COLLINSVILLE - One of the more memorable landmarks in the Metro East is the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville.
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Judy DeMoisy, a Collinsville resident, describes the Catsup Bottle as Collinsville’s own “Eiffel Tower,” comparing it to the legendary iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. The bottle is All-American with its red, white and blue.
The Catsup Bottle is located at 800 South Morrison Ave. in Collinsville, just south of Main Street in downtown Collinsville. It is on Illinois Route 159, about 5 miles south of Interstate 55-70 and about five miles north of I-64.
The Catsup Bottle is 170 feet tall and 100 feet wide. The diameter of the base is 28 feet and the cap is 8 feet in diameter. The warehouse and land surrounding the Catsup Bottle went up for sale in July 2014 for $500,000, but there have been no takers.
Many don’t know this, but without the efforts of Judy DeMoisy and Mike “The Big Tomato” Gassmann, the Catsup Bottle could have been a thing of the past. The two have been together for many years and protecting it has become a dominant force in both of their lives.
In 1907, the Brooks brothers, Everett and Elgin, took over the Collinsville Canning and Packing Co. and operated under the name Triumph Catsup and Pickle Co. but quickly became Brooks Tomato Products Co. The catsup factory was successful through the Great Depression and grew to an iconic stature. At one time, it was America’s No. 1 seller among catsups.
In 1947, W.E. Caldwell Company of Louisville, Ky., started construction of a 100,000-gallon water tower in Collinsville to assist the large Brooks plant nearby. Final drawings were approved in 1948 and the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle was completed in October 1949. It was suggested that the water tower be built in the distinctive tapered shape of a catsup bottle.
In 1959, Brooks Foods merged with P.J. Ritter Co. The next landmark date was in 1993, Curtice-Burns, Inc., the then parent company of Brooks, made a decision to sell the property. The water tower’s future was in jeopardy, but the Catsup Bottle Preservation group was then formed.
Through a lot of work, Brooks was willing to deed the tower to the city of Collinsville, but the city declined because of costs. The Preservation Group started a nationwide “Paint It!” campaign and began to raise funds for the bottle. A total of $80,000 was needed to repair, strip and paint the tower, but in June 1995, the campaign concluded and the bottle was restored to its original look. There was significant letter writing and funds raised in all kinds of different ways to rescue the Catsup Bottle.
“Some people gave us only 50 cents, but every penny mattered when we did the fund-raising for the Catsup Bottle,” DeMoisy said.
DeMoisy and the 14-member Catsup Bottle Preservation Group led the effort. In August 2002, the Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Catsup Bottle was painted again in 2009 and each time, it is quite an undertaking. Nearby, at 209 East Main St., Ashmann’s Pharmacy sells a variety of souvenirs and part of the profits go to benefit the Catsup Bottle.
Every year that goes by now and the Catsup Bottle still stands tall near downtown Collinsville, DeMoisy and Gassman are ecstatic.
Each year, DeMoisy and Gassman organize the annual Catsup Bottle Festival and invite friends to join them. The event is usually the Sunday after the Fourth of July. At this festival, nearly everyone calls Gassman either “The Big Tomato” or “The Big T.”
DeMoisy and Gassman hope one day they can start a tourist area for the Catsup Bottle on its grounds, but a lot of that depends on who becomes the next owner of the warehouse.
DeMoisy came up with Gassman’s nickname that has stuck.
“I was coming up with great new ideas in promotion to raise funds for the Catsup Bottle and Judy said, ‘you are The Big Tomato,’” said Gassman.
“Everybody knows him as ‘The Big Tomato, or ‘The Big T,’” DeMoisy said.
DeMoisy is a Southern girl from Mississippi and when she first saw the Catsup Bottle she fell in love with it.
“It was the coolest thing I have ever seen,” she said. “When I learned about them wanting to take the Catsup Bottle down, I said, ‘over my dead body.’ We formed a 14-person group to preserve it and raise funds for the preservation.”
DeMoisy said every time she drives by the Catsup Bottle she thinks about what she, Mike Gassman, friends, family and Collinsville residents did to save the landmark.
“I am very proud of what we did,” she said.
The big question DeMoisy and Gassman are asked is if there is actually catsup in the big bottle.
“We always say we can neither confirm nor deny whether the bottle is filled with catsup,” both slyly smiled.
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