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Visually Appealing: Catsup Bottle Festival Pours On The Americana

World's Largest Catsup Bottle
Provided by Catsup Bottle Restoration Group

What’s coming up this weekend? There’s the Celebrate Again art show and sale at the Regional Arts Commission (July 11), La Traviata at Union Avenue Opera (July 11-19), the 2nd Annual LaBute New Theater Festival (July 11-Aug. 3) and the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase (July 13-17). But the thing that caught our eye this weekend is a bit off beat as well as up in the sky.

It’s the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Festival in Collinsville: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 13.

(Head to our Facebook page to vote on "catsup" vs. "ketchup)

The first thing to know is that the festival is not actually at the location of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, which is a retired water tower. It sits on an area too small for all the planned events, including water balloon tossing and Hula Hoop contests. The party is at American Legion Post 365, 1022 Vandalia St. That is about one mile north of the Catsup Bottle on Illinois Route 159.

During its 65 years of existence, the catsup bottle tower cycled through a few paint jobs.
Credit Provided by Catsup Bottle Restoration Group
During its 65 years of existence, the catsup bottle tower cycled through a few paint jobs.

The second thing, there will be no hot-dog eating contest. (Given that great debates can rage over the proper condiments for a hot dog, that is probably just as well. Dare I say ... mustard?) However, fans of the frankfurter should not despair: The Oscar Mayer Weinermobile will be at the festival.

And the hungry can still get more than their fill with both a tater-tot-eating and a watermelon-eating contest. One hopes the ketchup is optional on the latter. (The eating contests begin at 11:15 a.m., and people can still sign up to participate the morning of the festival.)

You may have noted that ketchup was mentioned in the preceding paragraph while catsup is emblazoned on the 170-foot tower.

According to Mike Gassman, the press contact for the festival and a terrific source of information about the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, the “k” spelling prevails today – even to the point of Brooks using it on the label of its “rich and tangy ketchup.” But “c” was used when the tower was constructed for the G.S. Suppiger company in 1949.

Over time, the tower faded, was repainted and faded again. After the company threatened to demolish it in the early '90s, the public stepped in. The Catsup Bottle Preservation Group was formed and took ownership of the 170-foot tall tower. When the bottle was restored in 1995, the style and lettering reverted to the original. That includes the GSS at the neck of the bottle, as opposed to the modern Brooks symbol.

The landmark – indeed, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 – will remain for future generations. For me, it was a sign in the late '50s and early '60s that the long car ride was almost over and we were close to the home of Dad’s cousin.

How do you spell it?

Credit Screen shot
Facebook screen capture of comments on the K or C questions

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.

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