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The big blue bottle


TELEVISION coverage of the Orioles' games these days finds the camera reaching out beyond the stadium to make the point that the stadium is, happily, located downtown, well within the old city. Frequently, the camera finds its way to, and comes to rest at, the old Bromo Seltzer Tower building -- sans the "blue bottle." All of which has been leading to suggestions from fans (and this newspaper) to the city fathers that they "bring back the blue bottle."

That's not a bad idea, but it will take some doing.

First, what are they talking about? What "blue bottle"?

It was a 51-foot (four stories) high, 20-foot wide replica of a (blue) bottle of Bromo Seltzer, 10 million times the normal shelf size of a bottle of Bromo Seltzer. It weighted 20 tons and had 596 electric bulbs keeping it lighted and making the label legible through the night. It was so high and so bright in the Baltimore sky that on clear nights it could be seen from Tolchester Beach across the bay. It revolved 24 hours a day.

How did it get up there?

It was built on top of the Bromo Seltzer building at 308 West Lombard St., now the city's Arts Tower, in 1911 when the building was erected as Bromo's headquarters. The inventor of Bromo Seltzer was a Baltimore pharmacist named Isaac Emerson. (Emerson made so much money curing headaches that he went on to build the Emerson Hotel and the Emersonian Apartments and to own uncountable acreage and yachts and homes.)

When and why did the "blue bottle" come down?

On March 10, 1936, the late Lou Azrael, long-time columnist for the Baltimore News American, wrote that "today was the day the bottle came down."

According to Edward Knauff Jr., whose father (junior says) was in charge of removing the bottle, it was ordered removed by engineers who began to discover cracks throughout the structure of the 13-story building. "The bottle was to blame," Mr. Knauff said. He said that its revolving created vibrations that were in turn causing dangerous cracks to appear.

The job of taking down the bottle was given to Consolidated Engineering. Mr. Knauff said, "The bottle was steel, and Consolidated elected to cut it apart piece by piece with a blow torch into 3-foot by 6-foot sections and to take each section down on the elevator."

From the ground floor, each of these sections was removed to a scrap yard in Walbrook. It took six months to get the entire bottle cut up and the sections removed.

So where is the bottle -- or what is left of it -- now?

Professionals familiar with the scrap business in Baltimore are in agreement: The cut-up sections of the bottle were sent to Sparrows Point for recycling. They probably found their way into the automobile industry.

So if the city fathers want to put the "blue bottle" back on top of the Bromo Seltzer Tower building, they've got their work cut out for them -- enough to create a headache so big a Bromo couldn't help.

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