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No Buyers Yet For The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle

Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Five months after the news broke that the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville is for sale, we figured it was time to ketchup with the story.

So far, there are no buyers for the 70-foot-tall water tank perched atop a 100-foot-tall tower, says Mike “Big Tomato” Gassmann of the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group, which formed in the 1990s to raise money to repair and paint the icon.

The water tower is currently owned by Bethel-Eckert Enterprises, which is asking $500,000 for the bottle, plus three acres of land and a warehouse. The bottle was constructed in 1949 by the G.S. Suppiger company, which owned a Brooks Catsup factory at the site. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

People often assume that the preservationists or the city of Collinsville owns the bottle, Gassmann said. He describes Bethel-Eckert “as a good friend of ours” who has always worked with the group and keeps them informed.

“So we’ve got the inside track,’’ he said. “But there has not been any movement on it. A couple of calls back in the summer but nothing really serious. So we’re playing the waiting game right now.”

Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
A popular pose for fans of the World's Largest Catsup Bottle.

Catsup bottle fans might have noticed that the water tower’s light-up Santa wasn’t installed this year. It’s not an omen, said Gassmann who is married to Judy DeMoisy who started the preservation effort in 1995. It’s been a busy year for the couple who volunteer their time promoting the catsup bottle .

Gassmann noted that Santa had an extended stay atop the tower last year and wasn’t brought down until April Fool’s Day.

“We thought we might give him a vacation this year,’’ Gassmann said. “He’s tired.”

The Oscar Mayer company added to the buzz last summer when it posted a photo on Instagram of the Wienermobile “checking out” the catsup bottle. (Turns out that was baloney.) The Wienermobil sometimes participates in the annual catsup bottle festival.

“The photograph that started floating around was a stock photograph from a previous festival,’’ Gassmann said. “It was fun to play along.’’

For now, it’s business as usual. The preservation group has started planning next year’s festival, which will be held in July, and Gassmann is still fielding media calls.

The landmark has lots of loyal fans. The group has a website and a Facebookpage with nearly 15,000 Likes. The catsup bottle appears on websites like Roadside America 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.

Gassmann says his group remains optimistic that a buyer will want to keep the water tower intact.

“We really hope that when new owners come in to play that they buy the property and the catsup bottle because they want the property and they want the catsup bottle especially,’’ he said. “We’ve had a great relationship with Bethel-Eckert, and we hope to continue that with the new owners.”

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.