ANOTHER "GREAT BOTTLE DIGGING STORY" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
Digging by decree inBrooklyn
by Erik Fortmeyer
Sometimes Brooklynprivy digs come about for the oddest of reasons. My Dear OLE'Dad, Jack Fortmeyer, enlisted into the U.S. Navy in 1958 for noover-riding reason and served in the Sea Bees (ConstructionBattalions) as an electrician building airfields in the Pacificfor the Marines. He got out in 1962 and became a New York Cityfireman. He now tools around with me in his retired state diggingout old outhouses for Victorian trash. We were out on the streetsof Brooklyn one-day looking for permission digs in brownstoneswhen I struck up a conversation with a Brooklynite named Pete. Imentioned in response to a comment Pete made about an incidentthat happened to me when I served in the Air Force. He then toldme about some of his late 1950's Navy experiences. I commentedthat my dad was in the Navy around then and introduced the two ofthem to each other. In a Brooklyn twist of fate, it turns outthat they both went to the same high school two years apart! Theythen both joined the Navy around the same time and attended basictraining at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center several monthsapart! The two of them began rattling off the names of peoplethey both knew and spent thirty minutes having a grand oldBS session like old pals. Peter told us he owned abrownstone on Amity Street when the conversation turned to whatbrought us to Brooklyn today and we were then well on our way toour next permission dig! So bottle digging was the reason why mydad joined the Navy? I guess it all makes sense now!
|Two of the nicer inks and an open pontil Lyon's Powder.||Some more of the day's goodies.|
Several follow-up phone calls with Pete bore fruit about sixweeks later when we found ourselves getting ready to probe his1850's backyard for `underground stone lined structures'! He haddone research in a local library on his brownstone and discoveredtax records dating back to 1860. An 1850 map we had of the areashowed a row of buildings starting right next door. The propertylines had been marked out on his plot then leading us to believethat his current house was about to be built. Needless to say,this should make it perfect for digging! Then we saw thebackyard. Full landscaping! Oh, no!!! Pete and the neighbors allaround there have such good relations that there are almost nofences to all their adjoining properties. They have turned thecombined backyard area into a virtual mini-park to stunningaffect! The area where Pete's outhouse pit would be was now undera layer of neatly arranged patio bricks. The cistern was now in acollared greens garden! We were given the OK to look for both asbest as we could and ended up finding what we thought was thecistern with the probe. Jack and I were thinking that there wasno reasonable way we could dig either the pit or cistern withoutaffecting half the yard. What then amazed both of us was Pete'ssuggestion for getting around this. Why don't we just dig hisneighbor's yard where there are no obstructions? The thing was,his neighbor was not home then. Pete noticed our uncertain facialexpressions and told us not to worry about it as he could get theOK later on. Wow!!! Isn't Brooklyn great?!? We scurried next doorand quickly found the neighbor's outhouse pit. Pete then went tograb a flat head shovel and told us of a hole in the ground undersome of the bluestone. He pried up a piece about fifteen feetfrom the house revealing underneath a tapering, stone lined holefilled with debris! Imagine if you crossed a stone lined outhousepit with a brick cistern and you would then have some idea whatwe were now looking at. We agreed that maybe it was a drainageoverflow well for the cistern. The well itself seemed original tothe house but, we couldn't tell how old the debris in it was. Itwas then agreed that this would be our first dig.
The well dig would have to be on a weekday due to availabletime constraints from our usual digging crew and the rapidapproach of Old Man Winter. We got together Tony Hernandez, MitchKramer, Jack, and myself for a Thursday dig under a cold, lateNovember sky. Tony dropped into the two-foot wide neck of thewell first and started removing some buckets of fill. By a fewfeet down, the bad signs started appearing. First, a Rheingoldbeer can, then a Yoo-Hoo bottle, and then a bottle of Old EnglishFurniture Polish! We wanted the 1850s, not the 1950s! Some moredigging and probing revealed the worst case. What to do when it'snot even noon? You probably guessed it already! Jack and Mitchstarted poking around by the outhouse pit area and soon hadexposed a pit wall. We decided to fill in the wall and attack thepit as far as we could before we returned with the full crew onSaturday.
