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Crews find 1913 letter in Stroh's beer bottle during Michigan Central Station restoration

Crews working in Corktown's Michigan Central Station made a discovery hidden in the walls of the old train depot – a note in a bottle.

The Stroh's beer bottle from 1913 was tucked in the wall near the ceiling in the main lobby of the station. Lukas Nielsen was removing an unstable wall with Leo Kimble on May 4 when he saw the bottle and told crews to stop because he thought it may be important.

PHOTOS: Crews discover artifacts while restoring Detroit train depot

"Instantly the thought comes to mind, ‘Hey, it’s a message in a bottle,’" Nielsen said.


Lukas Nielsen reads the note that was in the beer bottle he found inside Michigan Central Station. (Photo: Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)

He said it wasn't sure if the paper inside was a note or just someone's sandwich wrapper shoved in an old bottle.

The piece of paper was removed, revealing a letter dated July 1913, about half a year before Michigan Central Station would open.

The note had been removed from the bottle when it was first found but was placed back inside to protect it until a media event Thursday, where it was taken out and shown to Nielson for the first time.

"Dan Hogan and Geo Smith stuck this [illegible] of Chicago," the note reads. 


(Photo: Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)

The people who have been working to archive the artifacts found inside the building did some research and discovered that a man named Dan Hogan was a plasterer based out of Chicago. It is believed that Hogan and Smith put the bottle there while they were working on the depot.

Work began on Michigan Central Station in 1910 and it opened in December 1913, with the first train departing the day after Christmas. The depot would serve as a booming transportation hub for decades before train travel declined, eventually leading to the closure of MCS when the last train left on Jan. 5, 1988.

Since its closure, plans would arise for the abandoned building that became a symbol of decay in Detroit, but none would materialize. 

In 2018, Ford Motor Co. announced that it had purchased the building, and work began immediately to restore it to its former glory with the intention of using it for electric vehicle teams while keeping some spaces open to the public.

Rich Bardelli oversees the MCS site. He said his mother grew up near the depot and he feels fortunate to be part of its restoration. 

"I’ve done a lot of new construction, a lot of newer restorations, but to restore a 100-year train station is pretty cool," he said.

After Ford bought MCS, some people started returning artifacts they had taken from the building while it was vacant, such as an old clock. Crews have also unearthed pieces of history left behind as they work inside.

Workers who find items in the station are asked to turn them in so they can be preserved.


Artifacts found inside Michigan Central Station (Photo: Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)

The artifacts are stored in Dearborn. Officials said they hope to display some of them at the depot when it opens. Right now, the plan is for that to happen in late 2022 or early 2023.

Lauren Dreger, who works with Ford archives, has helped determine how old some of the items are. She said some have serial numbers and dates, such as a railroad lantern and a typewriter, making them easy to date, while others are estimates based on clues.

For instance, numerous shoes were found. Dreger said the age of those was determined by looking at the style and figuring out which period of time people wore shoes like the ones inside MCS. A baseball was determined to be from some time after 1934 because how balls were stitched changed that year. 


(Photo: Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)