As you might have learned about me, I love to scuba dive. Here in Rhode Island there are some wonderful places to dive, if you can get past the cold water. I routinely wear a 7 mm thick wet suit with a fleece lining to counteract the water temps that are in the 70s. We have some very interesting shipwrecks, rock formations and some fun places to spear fish and catch lobsters. The other thing we have is ancient garbage.

In Narragansett Bay there are a few islands that were used by the US Navy from which they tested torpedoes, flew sea planes out to patrol during World War II. There are old forts where anti-aircraft weaponry was stationed. The Bay is a great place for a WWII geek. Back when these islands were active installations, there wasn’t as much of an awareness of why it’s bad to throw your trash into the water. As a result, there are old bottles and shell casings from the anti-aircraft guns nestled into the mud at the bottom of the bay.

Every so often we dive along these islands and poke around in the mud and bring up old bottles. The constant movement of the water will bury these objects in the mud, and on other occasions will remove them from the mud where they can be found by some meddling scuba divers like us.

A few years ago Todd brought up a small bottle that was encrusted with barnacles. We figured it was an old medicine bottle, and we liked the way it looked the way it was all encrusted with barnacles. It sat on our shelf with our collection since then. Then a few weekends ago we went diving and Todd and our friend Brian found old Coca Cola bottles. Back in the early 1900s, manufacturers used to stamp the bottom of the bottles with the location at which the product was bottled. The Coke bottles Todd and Brian found were stamped Newport, RI from back when Coca Cola used to bottle there. From that we were able to determine that those bottles were manufactured sometime in the late 1930s.

We brought the bottles home and Todd prepared an acid bath to clean the growth off of the bottles. He grabbed the medicine bottle off the shelf and threw that in there too. Then once the medicine bottle was cleaned we examined it. It has 10 sides. The bottom was stamped Heinz 122.

Heinz Mustard Bottle manufactured 1907

Todd looked online and learned that what we thought was a medicine bottle was actually a bottle from Heinz mustard. He also learned that the seams on the sides of the bottle extend over the lip of the bottle which indicates that it was manufactured between 1907 and 1910.

Then we got to thinking.

Back then, there were no preservatives in food. Food was bottled and sold locally. So, this bottle was likely hand made in New Jersey. Hand packed into a crate, and carried to a horse drawn wagon. The horses took the bottle to a steam train. The train then carried it somewhere in Rhode Island, where Heinz put some mustard into it. Then it was sold in a super market or a port supply.

There were not many motorized boats on the Bay back then. Who ate this mustard out of this jar? A fisherman? A couple on a sailing yacht? Someone in the Navy? Did they finish the mustard and throw it into the water to dispose of it? Or did it fall off the boat in a moment of carelessness?

This bottle sat in the mud since 1910 or so. Before World War I. Before World War II. If it was a human being, then all the amazing discoveries that make our modern world amazing would be a complete surprise if it managed to surface itself after being underwater for 100 years. It was sheltered from the advent of airplanes (that would eventually fly right from the adjacent island) motorized water craft, jet engines and the Internet. The technology I was using to breathe underwater when Todd found this bottle was a figment of imagination. My parents weren’t even born, my grandparents were toddlers when this bottle ended up in the ocean.

I am holding this bottle in my hand and wishing it could tell me how it came to be in the bottom of the ocean. If this bottle could talk.

Heinz Mustard bottle manufactured 1907

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.