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Marty Kupferschmidt’s Bottle Odyssey
My odyssey with antique bottles began in 1966. That year, the interstate highway construction tore through my neighborhood on Milwaukee’s south side. As the one block wide swath of homes and businesses between south 4th and south 5th streets were demolished and the adjoining land excavated, my buddies and I, true entrepreneurs, dug and collected the lead pipe that had been used for water service back in the early 1900s. We collected this “gray gold” and transported it to the nearest junkyard in a coaster wagon. We used the proceeds to purchase baseball cards, bubble gum, and soda pop.
While digging for the pipe, we sometimes stumbled upon an old bottle or two.
Eventually, my family’s home at 328 W. Lapham St. fell prey to the wrecking ball.
My family relocated to Bay View on S. Burrell St. where I met Mr. August Westphall, a man who still lived in the house where he was born in 1890. One evening, while sitting on Mr. Westphall’s porch, he mentioned that the house across the street had water problems in the basement, due to a previous artesian well on the property. He told me that a brewery, The Munzinger Brewery, had occupied that site long ago. At the time, I thought the old guy was spinning a yarn. I knew that Pabst, Schlitz, and Miller were all huge industrial facilities. I couldn’t conceive that some backyard operation in a residential neighborhood could flourish. Mr. Westphall also told me that the huge, empty field behind our house once supported a bottle factory and he had worked there. A few days later, Mr. Westphall and I took a walk through this field and he pointed out where the buildings once stood and how a bottle was made. Between the bottle finds with the “gray gold” and Mr. Westphall’s stories, the bottle bug bit me.