Time in a Bottle: A 250 in 250 Object

15, May 2014
saloon in a bottle, created by Carl Woerner, 1908Assemblage in a bottle, depicting Maier's Saloon in south St. Louis, made by Carl Worner, 1908.

While I feel like it changes every other day, my current favorite artifact in 250 in 250 is the “saloon in a bottle.” Carl Worner, its creator, had to be an interesting character. He would ramble from bar to bar, calling for a large bottle, cigar boxes, scrap wood, a hatpin, and glue. From those he would produce a vibrant miniature scene in a bottle, in exchange for food and drink at the bar. His creations are wonderful bits of folk art. One of my favorite things about this particular saloon in a bottle is that he misspelled “whisky” with two H’s on the barrel.

The true power of 250 in 250 is how these objects and the history they hold personally affects visitors in ways no exhibit team or curator could ever comprehend. We can ponder and discuss what will spark imaginations, and generally do a pretty good job at it, but these objects hold thousands of hidden meanings within them. It all depends who is looking.

The saloon in a bottle has personal connection for me, even though I’ve never seen the saloon owner or met the man who spent a full day working his art into shape for a salty cut of meat and a few beers. Maier’s Saloon was located at 3200 Shenandoah (Shenandoah and Compton avenues) in the present-day Tower Grove East neighborhood. The building still houses a bar, Van Goghz, and more than 100 years later I have often sat and enjoyed a meal in that exact location. I watched the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series in the same space that Carl Worner carved his little figures and excitedly received what would have been to him a liquid payment.

The barrel of beer he carved was specifically Klausmann Beer. Maybe it was his favorite brew, or maybe it was the best seller at the saloon, who knows? To me, though, Klausmann was the local brewery of Carondelet, where my father grew up and where I recently bought my first home. So in its own strange way, the saloon in a bottle reminds me not just of early 1900s urban life and German immigrants, but of home.

—Andrew Wanko, Public Historian