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 in Brooklyn
by Erik Fortmeyer
Sometimes Brooklyn privy digs come about for the oddest of reasons. My Dear OLE' Dad, Jack Fortmeyer, enlisted into the U.S. Navy in 1958 for no over-riding reason and served in the Sea Bees (Construction Battalions) as an electrician building airfields in the Pacific for the Marines. He got out in 1962 and became a New York City fireman. He now tools around with me in his retired state digging out old outhouses for Victorian trash. We were out on the streets of Brooklyn one-day looking for permission digs in brownstones when I struck up a conversation with a Brooklynite named Pete. I mentioned in response to a comment Pete made about an incident that happened to me when I served in the Air Force. He then told me about some of his late 1950's Navy experiences. I commented that my dad was in the Navy around then and introduced the two of them to each other. In a Brooklyn twist of fate, it turns out that they both went to the same high school two years apart! They then both joined the Navy around the same time and attended basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center several months apart! The two of them began rattling off the names of people they both knew and spent thirty minutes having a grand old BS session like old pals. Peter told us he owned a brownstone on Amity Street when the conversation turned to what brought us to Brooklyn today and we were then well on our way to our next permission dig! So bottle digging was the reason why my dad 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 six weeks later when we found ourselves getting ready to probe his 1850's backyard for `underground stone lined structures'! He had done research in a local library on his brownstone and discovered tax records dating back to 1860. An 1850 map we had of the area showed a row of buildings starting right next door. The property lines had been marked out on his plot then leading us to believe that his current house was about to be built. Needless to say, this should make it perfect for digging! Then we saw the backyard. Full landscaping! Oh, no!!! Pete and the neighbors all around there have such good relations that there are almost no fences to all their adjoining properties. They have turned the combined backyard area into a virtual mini-park to stunning affect! The area where Pete's outhouse pit would be was now under a layer of neatly arranged patio bricks. The cistern was now in a collared greens garden! We were given the OK to look for both as best as we could and ended up finding what we thought was the cistern with the probe. Jack and I were thinking that there was no reasonable way we could dig either the pit or cistern without affecting half the yard. What then amazed both of us was Pete's suggestion for getting around this. Why don't we just dig his neighbor's yard where there are no obstructions? The thing was, his neighbor was not home then. Pete noticed our uncertain facial expressions and told us not to worry about it as he could get the OK later on. Wow!!! Isn't Brooklyn great?!? We scurried next door and quickly found the neighbor's outhouse pit. Pete then went to grab a flat head shovel and told us of a hole in the ground under some of the bluestone. He pried up a piece about fifteen feet from the house revealing underneath a tapering, stone lined hole filled with debris! Imagine if you crossed a stone lined outhouse pit with a brick cistern and you would then have some idea what we were now looking at. We agreed that maybe it was a drainage overflow well for the cistern. The well itself seemed original to the house but, we couldn't tell how old the debris in it was. It was then agreed that this would be our first dig.
The well dig would have to be on a weekday due to available time constraints from our usual digging crew and the rapid approach of Old Man Winter. We got together Tony Hernandez, Mitch Kramer, Jack, and myself for a Thursday dig under a cold, late November sky. Tony dropped into the two-foot wide neck of the well first and started removing some buckets of fill. By a few feet down, the bad signs started appearing. First, a Rheingold beer can, then a Yoo-Hoo bottle, and then a bottle of Old English Furniture Polish! We wanted the 1850s, not the 1950s! Some more digging and probing revealed the worst case. What to do when it's not even noon? You probably guessed it already! Jack and Mitch started poking around by the outhouse pit area and soon had exposed a pit wall. We decided to fill in the wall and attack the pit as far as we could before we returned with the full crew on Saturday.
Pete was by now thoroughly hooked on this bottle-digging thing. He watched as we exposed the full top of the neighbor's pit wall and found coal ash all over the probe. The pit appeared bright yellow followed quickly by a pair of English pot 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 pontiled W. Losey, New York, Brown Stout. What Brooklyn pit would be complete without a Udolphowolfes quart smooth base in olive and a D.L. Ormsby stoneware pint? Two aqua Balm of Thousand Flowers, New York with open pontils saw the light of day again followed by an R.B. Dacosta West Indian Toothwash Philada. In aqua OP. We then saw a Spalding's Glue come up in OP aqua with an unrolled lip, completely undamaged. Two more Lyons Powders appeared with smooth bases, one green and one amber. Mitch put his trusty sifter into action and was soon pulling out stuff barely faster than we were dumping buckets. Common marbles were found in nearly every load along with buttons, pipes, toothbrushes, and combs. He then began finding heavy round balls and finally realized that they were corroded musket balls! We were still uncertain of this when he began finding lead, three ringed Civil War era bullets fully intact! They were about .60 caliber and numerous! This put us to guessing, to say the least, about the story behind how these ended 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 halved right to the floor on one side. The remaining shelf was about 20 inches thick and, we hoped, still full of more goodies! Due to the size of the pit, we were able to get Jack down digging while shoveling the dirt to Mitch behind with the sifter. Several more minor bottles were found but, the previously torrid pace was definitely slacking. Darkness was now fully upon us by 5:30 while Gary, Richie, and I restlessly up top watching them below as we idly froze in the November wind. The pit was about fifteen feet deep now. We chatted above about the cobalt ink wondering and hoping that maybe there were more. Finally, I shouted down to the warm, sifting duo below a decree that they must find soon the other cool umbrella ink that I kno-o-o-w must be hiding in the shelf on the right side of the pit to balance the cobalt ink Richie found on the left side. Obey or their insolence will be met with a pelting of frozen dirt bombs from above! Wouldn't you know it, about three minutes later, the two are huddled around something they are gingerly trying to excavate. Holy cow guys! You were right! It's a light green `Blake N-Y.' umbrella ink! And opened pontiled The Three Stooges were suddenly at it again! The bucket was nearly dropped on Mitch's head and another warm sock was found for the other ink! Ahhhhhh! Yin had met yang, all was in balance now! But, most amazingly, the bottle gods obeyed me for once! The pit was done in about twenty more minutes of very careful searching. My decree had been amazingly effective!
We began the long fill-in with happy digger's hearts and were strengthened by a sausage pizza we gobbled down. The evening fill went quicker than expected helped along again by all of the light ash. We assembled numerous thank you bottles for the owners and Pete while making sure the yard was put back into at least as was shape. With some careful work, we might even be able to dig Pete's pit in the future or another of the friendly neighbors! Everyone went home happy as can be from this dig. Chalk it up as another successful dig in beautiful, Old Brooklyn!!!!!
|Whole Finds at the Amity Street
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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