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The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Could Use A Hand

Fans of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle snapped keepsake photos of the iconic water tower in Collinsville Saturday morning and noted the sign posted beside it: Property For Sale. And Bottle.

“I just hope they can keep it — that someone buys it who will take care of it,” said Adam DeLeon, a Jesuit seminarian who was on a road trip to St. Louis when he heard the news that the catsup bottle was for sale.

DeLeon is a fan of roadside attractions. “These things are significant to us,'' he said. "It’s funny. It’s classic Americana.’’

Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
Kendyl, Annabella and Victoria Stajduhar of O'Fallon, Ill., give the catsup bottle a hand.

William and Ginni Stajduhar of O’Fallon, Ill., brought their daughters to see the 70-foot-tall water tank shaped like a ketchup bottle atop a 100-foot-tall tower.

“I think it’s cool,” said Kendyl Stajduhar, 10.

She and her 7-year-old twin sisters, Annabella and Victoria, enthusiastically posed for a picture for this story — because the World's Largest Catsup Bottle could use a hand.

This is our ode to a unique local landmark facing an uncertain future. It was inspired by snapshots posted on social media by local fans and tourists who sometimes  take a hands-on approach when photographing the icon.

Getting a picture of the bottle — or of someone posing by it — can be a challenge. Stand too close, and all you see in the viewfinder is the tower’s underside.

So, move back a bit.

A little more.

Keep going …

At some point, the giant bottle will appear small enough to fit in the palm of a hand.


News Of The Sale Spread Quickly

Word that the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle is for sale has attracted reporters from near and far who’ve left no condiment pun unserved. They've worked hard to “ketchup” with sources who “relish” the icon. 

After all, giant ketchup bottles don’t go on the market every day.

The water tower was constructed in 1949 by the G.S. Suppiger company that owned a Brooks Catsup factory at the site. Its current owner — Bethel-Eckert Enterprises — is asking $500,000 for the bottle, plus three acres of land and a warehouse.

Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
Will and Debra Abatie of Valparaiso, Ind., heard the news of the sale while visiting family in Collinsville.

The landmark has lots of loyal fans, including the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group that formed in the '90s to raise $80,000 to repair and paint the icon. The group has a website and a Facebookpage. The water tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

The catsup bottle appears on websites like RoadsideAmerica and worldslargestthings.com, where it shares roadside Americana status with the likes of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kan., and the Cadillac Ranch of Amarillo, Texas. Some people drive miles out of their way to see it.

Mike "Big Tomato" Gassmann of the preservation group says that stories about the sale have generated phone calls from as far away as Germany. People are often surprised to learn that the catsup bottle is owned by a private business and not his group or the city of Collinsville. He commended the current owners of Bethel-Eckert, which used the site for warehousing, for working with his preservation group through the years.

"We're hoping that whoever buys it will like the catsup bottle and will keep the catsup bottle — and will see the potential for the area," Gassmann said.

An Instagram post on Oscar Mayer's Wienermobile account fueled talk on Tuesday about the company's possible interest in the catsup bottle. The picture on Instagram included this caption: "Oscar Mayer heard the World's Largest Catsup Bottle was for sale, so we just had to send the Wienermobile to check it out." The  Wienermobile was in Collinsville for the catsup bottle festival on July 13. 

'A Lot Of People's Memories'

Will and Debra Abatie of Valparaiso, Ind., were among the steady stream of people stopping by the water tower last weekend. They were visiting family in Collinsville and heard the news that the catsup bottle was for sale.

Will Abatie posed with a handful of cash in front of the For Sale sign, while his wife took his picture. He was a little short of the $500,000 asking price, but he hopes that someone will find the means to buy and preserve the bottle.

Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
The iconic water tower was built in 1949. It is just south of downtown Collinsville on Illinois Route 159.

Debra Abatie agreed.

“I hate it when landmarks that have been there for years are taken away,'' she said. "It’s a lot of people’s memories.’’

Do You Have A Favorite Memory Or Photo Of The World's Largest Catsup Bottle? Have you taken a photo of someone "holding" the bottle? We'd like to share them with our readers.

Please email your stories or photos to dkorando@stlpublicradio.org.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.