Historic train station yields shoes, tickets and a message in a bottle

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Detroit — Lukas Nielsen and Leo Kimble were working in the Michigan Central Depot earlier this month when they made a discovery.

Nielsen, a laborer with demolition company Homrich, spotted a glass bottle tucked behind some plaster crowning as the two worked about 25 feet in the air.

“I said ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop wrecking. This could be something,’” Nielsen recalled. “I pulled it out and saw that there was something stuck down in there. Hey — there’s a message in a bottle, you know?”

The bottle, it turns out, was more than a century old.

On Thursday, the workers learned the content of the note as archivists with Ford Motor Company removed the folded paper from the 1913 Stroh’s Bohemian Beer bottle, which had much of its label intact.

The bottle is among numerous items workers have found during the restoration of the historic train station, part of Ford’s larger $740 million effort to create an innovation and mobility hub in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

Lauren Dreger, an archivist for Ford, wore white gloves and held a pair of tweezers as she carefully removed the note from the bottle during a media event Thursday at the train station. The 108-year-old note was worn and discolored but pretty much intact given its age.

The note appears to be written in pencil and read, “Dan Hogan and Geo Smith stuck this (illegible) of Chicago July 1913.” The train station opened months later.

Archivists said they were able to trace one of the workers back to Chicago. Nielsen said he believes the bottle being placed upside down is what saved its contents.

“I’m quite amazed to find out that it has two workers names and something ‘of Chicago,’ it has a date on it, said Nielsen of Canton Township. “I’m surprised it still has writing just due to the fact that all of the water that’s run through this building and I’m just surprised they can trace one of the workers was from there.”

John Stroh III was on hand to see the bottle and note. The Stroh Brewery Co. was founded by his family in 1850. It is now owned by Pabst.

“It’s amazing what gets tucked in walls in construction jobs,” he said. “This is where intact things get found.”

Workers are asked to turn in any artifacts they find while working at the site. During the media event, workers found a basket with a rope; inside was a box containing tickets labeled Detroit to Chicago, plus a single ticket inside the basket reading Detroit to Youngstown.

Dreger said the items will have to be cleaned up and examined, but her first thought is that the basket and rope were part of a pulley system.

Ford is in the second phase of the train station project, which involves restoring the limestone on the exterior and plasterwork inside. The waiting room is full of scaffolding, and two-thirds of the ceiling has been restored, said Rich Bardelli, Ford’s construction manager. The project is expected to be complete by the end of 2022.

Other found items on display in the station Thursday included two fragile-looking men’s shoes, a pair of women’s shoes from around 1940 and a child’s shoe from around 1915. There were also buttons and lights used for the elevator call system, a baseball and a Burroughs adding machine from 1934 that Dreger said was found in a room off of the elevator shaft. 

Since Ford announced its plans for the train station nearly three years ago, members of the public have returned items from the historic building. One submission last month was an ornate marble door lintel, said Ted Ryan, Ford archives and heritage brand manager.

“The ticket office is where they think it’s from,” Ryan said. “Their family liberated it. That’s the word I like to use because so many people came in here and liberated the artifacts that meant something to them. So many people are donating it back because the station means so much to Detroit.”

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