Clink, Clink. Sip, Sip
Three things come to mind immediately when I think of Terre Haute:
- It is the home of Square Donuts – a sugary delicacy that is beloved far and wide.
- It is the hometown of the former big league baseball player whose name is still spoken every day – and more often than Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, or Walt Dropo. I speak of – Tommy John.
- Terre Haute is the birthplace of an icon known worldwide, in every nation, in palaces and hovels – the Coca-Cola glass bottle.
In 1915 some clever and resourceful designers at a glassworks in Terre Haute created a simple, yet elegant, glass bottle that was adopted by the soft drink company to hold their product and together they went worldwide.
The image of that bottle can be seen everywhere. It was shipped overseas by the millions during two World Wars. It became a symbol of America as recognized as Uncle Sam and the Stars and Stripes.
And it all began in Terre Haute.
I bring this up because this past Wednesday, July 15th was the 100th anniversary of the humble glass bottle that circled the globe. I don’t think that there were any big celebrations. No parades or marching bands. No fizzy toasts lifted in its honor. The historical marker situated on the site of the old glass factory sits amid some plants in front of a gas station. At least they sell Coke inside the little mini-mart, but I doubt if it is in anything other than aluminum cans.
OK, let’s be honest for a minute. Terre Haute is also “famous” for a few other things that don’t get much publicity or even talked about above a whisper.
Back in the 1930s Terre Haute had a bit of a sordid reputation as the out of town playground for the Chicago gangsters. Al Capone was not an infrequent visitor and traffic lights weren’t the only places you would see red lights (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
That notoriety is, for the most part, ancient history now. There are more churches here than bars and the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” factor is more like, “hush, hush, are you a cop?” A bigger problem here and now is Methamphetamines. For several years this county led the state in the number of Meth labs busted. It is getting better, but it is still a big problem.
Another thing that is an “Only in Terre Haute” topic of conversation is the fact that this small city of 60,000 souls is the site of the only Death Row in the Federal Prison System. Whether that is a problem or not – I’m not sure. I guess it depends on your point of view.
My point of view is that – it is what it is.
I prefer to celebrate the Coca-Cola bottle even though I can’t remember the last time I actually held one. I do remember the sweaty coolness in my hand and the slightly burning tingle of that first swallow on a hot day.
These days it is caffeine free and sugar free, and it comes out of a can, but even after a hundred years and attempts to fiddle with the formula, it still remains one of the most recognizable images in my life.