|Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The Journals is profiling
one interesting person each week for 13 issues. This week: Mike
Gassmann, 48, president of the Official World's Largest Catsup Bottle
Fan Club in Collinsville.
|How did you get this gig?
I started volunteering for the Catsup Bottle group after the water
tower was saved and repainted in 1995. I'm a graphic artist and I also
do marketing and public relations. Before I knew it, Judy DeMoisy, the
Catsup Bottle lady, gave me the title of Big Tomato and there was no
Why do you think Collinsville has such a love for condiments like horseradish, ketchup?
Well, you go with what you've got. I think it's pretty cool that the
most common condiment and the most unique condiment have both put
Collinsville on the map. I'm still pushing for that big cocktail sauce
Is it ketchup or catsup?
It's both. When referring to the Catsup Bottle Water Tower, it's always
"catsup." When referring to the saucy red condiment, it's "ketchup."
Even today, Brooks Foods has changed the spelling to "ketchup." Of
course, I think that's all a part of a government conspiracy in 1981
when President Reagan's administration declared ketchup a vegetable.
Why does every kid love ketchup?
Half the ketchup sold in the U.S. is consumed by kids. I think there's
some sort of scientific reasoning: It stimulates all of the taste buds
of a child (especially the sweet ones), and it covers up the taste of
things they don't like to eat. Personally, I think kids like it because
it's red and it fun to play with your food with ketchup being involved.
Chicagoans shun ketchup on their hot dogs. What are your thoughts on this?
Um, consider the source. Most Chicagoans are Cubs fans, too. Actually,
this goes back to that kid thing. It's always the kids who prefer
ketchup on their dogs. Most grown adults, not just Chicagoans, won't
admit to putting ketchup on their dogs. But especially Chicagoans.
plans to build an elevator to the top of the ketchup bottle like the
Gateway Arch? I hear you can see for miles on a clear day …
That would be awesome. We would love to do that. It's a little cost
prohibitive at this point, plus the insurance alone would be a killer.
But who knows? Maybe some day.
Do tourists ever ask if there's actual ketchup in the tower?
All the time! That has got to be the No. 1 most frequently asked
question. My stock answer is that I can neither confirm nor deny that
Do ever compare notes with fans of the largest chili can (Beloit, Wis.) or world's largest box of raisins (Kingsburg, Calif.)?
Yes, actually, we do. We're in touch with a lot of other "world's
largest" attractions around the country. We like to see what they do
for events and promotions and such. We call them Catsup Bottle Cousins
and we're working on adding a feature highlighting them on our
If Collinsville had to have another unusual water tower, what would it be?
I always wanted to put a spoon coming out of the former water tower
behind City Hall and turn it into a big mustard jar. Of course, a
gigantic horseradish root would be fun, or maybe we should paint the
one we already have like a giant basketball to honor the Kahoks' mighty
Do people ever challenge you for the "Big Tomato" title?
Only my friends and family. It's funny, they always give me the look -
you know, the stink-eye look - and sarcastically say something like,
"'Big Tomato? Yeah, right."
How many tomato puns do you have? Is there a book somewhere?
Not as many as I'd like. If there is a book out there, I'd love to have
it. The kids who drive the Wienermobiles around the country go to
school to learn to talk in food puns. I'd relish the opportunity to
take those classes, but I'm afraid I wouldn't cut the mustard.
What are your feelings about French people putting mayonnaise on their fries? Sacrilege?
I'm very tolerant and accepting of others, even the French. After all,
sometimes we refer to the Catsup Bottle as Collinsville's Eiffel Tower.
And mayo on fries is really good. I've even been known to accent my
fries with tartar sauce on occasion.
What's next for the bottle?
Well, there is always something going on. There's something happening
right now that I can't talk about yet. I hope it pans out, because it
will be huge if it does. Really, really huge. Otherwise, there will be
two documentaries released in 2011 that will feature the Catsup Bottle.
One is from a young filmmaker out of California named Grimace Boyer.
His film will be about his travels along Route 66. The other is
international. A visual artist and filmmaker from Amsterdam named
Sietske Tjallingii is putting together a really fun, avant-garde, artsy
movie titled "My American Dream." It should be crazy. She was here
filming a few weeks ago dressed as a giant French fry. We can't wait
for that one.
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