The Dumps

A warning, this is a trashy story.

Back in the day, the dump was a sort of special place. You’d take your trash and garbage to the dump Saturday. Everyone else in town would be doing the same thing. You’d socialize, and of course, you might selectively “pick” for items you might find a second home for.
Who can forget driving to the dump covered in a carpet of dirty white gulls and watching the waves of birds parting magically before your car?

Being from New York, this had not been my experience. New York City incinerated much waste, and the rest was trucked to landfills, or barged out to sea for dumping.
Manhattanites never saw the end result of their waste. When I got to Maine, I became curious about why grown adults would fixate over their dump days. So I tagged along to find out.

One of my acquaintances, Carl, had mentioned several times there had been a private dump at the old Island Hotel near Widows Cove Rocks. He was sure that it was full of old bottles and ceramics that could be sold to the Summer Complaints. Carl was convinced that it would be a great site to find old Poland Springs Water Moses bottles. These were eagerly collected.
The plan was to go and scout the property on Sunday afternoon. We took a rake, bucket, bags, and a shovel. The hotel had been abandoned in the Great Depression and burned for the insurance.
We knew much of value had been salvaged before the fire. Half the better houses in town had woodwork retrieved before the fire. The elevator motor was pulled out and used on the marine railway at Spinney’s boatyard. Because of this information, we wouldn’t bother with the site of the hotel itself. The real deal would be the old hotel’s private dump. Towns were not big on trash collection in those days.
Even with Carl’s hunches on the location, it took some time to locate the site. Our first solid lead was when I fell through some rotted planks into the half-filled cellar hole of an old building. This was it. The old cellar was full of trash. Everything: 1920’s electric fans, chamber pots, half-rotted medicine clubs, a Depression-era gutta-percha pessary, rusted cans, and bottles – all in about six inched of mud. On the way down, I had scraped my arm badly and torn my pants. But there I was so I might as well start handing up goodies. Most everything was broken. The process for dumping was to toss it in. The inconsiderate fools had never thought of the future value of late 19th-century medicine bottles, gin bottles, or Poland Springs bottles. However, we did come away with about two dozen intact pieces, including a 1911 clear Moses bottle.


On the way home, I started limping from a puncture wound in my foot. My share of the proceeds did not cover the tetanus shot, or the antibiotics the doctor put me on. My abiding memory of the event was of feeling the ground suddenly giving way under me and falling into the hole.
After that, I restricted myself to visits to the Town dump and left the flooded basement to Carl.

4 Replies to “The Dumps”

    1. I changed the nake in the story of course, but he had a pretty lucrative side business from this. He’d place the old clear bottles in a rack on a sunny window, and they’d turn violet from an element in the glass. Actually, these days you could sell the darned chamber pots on a site like Etsy.

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  1. That was a fun story to read. Felt like I was there digging through the debris too. I did not know where trash went until I married my second husband. It was one of his favorite places to go.My sister also loves going to the dump now but they won’t allow you to reclaim anything there. I’m so sorry your adventure turned on you but those misadventures are what good books are about. We are much too wasteful here. Oh the wonderful things we threw away.

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