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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Message in a Bottle By Rose Anderson

Happy 4th of July! Independence Day is a marker for me. To me it means summer is officially on. Where I live, the corn is supposed to be knee-high by the 4th of July. We're right on schedule. In keeping with RB4U's summery theme for July, I'm talking about beaches and the things people find on them.

Don't you just love beaches? I do. I love the solitude, the sandy, wet, somewhat fishy scent on the air, and especially the sound of moving water. Visually, you can't beat an overcast day. That's when you realize the tan sand beneath your feet is actually a rainbow of colored micro stone. That's also when the silvery-gray driftwood comes alive, sort of like Tolkien's Ents. Void of shadow, they become living beings who stand perfectly still whenever an eye is cast in their direction. 

One of my favorite things to do on the beach is look for treasure. I've never found a gold doubloon, but I have found other treasures such as shells of all sorts, bleached sand dollars, dried starfish, and those otherworldly mermaid purses (empty shark/ray egg cases). Of all, my favorite beach treasure is polished beach glass. A metaphor if ever there was. If conditions are right, the glass trash we throw in the water surrenders to the waves and the water reclaims the sand that made the glass. If the conditions are right. We humans are sloppy creatures. I won't linger long on our plastic trash that's choking the world's oceans other than to leave you a bit of good news here.

Long ago, on some sunny Pacific beach in California, the child I was found a glass Coke bottle with a note inside. Unfortunately, the bottle wasn't sealed well. Water had made the note illegible. I've often wondered what the had said before the salty sea washed the ink away

I've since learned people have cast bottles of messages upon the waves for a very long time. In 310 B.C., the Greek philosopher Theophrastus tossed sealed bottles in the sea to prove the Mediterranean was formed by the inflowing Atlantic ocean. Fearing bottles might contain secret messages sent home by her numerous British spies or her naval fleet, Queen Elizabeth I of England appointed an Uncorker of Ocean Bottles to her royal cabinet. Under his watchful eye unauthorized opening of bottled messages became a capital offense. Then there's this famous message in a bottle from a passenger on the torpedoed Lusitania in 1915. The poignant note reads:

Still on deck with a few people. The last boats have left. We are sinking fast. Some men near me are praying with a priest. The end is near. Maybe this note will...  (That's where the sentence ended.)
 

There are many interesting stories of messages in bottles. I'll share a few in order by how long they were at sea:

1.) Time spent floating at sea~ Just a few months.
When crossing the English Channel on a ferry in 2002, a mother from France tossed a message in a bottle overboard. The message was a note to her child who had passed away at age 13: It said:


"Forgive me for being so angry at your disappearance. I still think there's been some mistake, and I keep waiting for God to fix it … Forgive me for not having known how to protect you from death. Forgive me for not having been able to find the words at that terrible moment when you slipped through my fingers".

The bottle washed up on a beach in Kent to be found by a woman walking her dogs. Along with the note, the woman found a lock of hair. Her friend, Author Karen Liebreich, translated the message and was inspired by it enough to write The Letter In The Bottle. Several years later, the mother who penned that heart-breaking note contacted the author and they eventually met.


2.) Time spent floating at sea~ 76 years
One November in 2012, a bottle with a note was found floating in the surf in Australia. The handwritten note was dated March 17, 1936. It said:

At sea. Would the finder of this bottle kindly forward this note, where found, date, to undermentioned address.

The note was written on special stationery marked with a picture of a ship, and was signed: H E Hillbrick, 72, Richmond Street, Leederville, Western Australia. It's believed the ship was the SS Strathnaver, a British Royal Mail Ship bringing mail and passengers to and from England and Australia. The finder tracked down Mr. H. E. Hillbrick, but the man had died sometime in the early 1940s. The address lead to Hillbrick's grandson, who was alive and well and living in Perth. The grandson told local media about his grandfather's message, saying it was his only connection to the man.

3.) Time spent floating at sea~ 85 years
In 1999, a fisherman found a green ginger beer bottle with a note from Private Thomas Hughes, a 26-year-old World War I soldier, to his wife. Along with it, a note for the finder of the bottle which read:

Sir or madam, youth or maid, Would you kindly forward the enclosed letter and earn the blessing of a poor British soldier on his way to the front this ninth day of September, 1914. Signed Private T. Hughes, Second Durham Light Infantry. Third Army Corp Expeditionary Force.
 

The bottle had been tossed into the English Channel when Private Hughes was en route to fight the war in France. The note to his wife read:

Dear Wife, I am writing this note on this boat and dropping it into the sea just to see if it will reach you. If it does, sign this envelope on the right hand bottom corner where it says receipt. Put the date and hour of receipt and your name where it says signature and look after it well. Ta ta sweet, for the present. Your Hubby.

Two days later Hughes was killed. The fisherman delivered the letter to Hughes' daughter 85 years later.


3.) Time spent floating at sea~ 98 years
A few years ago, a Scottish fisherman trolling the waters off the Shetland Islands hauled up a bottle in his nets. The note inside said simply:

Please state where and when this card was found, and then put it in the nearest Post Office. You will be informed in reply where and when it was set adrift. Our object is to find out the direction of the deep currents of the North Sea.

This wasn't a love note or an S.O.S., but rather a century-old science experiment meant to study local ocean currents. In June of 1914, one Capt. C. Hunter Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation set this bottle to sea, along with 1,889 others.  At the beginning of the last century, these drift bottles gave oceanographers valuable information regarding the patterns of water in circulation in the seas around Scotland. The Guinness Book of World Records considers this one to be the oldest message in a bottle found. But who knows what else is floating out there.

  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
From bottles to beach glass to gold doubloons, have you ever found some sort of treasure on a beach? Have you ever launched your own message in a bottle? It just may be found one day!
 
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About Rose
Rose is a multi-published, award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and discovering interesting things to weave into stories. She lives with her family and small menagerie amid oak groves and prairie in the rolling glacial hills of the upper Midwest.



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7 comments:

Jane Leopold Quinn said...

Sad stories and one scientific one. Finding messages are such a romantic thing. I haven't really found something at the beach but I do have fantasies of living along one.

Paris said...

Thanks for the interesting post, Rose! I loved the whole message in a bottle aspect and find the subject fascinating.

Melissa Keir said...

We've only found shells along the Atlantic. But the beach glass is prevalent on the shore of Lake Erie. I've tried to use a drill to put a whole in the glass for necklaces. My daughter uses wire wrapping and creates the most amazing jewelry.

Finding a bottle would be so cool. Imagine the history. Great post!

jean hart stewart said...

An absolutely fascinating post, Rose. Thanks so much for your interesting research and for passing it on. Loved it.

Rose Anderson said...

Thanks for stopping by on a busy holiday, see you next 4th. :)

Rose Gorham said...

That was a great post, Rose. Thanks for sharing.

darkwriter said...

Great post, Rose. Lots of interesting information about messages in bottles. I love the beach and have to admit in my much younger days I put a message in a bottle and tossed it into the ocean. Never heard any more about it.

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