One man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but who knew any man used to throw his trash in his outhouse? Leah Gottlieb, a N. 4th Street resident, had never heard any such thing until she got a knock on her door a couple weeks ago from two bottle collectors who didn’t give their full names. With a Missoula Historical Society map of her neighborhood in hand, they said they had a hunch there had once been an outhouse in her backyard, and asked permission to dig.
Gottlieb says the men told her that in the early 1900s, people who couldn’t afford garbage-collection fees stashed their garbage in their outhouse instead. She was skeptical, but the collectors were right: Gottlieb’s backyard was an outhouse goldmine.
The men unearthed well over 100 bottles, porcelain dolls, bits of blue-and-gold-etched china, an old spitoon—even a compact reading “Armand Cold Cream Rouge”—from their roughly 7-foot-deep, 3-foot-wide hole. “They would send the dirt up in a bucket,” says Gottlieb, “and lay it out on a tarp to look through it.”
Though the collectors took off with most of the plum findings (“They took advantage a bit,” smiles Gottlieb, an antique collector herself), they also left boxes full of 1890s-era medicine bottles, whiskey bottles, bottles etched with “Missoula Bottling Works” and “W.B. Caldwell Syrup Pepsin” behind. One small bottle is still plugged with a cork, a suspicious brown liquid inside.
Which makes you think about washing your hands. The objects may have value—Gottlieb estimates even a chipped, armless porcelain doll could get about $100—but not before they get the crap wiped off of them. Gottlieb says cleaning the objects in soapy water with BBs helps get out the grime. She plans to make a shelf in her living room to display some of the treasure.
As for the collectors, all Gottlieb knows is that they devote one month a year to excavations such as hers, and they’ve done similar digging in Libby and Philipsburg. As for the outhouse’s original owner, Gottlieb can only surmise from his “tons” of whiskey bottles: “This guy was a real alcoholic.”