How did you unearth vintage bottles?

That which lurks beneath has been preoccupying Hinsdale's Bronson Welch recently.

The Clarendon Hills Middle School sixth-grader recently visited Graue Mill on an unseasonably warm winter day to explore Salt Creek, flowing considerably shallower nowadays due to a dam removal.

"All I was doing was just trying to walk the creek because it was cool," Bronson said.

As he walked, his sharp vision spied long buried bottles that had been exposed by the receded waters. Some were camouflaged by the creek bed.

"The bottom of a bottle looks kind of like a rock," he said, holding up one of the roughly 20 specimens he's recovered.

The amateur archaeologist also had to watch his footing at the same time he was scanning for artifacts from generations past.

"I tripped a few times and got soaked by the water," Bronson related with a laugh. "I was like, 'At this point, I'm just going to keep finding bottles. I don't care if I trip.'

"Some of them were just on a log, and there was this little island made of rocks with a ton of bottles on it," he added.

Bronson's intrepid spirit led him to some fascinating finds, including long-discontinued brands like Hi-Q soda and Old Dutch root beer.

"I find it cool because these things are very rare (now)," he said. "At the time it was something you could just buy at the store, but people underestimated how rare they were going to be and they probably just threw it into the creek and they got stuck in the dam."

Other retrieved relics with still legible labels include a Black Kow ("Just a swell drink") and a mid-century Mountain Dew (back when it touted its "hillbilly" origins). Classic milk bottles as well as a magnum-size bottle bring diversity to the collection.

Online efforts to gauge their value have already begun, Bronson revealed.

"They can be worth anywhere from $25 to $1,000. It depends on the size, too," he said. "There are probably some collectors on the internet that will offer a lot for those."

Bronson said his experience has taught him some good rules of thumb.

"Wear tall boots. I made the mistake of not wearing them," he said, adding that algae-covered rocks are extremely slippery.

"Beware of broken glass. Always bring a stick for balance and for poking at things to see if there's broken glass. And make sure to bring gloves so you can put it in a bag."

Removing all non-native objects helps the environment, said the self-described fan of frogs.

"If you see any Styrofoam, golf balls, plastic, anything, grab it," Bronson said. "Put trash in a bag separate from the glass bottles."

As for where the youngster plans to house his trove, Bronson said he and his parents are considering several options to allow the public access to these pieces of history.

"We could give them to a place that could put them on display, probably like a public library or something. Possibly give them to a museum," he said. "We're still brainstorming ideas."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean