The Message is the Bottle
“Stone Cold” and I planted a Japanese Flowering Cherry tree at the manse (pastor’s residence owned by the church). The tree was a nine-footer, so a large hole was necessary to plant it. Fortunately, a backhoe was available, and Frank dug us a hole. After placing the tree in the hole, Stone Cold held it while I threw shovelfuls of dirt around the root ball. After one of my throws, I spotted something blue in the soil. Stone Cold retrieved it from the hole, and we discovered the object to be an intact cobalt blue bottle four inches high. It looked pretty old.
A little while later, I washed away the mud and discovered writing; raised lettering on the surface of the glass that read:
“Bromo-Seltzer” – I had not heard that trade name since I was a kid. Bromo-Seltzer was sold in the United States from 1888 to 1970. The product was granulated sodium-bromide powder that would be mixed with water and consumed as a remedy for indigestion. People also used it for headaches and as a hangover remedy. The active ingredient, bromide, was a sedative that was withdrawn from the market in 1975 due to its toxicity.
I digress. I figured the bottle was pretty old, so I went looking for anything that could give me a date. According to a very helpful article that I found (reference below), the bottle was manufactured between 1908 and 1915 by the Maryland Glass Corporation. This means the bottle we found is at least a century old!
Bromo-Seltzer in the Cobalt Blue Bottles by Bill Lockhart, Pete Schulz, Bill Lindsey, Beau Schriever, and Carol Serr (With Contributions by David Whitten) https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/Bromo-Seltzer.pdf
The church I serve (founded in 1786) purchased the manse from a private owner in 1830, although the house was actually built c.1800. This means that the pastor living in this house within the timeframe this bottle was manufactured likely held this bottle in his hand, used Bromo-Seltzer as a remedy, and buried the empty in the yard (disposing refuse on the property was common in those days). The Rev. William Johnston served this church from 1910 – 1917, so there is a good chance that it was him.
Now a pastor in 2021 holds that same bottle, taken from the ground on 2021.05.10. The Rev. Dr. Patrick Sileo stands on the same spot as one of his predecessors over a century later, and lives in that same house. He discovers that this Bottle is a message.
As I held the Cobalt Blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle, I thought of 235 years of Christian ministry and the thousands of people sitting in the building across the street praying, singing, listening, encouraging, and serving over those years. So many faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrating so much love, encouragement, and support toward one another and the pastors that served them.
My mind continued to wander, as I envisioned the small number of people through the generations that attended this church who did not act so lovingly, were often critical of others and the pastor, and made lots of noise. I thought about sleepless nights for those pastors and the frustrations they must have felt over the few squeaky wheels. And then it hit me like a thunderbolt! I realized that I held in my hand an empty bottle of a sedative that likely helped William Johnston over a century ago with his heartburns, upset stomachs, headaches, or even hangovers. Or maybe it was for his wife!