Moxie Bottle House
Ah, Moxie. Pungent proto-pop of the gods. Drinking Moxie is like chugging down carbonated cough syrup, and there are people in New England who can't get enough of it.
What's the appeal of this elixir? Partly it's New England pride. Moxie, the first mass-marketed soft drink, was invented by a man from Union, Maine, in 1876. But it wasn't until 2009 that Union had the chance to honor him, by opening a small museum of the world's largest publicly displayed collection of Moxie memorabilia. Its impressive centerpiece is the Moxie Bottle House.
The Bottle House illustrates Moxie's knack for zany promotion. 33 feet tall, it's a giant wooden replica of a Moxie bottle with doors and windows. Designed to be easy to take apart and put back together, it toured trade shows and amusement parks a century ago as a Moxie vending booth. Customers would buy a glass of Moxie, climb an indoor ladder to peek out of a window in its neck, and then zip back down on an outdoor slide.
Moxie eventually abandoned the bottle for the horsemobile, a more mobile eye-popping promotional gimmick. The vacant bottle was bought by a homeowner who turned it into a summer cottage in Manchester, New Hampshire. It remained there, slowly falling apart, until it was rescued by members of the New England Moxie Congress (who have their own small Moxie museum in Lisbon Falls). They took it apart and stored it in a garage for years. Now it's been reassembled inside a new, custom-built annex at the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage, surrounded by smaller items of Moxie lore.
"Here's where they attached the toilet," said Nick Santorineos, a member of the museum's board of directors, pointing to one of several blotchy spots on the bottle's exterior. The bottle is a bleached, stained record of New England's bad weather. The only part of it that shows its original day-glo orange color is a modern replacement, made to fit into a panel cut out for a window. A glass case next to the bottle reverently displays relics that have been separated from it, such as wood scraps, nails, bolts, washers, and a blob identified as "tar removed from label area during preservation."
The annex was frugally built -- just big enough to hold the bottle. Beams and lintels obstruct the view of its top, and the winch that lowered its neck into place is still attached to the ceiling. Moxie-lovers are just happy that they can visit it again. They supplied all of the construction materials and labor, often camping out overnight, and completed the job in less than two months. One of them tacked a sign to the bottle, proudly announcing that it could hold, by his calculations, 11,115.5 cans of Moxie. "They are fanatics," said Nick. (Scott "Moxie Man" Bernier, who made the can calculation, has since informed us that he was wrong. His new total is 188,000 cans!)
The bottle is surrounded by a growing collection of Moxie memorabilia, or "Moxiana" in the Moxie vernacular. It ranges from elegant Moxie "Gibson Girl" serving plates from the turn of the 20th century, to home-built dolls made of Moxie cans and bottle caps. Everything in the collection is meticulously labeled, thanks to the Moxie fans. "They come in here," said Nick, "and they will explain to me where and when every single item was made. They even know who saved it."
The continuing appeal of Moxie style can be seen on the museum's "Toxic Moxie" shelf, lined with bottles of rip-off fake Moxie with labels that use the Moxie logo, or the pointing "Moxie Man" in his white lab coat, but are filled with frauds such as orange juice, cream soda, and even a "Moxie Energy Drink." Supporters of the Moxie annex are understandably upset by these bogus beverages, fearing that people who drink them will get a false sense of what Moxie actually tastes like (Note: if it tastes like shoe polish, it's the real thing).
Genuine Moxie is still being bottled in several states, although Maine isn't one of them. That hasn't stopped the state's governor from proclaiming Moxie to be Maine's official soft drink, and it shouldn't lessen anyone's appreciation for the Moxie Bottle, which was an attraction long before fiberglass made it relatively easy-to-build big things that could be moved around. It obviously hasn't dampened the continued enthusiasm of Moxie's home state fans.
Nick, while appreciating the bottle, is unenthusiastic about the beverage. "I cannot stand the stuff," he admitted. "It's a very, very acquired taste."