Lion’s Head Brewery. The lion emblem is still visible in its product labels. Kirn is a town in the Bad Kreuznach district in Rheinland-Pfalz.”

  2. Friends,

    Stroh Brewing Company was giantic, eventually brewing dozens of other brands through acquisition or under license. Unfortunately, it couldn’t complete with the other big players, and went out of business in 2000. The Stroh’s brand, and many other labels were sold to Pabst, while Miller bought several other labels.

    After college in the early 1970s I worked in southern California with a chap from Cleveland who adored Stohs. Whenever he went home to visit relatives, he would take a couple of cases of Coors for his relatives (Coors was not available nationally then), and trade them for Stroh’s. It was pretty good beer, as canned brews were in those days, but nothing like San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Beer or their fantastic porter.

    Wikipedia has an interesting article on the history of Stroh’s, but it stops in 2016, and so says nothing about the current availablity of their surviving labels.

    Yours Aye,

    Lord Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge (SCA) 🦆
    (Who has always been more of a California wine snob)

  3. I love your version of this story as it is much more detailed than what I had read elsewhere. I love it when things like that are found. I imagine these two men feeling they were really making something special that would stand the test of time. I am glad it was found, and that Ford rescued that historic building instead of demolishing it. Charlotte should have learned that, most of our historic buildings are gone.

    As for Coors, I remember growing up in Ohio and my parents would love it when a friend would bring them Coors from across the country. When they went national. I remember my mom saying Coors would never taste the same, it was the water that made the beer.

  4. Isn’t it our nature to secrete messages to the future?
    The furniture I helped to make in a small shop, for local lovers of walnut and cherry neo-Chippendale pieces, is riddled with messages, in hollowed-out quarter-columns, and under cornice-moldings: “Why did you take that off!???” and such….
    The drawer I was dovetailing on 911 has the story recorded on its back…someday surely increasing the chest-on-chest’s value…

  5. Unfortunately, I am completely uninformed about beer from California, but have heard about their wine production.

    As far as Mr. Stroh is concerned, the Stroh family apparently began brewing in a family-owned inn during the 18th century in Kirn, which –outside of what today is Bavaria– could historically be classified as Rhenish Franconia.

    Within northern Bavaria (i.e. ‘Franconia’), family-owned local brewery inns are actually the norm. “Bohemia”, on the other hand, to the east of Franconia (in what today is the Czech Republic) is likewise “beer territory”.

    In between ‘Rhenish’ Franconia and Bohemia, at closer inspection, Franconia itself is divided “in partes tres”, i.e. in Middle-, Upper- and Lower Fanconia. Here, the Main as the longest tributary to the Rhine comes into play:

    Notably, Lower Franconia is referred to as “Wine Franconia”, while Middle- and Upper Franconia are –and have been for centuries– “Beer Franconia”.

    Interestingly, those wine regions are the ones that –back then– the Romans had under their control, but later in the Medieval Period also the Monasteries were of course playing an important role.

    With more than 200 independent local breweries and approximately 1000 types of beer, Upper Franconia has the world’s highest brewery-density per capita, and –it has to be pointed out– most of their stuff is strictly consumed locally.

    Problematic is that I am not in the region 🙁

    Just yesterday, friends of mine were in one of those small open air “family-owned brewery inns”, in perfect weather conditions, but not in the one that I had in mind (where they brew theirs since 1422).

    Instead, they were just a few hundred meters from there –technically in the next village– and over here I am indeed a tiny bit jealous :ohnoes:

  6. I agree with another commenter here: the “unreadable” word looks pretty clear to me. It’s “ceiling.” So the bottle was stuck [into the] ceiling.

  7. I agree the inscription reads: “Dan Hogan and Geo Smith stuck this ceiling of Chicago, July 1913”.

    In plasterer’s terminology to ‘stick a ceiling’ means to adhere a plaster ceiling onto lathes. I believe “Chicago” is a type of ornamental plasterwork – so it would be a specific style of ceiling.

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