The Catsup Bottle and the Cahokia Indians (18 cents)

We finally saw the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle this weekend, and I must confess mixed emotions. Collinsville, Illinois, is a pleasant and seemingly old fashioned town, a St. Louis suburb. It is the home of the world’s largest catsup bottle, a water tower at the former Brooks Catsup factory. I assumed it would be easy to find – but in fact, when you enter Collinsville, you see a water tower, but it is just a water tower, silver colored, typical. No catsup bottle is apparent.

We asked a pedestrian where it was, and his instructions were pretty good, although they contained turns, and stop lights you had to count. I guess once you know where it is, it is easy enough to see.

The site is not at all attractive. The road is a winding two lane road in a mixed industrial/residential area that has seen better days. The Bottle is right off the road, maybe ten feet, certainly not aesthetically positioned. But it itself is rather impressive. Sitting high above the roofs and trees, it looks like it was just painted and fixed up. It is the spiffiest thing around.

Outside of Collinsville are the Cahokia Indian Mounds State Historic Site, a 2200 acre state park and visitors center dedicated to the 100+ mound site, which once housed a city of upward of 20,000 Mississippi Indians, the largest city in North America until 18th century Philadelphia. Our guide on a hot day was quite good, I thought. We learned that there is much not known about this society, including why, well before Europeans began to explore the continent, the site was abandoned. Was it the eventual failure of agriculture? Was it too far to bring wood to heat the houses, once the nearby forests were cut down? Apparently, there is no sign of war or disease.

And how were the mounds constructed? Apparently through the piling on of soils from nearby. Soils that were brought to the sites by hand – there being no wheels in this society.

We learned that the mounds were shaped three different ways, and built at different times. We learned that there have been tombs discovered, from the quite elaborate, to simple mass graves. But the customs, the religions are not known, the lack of knowledge being in part the result of a society without a written language. We learned that there was, however, trade, as items from afar have been found in the ground.

What else did we do in St. Louis? We drove around downtown, seeing some new buildings, and the new City Garden sculpture park. We drove on the new Highway 40. We visited friends, the cemetery, a couple of restaurants, relatives. We drove through Forest Park, and went to a street fair in the Central West End.

And, oh yes, we attended by 50th high school reunion. But that’s another story.

One thought on “The Catsup Bottle and the Cahokia Indians (18 cents)

  1. As you probably know, St. Louis used to be known as the Mound City, due to the many Indian mounds located there. Unfortunately all but one of the mounds on the Missouri side of the river were leveled in the 19th century (I believe there is still a small one left in North St. Louis on or near Union), so whatever help the artifacts in these mounds could have been towards understanding the society that built them (presumably the same society that built the big mound you saw near Cahokia) is lost forever. I remember as a kid driving with my Dad to his office on North 2nd Street not far from a monument on N. Broadway consisting of a big black rock with a plaque on it. One day we stopped by this rock and read the plaque. Turns out it was put up to “commemorate” a large Indian mound that had been removed sometime in the 19th century to allow the City of St. Louis to expand northward from downtown. It’s a good thing we looked when we did because not long after that the plaque was stolen, and after that the monument was just a big black rock with an empty place where the plaque had been. One would hope they have replaced it by now.

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