The Light Bulb Story

Joe Bortz
The Light Bulb Story
Recently when being interviewed I was questioned, “Joe when did you realize that you were going to be a car collector?” and I thought quickly and replied that when I would walk down the side streets in the neighborhood where I was born near Pulaski and Fullerton in Chicago, at the age of nine or ten (circa 1950) I would see old cars, mostly Model A’s, I would ask my dad to buy one before they were no longer around. My dad would just chuckle and say “they are just old cars” but I knew that there was some type of connection between me and those old cars. So that was that and I thought that the question had been covered and fully answered.
However, recently while showering (a place when I do some of my best thinking) I was remembering an article that had been written about me in the 1970s and had the epiphany that in retrospect, the true impetus for collecting would have to go back farther in history.
The story goes like this: I was born on Dec. 4, 1941, just about the same time that Harley Earl was perfecting his Buick Y-Job. Of course, I did not know it at the time but it is an interesting coincidence. Also at the time my parents lived in a 12 flat apartment building in the 3800 block of Altgeld St. in Chicago, of course there were no attached garages to the apartment building but directly across the street was a three-flat apartment building with a three car detached garage in the backyard (see attached photo). My father rented a single space in the garage. This garage was interesting because it had horizontally folding doors. My dad rented the space for $2 a month to park his 1937 Hudson 2-door sedan. The garage had a single light fixture on the ceiling; in the light fixture was a light bulb that always attracted my attention. It was a clear glass bulb, which had a filament on the inside, and at the bottom, there was a twist to the glass. It was obviously a blown piece of glass and it always amazed me.
When I was ten years old I got keys to the garage so I could park my new Whizzer Sportsman Motorbike. I started to realize that that light bulb was extremely unusual, as I had never seen another one like it anywhere. So one day I decided to find a ladder and replace it with a frosted light bulb. I took that special light bulb and wrapped it in toilet paper to protect it and then placed it in my desk drawer in my bedroom for safekeeping. As time went on the light bulb gained a special significance for me and in the back of my mind, I was entrusted with a small piece of history. Also as time went on I got this idea in my mind that if anything happened to the light bulb, something really bad would happen to me.
In 1955 at the age of 13 when my parents moved to a house in Roger’s Park, IL the light bulb went with me. In 1964 I left my parent’s house when I got married to my then wife Arlene, I took all of my personal possessions including my special light bulb to our newlywed’s apartment. The possession that I carefully wrapped in toilet paper, my blown glass light bulb, was given a safe place in a drawer.
I still have that light bulb today protected in a safe with other valuables and the light bulb’s significance continues to grow. Don’t ask me why but every once in a while when I check my safe to see if it is still there, I now use white gloves to make sure that I don’t damage or mark the glass any further then it has been already.
Most friends and relatives when they hear about my light bulb obsession suggest I get professional help. I guess they just do not understand that at the very heart of the attachment is the disease that all other collectors quickly understand that of being a collector. Certainly, you could call it a disease that has caused a focus for the last fifty years on my car collecting and it is my belief that this antique light bulb was the embryonic formation of that malady. Perhaps the next time I am asked, “Joe, in retrospect when did you realize that you were going to be a car collector?” I can go beyond the stories of seeing old cars on the street and go back further to the true nucleus of my car collecting – the light bulb.
Well it has been over sixty years that I have been caring for that light bulb and now that I think about it maybe my friends and relatives were right, “Joe get some professional help!”
Facebook Twitter
View Count 1,626