No Return To Sender For This Message

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 07/08/11

In life there are certain rules that must be followed—look both ways before crossing the street, do not talk about fight club, and always leave your contact information when sending a message in a bottle.

It was this last, and perhaps most important, rule that was disregarded by someone in Woods Hole when a handwritten note was placed into a 1.75-liter bottle of Stoli Razberi vodka and thrown into the waters off the coast of the village. In the note the mysterious author ponders the question of “where it will end up?”

That answer came on Wednesday morning when Michele Ross of San Diego was walking along Chapoquoit Beach with her mother, Kathleen D. Katzenbach of West Falmouth Highway. Sitting in the sand, not far from the water’s edge, lay the large glass bottle, empty of alcohol, with a folded up note inside with the words “Must Read” clearly written in blue pen.

Ms. Ross said she was immediately struck by the two words, but was disappointed to find that no return address was listed on the inside of the note, which included the following line: “This bottle was thrown in the water off the coast of Woods Hole, Massachusetts.”

Message in a bottle etiquette requires the sender include some way of being contacted, she said, something she learned as a child growing up in New Jersey when she and her sister would send them out to sea.

She recalled that one bottle they sent off supposedly ended up in Australia a month later. Her sister received a letter from a gentleman there and the two became pen pals. She learned many years later that her father had concocted the scheme to have an Australian friend of his correspond with his daughter.

“I remember at the time we were doing research and looking at maps trying to figure out how it ended up going from New Jersey to the other end of the ocean,” Ms. Ross laughed.

But despite their father’s ruse, Ms. Ross said part of the intrigue in sending a message in a bottle is the suspense, wondering who, if anyone, will find it.

The Enterprise has reported on the discovery of these items, washed onto shore, over the years. In 1996, summer resident Patricia P. Keith of Jericho, Vermont, found a green plastic bottle floating in the waters off Surf Drive Beach. Just before she was about to throw it away, she noticed a note inside, and took it home, where she had to cut it open as the bottle was sealed shut.

Inside was 52 cents, money for postage, asking the recipient to send a letter and picture to East Horsley in Surrey, England. Although her friends were skeptical the bottle could have made the cross-Atlantic voyage, the dreamer in Ms. Keith led her to believe otherwise. “There’s a part of me that says ‘Why not?’ ” she said at the time.

More recently, in 2008, Rachel E. Gardner of Bourne received a surprise phone call from a Texas teenager, Ashley Hall, that a Coca-Cola bottle containing Rachel’s name, grade, phone number and hobbies that was sent to sea in 2005 from the Cape Cod National Seashore in Truro had been found during a vacation in Fog Island, Maine.

And roughly two years ago, then-8-year-old Meagan Bilodeau of Teaticket was stunned to learn that a bottle she had thrown off a cruise ship in June earlier that year had made its way into the hands of an 11-year-old girl, Teddy Herrick of Telluride, Colorado. Teddy had found the bottle off Cuttyhunk.

Inside were Meagan’s words—“I always wished someone would find my bottle if I sent one. If found, would you kindly write back to me? Please? Please? Please?”— which were enough to persuade Teddy to do just that.

But not all messages in a bottle have a happy ending. In 1998, the towns of Chilmark and Gay Head said no to Warner Brothers when it wanted to film part of its movie, “Message in a Bottle” starring Kevin Costner and Paul Newman, on Martha’s Vineyard. The town’s rationale had nothing to do with an ambivalence to the movie’s theme, but to the fact that producers wanted to raze dunes, build a paved road and erect a temporary house on the beach.

That one moment notwithstanding, there is a sense of hope in sending a message in a bottle and a sense of magic in discovering one, which is why Ms. Ross was disappointed that Wednesday’s find only leaves more questions than answers. “It is exciting to find a message in a bottle,” she said, holding up the one she happened upon this week. “But you need to have a return address to receive a response... Where is the address?”

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