Digest>Archives> June 2006

If It Ain't Heinz - It Ain't Ketchup

By Timothy Harrison


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For years, Jeff Dean, a bartender at the Waterworks Restaurant in Rockland, Maine, has wanted to do something unique for his good friend, Ken Black, known by many as “Mr. Lighthouse.” He did not want to do anything normal; he wanted it to be really unusual, something that no one else would ever think of. As he was reading a biography of Ken Black that appeared in the July 2005 issue of Lighthouse Digest, an idea came to him.

It took one easy trip to the grocery store, and a short time to make, but it was unique and so very appropriate!

Finally the right opportunity arose and he surprised Ken with a framed shadow box with a bottle of Heinz Ketchup under glass.

“The look on Ken’s face was priceless,” said his wife Dot Black. However, she was the first to admit the look on her face must have been even more priceless as she could not figure out why on earth Jeff was giving Ken a bottle of Heinz Ketchup in a shadow box. “It was only a temporary lapse of memory, then the light bulb came on and I remembered the significance! Naturally, Ken knew all along the significance of the ketchup, he’s told the story many times over the years but seldom has anyone written about it.

Our regular readers may remember our story about how Ken Black, “Mr. Lighthouse,” founder of the Maine Lighthouse Museum, might never have gotten involved with lighthouses if it had not been for catsup. For our new subscribers or those of you who may have forgotten about the story, here is a paragraph from it.

“We have to take a step back to 1941 when Ken Black, a young Jersey City, New Jersey native, decided to join the Navy. However, Ken’s brother, who was in the Navy, convinced him instead to join the Coast Guard because he said the food was better and they always had plenty of catsup and Ken loved catsup. So the Coast Guard it was.”

Now, some of you may wonder why we spelled it ‘catsup’ in the original story and are spelling it ‘ketchup’ elsewhere. The answer is simple, well maybe not so simple. When H. J. Heinz introduced ketchup, that was how they spelled it. Apparently when other companies tried to play catch-up, no pun intended, they used a variety of other spellings such as ‘catsup’, ‘catchup’, ‘katsup’ and other variations. In time, many of the smaller companies fell by the way, leaving the major players like Heinz, Hunts, Del Monte and Brooks. I am not sure when Hunts and Brooks, which used to call their brand ‘catsup’, changed the spelling to ‘ketchup.’ However, in the 1980s ketchup was declared a vegetable by the government for school lunch menus. Apparently, Del Monte Catsup officials soon realized that they were not on the approved list. Without much fanfare, and hardly with the general public’s knowledge, the name ‘catsup’

was dropped from their packaging and changed to ‘ketchup.’ Believe it or not, this all relates to lighthouses.

So, if it were not for Ken Black’s brother, who sadly passed away this past April, and Ken’s love of catsup, he would have never joined the Coast Guard, and, quite likely, might never have become a leader in the lighthouse preservation movement.

It is amazing how something as simple as ketchup, or was it catsup, could change the course of history.

This story appeared in the June 2006 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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