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By Devese “Dee” Ursery
After a five-year hiatus, the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Festival is commemorating another year as one of Collinsville’s most iconic landmarks.
The historic landmark celebrated its 74th birthday on July 8 in Old Herald’s Square. Visitors played old-fashioned party games and participated in all kinds of catsup themed events, like the Little Princess Tomato and the Sir Catsup Contest.
Old Herald’s Square was packed with party-goers as Mike “The Big Tomato” Gassmann, president of The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, Inc., kept the crowd engaged the entire time. He said it was sort of unknown as far as what to expect from an attendance standpoint because this was the first time having the event in five years.
“The turnout was great,” Gassmann said. “We didn’t know what to expect because we had taken some time, plus we suspended the car show until next year, so we really didn’t know what to expect for the crowd, but people came out and it was fantastic.”
People from all around, not only Collinsville came out to honor the iconic symbol, but to celebrate and a community tradition.
“We actually had a family from Minnesota that drove down here specifically for the Catsup Bottle Festival,” Gassmann said. “I believe one of them came in first place in the hot dog eating contest.”
Gassman said there was a man from Stockholm, Sweden at the festival as well, who was in town visiting his in-laws and decided to come out. Next year will be the 75th birthday for the catsup bottle, so the plan is to go big, which will most likely include commercial vendors and the car show, Gassmann said.
Gassmann said he had a really good time on stage seeing all of the smiling faces in the crowd. He said there were about 500 people who showed up at the height of the festival. The festival featured old-fashioned birthday party games, like musical chairs and Please Pass The Ketchup, which started at 1 p.m.
The festivities kicked off at 11 a.m. with the Celebrity Tangy Ketchup Taste Test, which was presented by Old Herald Brewery and Distillery. There were 14 contestants tasked with choosing the Brooks brand of ketchup from a selection of five: Brooks, Heinz, Red Gold, Schnucks, and Old Herald.
Of the 14, three chose correctly, Stephanie Brant, Director of the Princess Tomato & Sir Catsup Contest, Beth Doherty (sponsor) and Trinity Pfalzgraf, former Princess Tomato. Collinsville dignitaries who participated in The Celebrity Tangy Ketchup Taste Test: Mayor Jeff Stehman, Derik Reiser, and Chief Steve Evans, Collinsville PD to name a few.
The Revit Credit Union Princess Tomato and Sir Catsup Contest was won by Grancie Mae, 5, of Collinsville and Robert Nathaniel Smith VIII, 4, from Swansea.
Other activities featured at the event included the adult and children’s hot dog – smothered in ketchup – eating contest, both presented by Vern’s Auto Repair started around noon. Trevor Caswell, 13, of Owatonna, Minnesota, was the first place winner in the adults division of the Hot Dogs Smothered-In-Ketchup Eating Contest. Keilan McGuire, 12, of Albany, Minnesota, was the first place winner in the children’s division.
Gassman said the idea to not only start the festival back up, but to bring it back Uptown was the idea of Derik Reiser, family friend and owner of Old Herald Brewery and Distillery.
“We were out at the (Woodland) park, but we took that time off and then our friend Derik Reiser, who owns Old Heralds actually suggested that we have it here and so he basically talked us into it,” Gassmann said. “We thought this is a really good space because it’s in our Uptown, it’s a nice green space and it has a good stage. When he mentioned it we really gave it some good thought and we think it turned out great.”
Reiser said the festival not only brings in more foot traffic, but it also brings more attention to the unique landmark that we have in the catsup bottle.
“It’s fun to share with the folks that live in St. Louis and Missouri,” Reiser said. “It brings a little more attention to Collinsville and reminds folks that we’re here and having a nice location like this to hold an event helps introduce more people to the resurgence of Uptown Collinsville.”
Katie Gassmann, daughter of “The Big Tomato,” reiterated that the festival is a great family-friendly free event for the whole community.
“It’s a great summer time activity and I think that people have really missed it in the last five years, especially since COVID and everything like that,” Gassmann said. “People are always so excited to come out and the catsup bottle is such a great landmark in town so to be able to make that part of this event it just cultivates the community.”