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.