Pete was by now thoroughly hooked on this bottle-diggingthing. He watched as we exposed the full top of theneighbor's pit wall and found coal ash all over the probe. Thepit appeared bright yellow followed quickly by a pair of Englishpot lids. A Russ St. Domingo Bitter in amber appeared,unfortunately with an ugly burst surface bubble on one panel.Gary asked for and received a cool soda, a green iron pontiledW. Losey, New York, Brown Stout. What Brooklyn pitwould be complete without a Udolphowolfes quart smooth base inolive and a D.L. Ormsby stoneware pint? Two aqua Balm ofThousand Flowers, New York with open pontils saw the lightof day again followed by an R.B. Dacosta West IndianToothwash Philada. In aqua OP. We then saw a Spalding'sGlue come up in OP aqua with an unrolled lip, completelyundamaged. Two more Lyons Powders appeared with smooth bases, onegreen and one amber. Mitch put his trusty sifter into action andwas soon pulling out stuff barely faster than we were dumpingbuckets. Common marbles were found in nearly every load alongwith buttons, pipes, toothbrushes, and combs. He then beganfinding heavy round balls and finally realized that they werecorroded musket balls! We were still uncertain of this when hebegan finding lead, three ringed Civil War era bullets fullyintact! They were about .60 caliber and numerous! This put us toguessing, to say the least, about the story behind how theseended up down there!
|An overview of the days finds.||Yours truly and Richie giving the owner some of the day's finds.|
The end of the pit was now approaching as the pit was halvedright to the floor on one side. The remaining shelf was about 20inches thick and, we hoped, still full of more goodies! Due tothe size of the pit, we were able to get Jack down digging whileshoveling the dirt to Mitch behind with the sifter. Several moreminor bottles were found but, the previously torrid pace wasdefinitely slacking. Darkness was now fully upon us by 5:30 whileGary, Richie, and I restlessly up top watching them below as weidly froze in the November wind. The pit was about fifteen feetdeep now. We chatted above about the cobalt ink wondering andhoping that maybe there were more. Finally, I shouted down to thewarm, sifting duo below a decree that they must find soonthe other cool umbrella ink that I kno-o-o-w must be hiding inthe shelf on the right side of the pit to balance the cobalt inkRichie found on the left side. Obey or their insolence willbe met with a pelting of frozen dirt bombs from above! Wouldn'tyou know it, about three minutes later, the two are huddledaround something they are gingerly trying to excavate. Holycow guys! You were right! It's a light green `Blake N-Y.'umbrella ink! And opened pontiled The Three Stooges weresuddenly at it again! The bucket was nearly dropped on Mitch'shead and another warm sock was found for the other ink!Ahhhhhh! Yin had met yang, all was in balance now! But, mostamazingly, the bottle gods obeyed me for once! The pit was donein about twenty more minutes of very careful searching. My decreehad been amazingly effective!
We began the long fill-in with happy digger's hearts and werestrengthened by a sausage pizza we gobbled down. The evening fillwent quicker than expected helped along again by all of the lightash. We assembled numerous thank you bottles for theowners and Pete while making sure the yard was put back into atleast as was shape. With some careful work, we mighteven be able to dig Pete's pit in the future or another of thefriendly neighbors! Everyone went home happy as can be from thisdig. Chalk it up as another successful dig in beautiful, OldBrooklyn!!!!!
|Whole Finds at the Amity Street Privy Dig |
1-Blake's umbrella ink - light green OP
1-umbrella ink - light sapphire OP
w/ minor panel chip
1-umbrella ink - bright green SB
1-Lyons Powder - yellow OP
1-cathedral pickle w/ 2 panels latticed
- aqua IP 5
1-X. Bazin Seven Highest Premiums...
Worlds Fair, London 1851 - pot lid
w/ plumb writing
1-Patey & Co. Perfumers Superior Cold
Cream - pot lid 2 1/2
2-Balm of Thousand Flowers, Fetridge &
Co. New York - aqua OP
1-Udolphowolfes - olive SB @quart
1-R.B. Dacosta West Indian Toothwash
Philada. - aqua OP
1-Russ St. Domingo Bitter - amber SB
1-Lyons Powder - green SB
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