One of the most romantic ideas in storybook romances, a message in a bottle has captivated our imaginations for years, but this was not just something in a storybook. It seems that it has gone on for centuries. In fact the oldest known message in a bottle has a date was dated June 12, 1886. The message was found in 2018 on a West Australian beach. The message indicated that it had come from a ship called Paula. The finder, Tonya Illman assumed the message was a hoax. However, her husband did some research online. There was a date on the message, which corresponded with an ongoing program conducted in Germany from 1864 to 1963. Captains routinely threw bottles in the sea and wrote down the name of the ship, the date, the precise coordinates, and the travel route. Because the message included this information, they took the bottle to a maritime museum. A curator determined that the message was authentic and was released as part of the program. Similar messages have been found. A message found in 1999, found bobbing around in the Thames by a local fisherman was from a young British soldier named Private Thomas Hughes. It was 1914, the first year in the war. Hughes was lonely aboard a transport ship. He wrote a letter to his wife, but had no way to mail it.

In 1956, a young Swedish man named Ake Viking was out at sea and lonely for love. One evening, he decided to send his quest for love out into the ocean via a message in a bottle. The note included his contact information and a message that read, “To Someone Beautiful and Far Away.” He did not seriously think anything would come of it, but two years later he received a response from an Italian woman named Paolina. When she wrote back to him, she explained: “[it’s] so miraculous that [the bottle] should have traveled so far and long to reach me that I must send you an answer.” They wrote letters back and forth, and fell in love through the letters. Eventually, they met. Viking left his life at sea, married Paolina, and moved to Sicily.

It amazes me, but probably shouldn’t, that people whose ship is sinking might have the foresight to write a note and put it in a bottle, and drop it over in the hope that it might be found later. Nevertheless, people on both Titanic and Lusitania actually did. A young Irishman named Jeremiah Burke was traveling on Titanic, with a cousin to join their family in Boston. Before his departure from Ireland, his mother had given him a small bottle of holy water. In his last moments, Burke put his note into the bottle and cast it into the sea. His note read: “From Titanic, goodbye all, Burke of Glanmire, Cork.” Sadly, both Burke and his cousin died in the sinking, but his poignant message washed ashore in the bottle a year later, just a few miles from his home.

The Lusitania sunk by a German torpedo in May 1915, while on its way from New York to Liverpool. The Lusitania sank in only eighteen minutes. More than 1,000 people lost their lives. One passenger aboard who had the presence of mind and the time to dash off a quick note, put it in a bottle, and set it adrift before the end came. The unknown author chillingly wrote: “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…” There was no time to write more. He rolled the message, placed it in the bottle, and threw it in, before the boat sank. How could he have had the forethought to write a message.

Harold Hackett is a resident of Prince Edward Island in Canada. He had a lifelong interest in the mystery of messages floating in bottles. In 1996, the amateur fisherman decided to experiment, sending messages in bottles out to sea and wait for the results. To increase his chances of having even one bottle retrieved by someone, he sent more than 4,800 bottles with messages into the sea. Over the years, he has received more than 3,000 responses from the delighted people who found them. I guess, we still love the storybook idea of a message in a bottle.

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