Searching for hidden treasures among the gently used and sometimes not-so-gently used wares of the Region's thrift stores

chapter 3: Castles and Tapes

1. White Castle coasters and bottle opener

Hammond Salvage and Resale on Columbia Avenue in Hammond had a whole box of unusual White Castle merchandise sitting on the sidewalk one day, including a magnetically sealing pocket photo album, a pocket sewing kit and little key chains with built-in compasses, all emblazoned with the White Castle logo. What genius savant in the White Castle marketing department conceived of these treasures? I was half-tempted to buy the whole lot and give them away as gifts. Imagine the incredulous faces!

I went with the bottle opener—which was something we actually kind of needed—and the coasters that, as you can see, are brilliantly packaged in the iconic White Castle box. Now, whenever I’m enjoying a cold one, I can be reminded that the only thing that’s missing from my life at that exact moment is a sack of square-shaped mini-burgers smothered in onions and pickles and available for consumption, for better or worse, 24 hours a day.

Price: $3

2. Hulkamania workout cassette (with a bonus inside)

Back in 1987, I could have used this tape to accompany my imaginary routine of pumping iron in my parents’ basement. I’m sure it was the soundtrack for many who wished to turn their 10-year-old toothpick arms into the 24-inch pythons of their dreams. The audio contents of the tape are priceless, consisting of Hulk Hogan giving a basic pep talk and common-sense tips about exercising followed by 30-plus minutes of cheesy 1980s synthesized “workout” music punctuated by Hogan’s barks of encouragement. (“Keep it up, Hulksters!”) Truly priceless.

The bonus inside in the cassette was a pair of ticket stubs to a WWF Superstars of Wrestling event at the Rosemont Horizon, dated Dec. 26, 1987. The day after Christmas! I immediately began speculating on the story behind these stubs. Surely, this tape and ticket combo was a Christmas gift. Was this a father/son outing or, better yet, a romantic date between some young feathered-haired Camaro-driving dude and a pink-sweatered, hair-sprayed, lip-glossed vixen, the two of them holding hands in the midst of screaming fans and flying elbow drops? Despite the temptation to think the latter, I’m inclined to think it was the former. I’m sure it was epic, post-holiday pandemonium.

Price: 50 cents

3. Vintage local band cassette

The music sections at thrift stores can be depressingly predictable. You will almost always find the same Andy Williams, Barry Manilow and Christmas records, as well as CD singles by forgotten ‘90s dance-pop artists and piles of cassettes that were probably found among the empty McDonald’s cups and cigarette boxes littering the floors of cars all across The Region. Sometimes you even find a forgotten demo tape by a local band from 1989.

I recently found this tape titled “Owl Stretching” by a band called The Idea. Unlike, say, “Shout at the Devil” or “Straight Outta Compton,” the title doesn’t provide any clues as to what the music might sound like. The black and white, collaged cover—featuring scribbled drawings of Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe, Batman and other disparate figures—is equally mystifying.

I popped this cassette into the tape deck of my trusty ’93 Corolla with zero expectations, and what I heard was surprisingly catchy and listenable. The sound was a bit tinny, but the music was a dead ringer for early 80s R.E.M. It was not the kind of music I expect to hear coming out of Northwest Indiana, circa 1989. The contact number on the J-card inside is a 219 number, so these guys were definitely local. Also, I love the fact that the tape is autographed and was apparently given to someone for Christmas.

Finding this tape evoked memories of the local music section at the long-defunct Woodmar Records in Hammond’s Woodmar Mall, where I worked in the summer of 1995. Certainly some of that stuff had to have found its way into the thrift market. The demo tape by Alison’s Mailbox—an alt-rock band that included guys I worked with at the store—would be a choice find. Or the unsung lo-fi masterpiece by that kid who came in with his dad and gave us a battered tape of his home-recorded industrial synth music that, if memory serves, had a handmade cover on green graph paper with text that looked like it was scribbled in black ballpoint pen in the car on the way to the store. Some of that stuff would be priceless. Some of it may even be good.