Chapter Thirteen: Bottle Fever

I WAS IN A FEVER! I'd never experienced anthing like it, personally, but I had seen something similar once before. When I was young, I'd watched my mother go slightly batty while on a camping trip in California's Sierra Nevada, when she found what looked like gold in the roots of an overturned tree. It was Gold Rush country, not far from some of the major gold strikes of 1849, but I doubt that had much to do with her feelings and subsequent actions. I suspect her mind knew all along that it was "fool's gold" (mica), but her heart and imagination kept her digging at those roots for hours. She couldn't drag herself away for food or anything else, until the fever had run its course and reason once again became master.

That must have been what I felt, too, the day I found a lovely old bottle half-buried in the woods below camp - intact, embossed, bubbled, and slightly tinted by long exposure to the sun. I kicked around in the leaves, raising a swarm of voracious blackflies, and I found another bottle, and soon one more. I got a rake and a shovel. It was hot, humid, and the blackflies were joined by mosquitoes. I was bitten, I was sweating - if I had been sane, I probably would have suffered heat prostration. I kept on rummaging in the leaves, oblivious to everything except the hunt, until four or five more bottles had joined the first acquisitions. Only then did the fever leave, and the bug bites claim my returning attention.

* * *

Finding old bottles in the woods near old homesteads is not unusual. During my time at Camp, I'd put my trash and recyclables in the back of our truck, take them the three miles down to Dummer Plain, and leave them for the once-a-week pick up. (No extra charge; the service was covered by our property taxes.) Obviously, that disposal method wasn't available to the homesteaders on the Hill. Although they didn't have the loads of waste products we generate today, they needed something to do with their empty cans and bottles. The "something" they did was start a trash dump, convenient to the house but far enough away not to attract bears or other mammalian explorers. The houses are long gone, but find an old cellar hole or other evidence of past occupancy, and you could probably find a trash dump somewhere nearby.

The bottles I found were in the woods only a few yards below our cabin, creating the impression that the containers had just been tossed out the door after use. A little study of the embossing on the bottles told a different story: our cabin was not built until 1927, but most of the bottles were from products made and marketed before 1920. Apparently, we were digging in the dump from the house at the top of the field, occupied beginning about 1898.

Most of our glass treasures turned out to be containers for more or less local products. An obvious "soda pop" bottle was from the Stark Spring Water Company, made and bottled in the 1920s just a few miles away to our west. There were a number of small bottles that had held Baker's Flavoring Extract and Foss' Liquid Fruit Flavors (in vanilla, orange, lemon or peppermint extract), both originating in Portland, Maine, in the first decades of the 20th century. One bottle had contained Minard's Liniment, originally invented by Dr. Levi Minard - "the King of Pain" - in Nova Scotia in the 1860s. It became very popular in Maritime Canada, gradually spreading into Quebec and Ontario. However, our bottle probably originated in Boston, where a Minard's plant was opened in 1899.

Another local product, Brown's Relief, had its start as Brown's Instant Relief in 1888 at Norway, Maine, only an hour or so east of Camp. None of our bottles included "Instant" in their embossing, an indication that they were distributed after 1900. The tonic was touted as being good for both man and beast, adult and child, and good for every ill one could name. The "relief" originated with alcohol, and probably opium or cocaine, in the formula.

We found quite a few bottles around Camp in subsequent years, and occasionally other treasures - like a nearly pristine 1916 New Hampshire license plate. We cherished each acquisition. But the fever never returned. It had just been one crazy day of bottle madness.

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Sanford Wilbur 2017