Message in a bottle? Ah, the things you find during restoration, of a car or a railroad station

Credit: Original article published by Classic Cars Journal.

Think your restoration of a classic car took more time and cost more than you anticipated? Consider what Ford Motor Company has undertaken in its effort to restore the historic Michigan Central railroad station and its Beaux Arts-style architecture located near downtown Detroit. 

Ford purchased the long-vacant station in 2018 with a goal not only to restore it by the end of 2022, but to make it the centerpiece of a 30-acre Michigan Central “mobility innovation district” featuring shops and restaurants as well as a place for Ford and others “to develop, test and launch new solutions to solve urban transportation challenges.” 

“More than 400 workers are currently on site each day, doing masonry repairs and installing roofing, flooring, windows, plumbing and electrical systems,” Ford reports. “Crews are also busy restoring the magnificent Guastavino vaulted ceiling in the old waiting room that features three self-supported arches, and fixing terracotta cornices and limestone capitals on the exterior of the building.”

Lukas Nielsen and Leon Kimble found the bottle while doing plaster restoration

As with the restoration of a classic car, there have been surprises along the way. In the case of the building, they include more than 200 items people left behind, or in at least one case, that they hid, likely in hopes of the item being discovered sometime in the future.

“Days after unveiling the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning, the next big reveal for Ford Motor Company is not a vehicle at all,” Ford said in a news release. “Crews working at Michigan Central Station recently stumbled upon a pre-Prohibition-era Stroh’s beer bottle with a mysterious message neatly rolled and stuffed inside.”

Stroh’s is a popular Detroit area beer brand founded in 1850 by Bernhard Stroh, who learned brewing at his family’s inn in Germany before emigrating to Detroit. 

The Michigan Central station opened in January 1914. The Stroh’s bottle with the message inside was stamped July 19, 1913 by the brewery. 

Historic Michigan Central station had deteriorated from years of disuse and abuse

Laborer Lukas Nielsen and foreman Leon Kimble, working for plaster restoration contractor Homrich, discovered the bottle with the message inside on May 4 while working on plaster restoration in the station’s tearoom. Ford praised the pair for not trying to open the bottle to read the message themselves.

“It was extremely tempting, it really was,” Nielsen is quoted in the Ford news release. “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,” the news release reported. 

The message

“Kimble was about to strike the wall when Nielsen stopped him. They stopped working and removed the bottle instead.”

“I think the bottle was left there with the hope that someone finds it in the future,” said David Kampo, project superintendent for Christman-Brinker, the construction team leading the restoration project.

Later during the same work shift, the pair found within the wall a button from an earlier worker’s Finck’s “Detroit Special” overalls. Other recent finds by various workers in the restoration include a china set, an adding machine, baby shoes and a Shinola shoeshine bottle.

Ford noted that Nielsen and Kimble have found other vintage bottles in the station, though none with notes inside. The bottle has been delivered to Ford archivists who, on May 28, removed the paper to reveal the message, which is being rehumidified for continued study.

“The main thing you have to do is slow down the deterioration of the paper,” said Ford heritage manager Ted Ryan. “With the bottle, that’s easy because it’s glass, but we’ll also have to make sure the rest of the label doesn’t deteriorate. It’s just like the pieces of a classic car.”

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