Arts & Life
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This article was published 20/1/2018 (933 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
You’ve probably heard by now about the 10-year-old Canadian girl who has been making headlines — and friends — around the world.
Jacquie Chmilar, of Fort McMurray, Alta., accomplished this by resorting to one of the world’s oldest methods of long-distance communication — stuffing messages in bottles, then flinging them into the ocean.
About six months ago, while visiting her grandparents at Musgrave Harbour, N.L., Jacquie and her grandfather threw several messages into the ocean in plastic water bottles sealed with tape. The notes explained where the girl was and gave her contact information.
Earlier this month, two of the bottles washed up on the other side of the Atlantic, about 3,440 kilometres away, where they were found by youngsters in Cornwall, U.K.
On New Year’s Day, a U.K. woman emailed to say her nine-year-old daughter was "super excited" after finding one of the floating notes Jacquie had thrown into the ocean.
The Alberta youngster was thrilled, but it got even more exciting seven days later when a Cornwall man named Nick Crooks emailed to say his sons, Josh and Noah, had found a second message while cleaning plastic debris from the beach after a storm.
"I was just picking up rubbish when I looked in the bottle and saw the note," Noah, 8, told the BBC, adding he hopes to stay in touch with his new friend across the ocean.
These new best friends are in excellent company, as we can see from today’s heart-tugging list of Five of the Most Famous Floating Notes in History:
The sender: An unnamed French woman in 2002
The finder: Sioux Peto in 2002
Uncorking the bottle: In 2002, while walking her dogs on a beach on the Isle of Sheppey, Sioux Peto found a mysterious teardrop-shaped bottle. Inside lay a letter, tightly curled and held by a ribbon. The letter was written in French, so Peto sent it to her friend, U.K.-based author Karen Liebreich, to translate. It was a beautiful, tragic love letter from a grieving French mother to her son, Maurice, who had died at the age of 13.
"Forgive me for being so angry at your disappearance," the letter said. "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." Wrapped in the pages were two locks of hair, one darker brown, one lighter. Moved by the woman’s heartache, Liebreich set out to solve the mystery and find the anonymous mother, a journey she chronicled in her 2006 book, The Letter in The Bottle. In 2009, the mystery mother contacted the author, and the pair met a month later in northern France.
It turns out the bottle had washed ashore a few weeks after the woman threw it in the water on a ferry crossing the English Channel. She never meant for it to be found. "It never occurred to me that anyone would find my letter in the bottle," the unnamed woman reveals in a new edition of Liebreich’s book. "I thought it would smash in the waves... I gave it to the sea, to the universe. It was perhaps my way of talking to God."
The sender: Pte. Thomas Hughes in 1914
The finder: Fisherman Steve Gowan in 1999
Uncorking the bottle: It was March 1999 when Steve Gowan dredged up a green ginger beer bottle with a screw-on rubber stopper while fishing for cod off the Essex coast. Inside, he found a letter dropped into the English Channel 85 years earlier by a soldier as he left to fight in France during the First World War. A covering note 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 letter 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."
According to the BBC, two days after writing the letter, Pte. Thomas Hughes, 26, of Stockton-on-Tees, was killed. His wife, Elizabeth, and two-year-old daughter, Emily, later moved to New Zealand, where Emily grew up not knowing her father, but learned about him through family stories. After reading the letter, Gowan became consumed with a desire to find the soldier’s descendants.
Amazingly, he discovered Emily Crowhurst, 86, alive in Auckland. Emily was reportedly overwhelmed in 1999 when the fisherman, flown to Auckland by the New Zealand Post, delivered the message in person. She said her father’s message couldn’t come home "until the right boat came along at the right time with the right fisherman." Sighed Gowan: "I am just so pleased to have been able to deliver it and to have been the postman."
The sender: Josh Baker, 10, in 1995
The finder(s): Josh’s buddies in 2006
Uncorking the bottle: Josh Baker was a mischievous 10-year-old boy in White Lake, Wis., when he poured a bottle of his mother’s vanilla extract down the sink. He then wrote the following brief note: "My name is Josh Baker. I’m 10. If you find this, put it on the news. The date is April 16, 1995." Josh stuffed the note inside the empty extract bottle and threw it into White Lake.
By 18, CBS.com noted, Josh was a U.S. marine. By 19, he was fighting door to door in Fallujah. During his tour of duty, Josh was flooded with support from his hometown. "I don’t have a son," Georgia Heistad, the school secretary who put together care packages for the local hero, told CBS. "I only have a daughter. But I tell you, he would be my model son — everybody’s."
Which is why the town celebrated when the precocious kid-turned-soldier returned home, safe and sound. But their joy was short-lived. A few months after his return, Josh died in a car crash, leaving friends and family devastated and searching for answers. And then, months after the funeral, the bottle Josh had flung into the lake 11 years earlier surfaced. Steve Liedel and Robert Duncan, both friends of Josh’s, were walking on the banks of the lake when they saw something glimmer on the water. They retrieved a vanilla extract bottle with a piece of paper inside. "He wanted us to find this," Steve told CBS. "He probably thought this was awesome." Observed the website MentalFloss.com:
"To friends and family, the message from 10-year-old Josh appeared when they needed it most. It felt as though he was reaching out, letting them know that he was watching, and trying to help them move on." The surprise message of hope snapped the soldier’s mom, Maggie, out of a deep depression. "When that message came — and I don’t care how hokey it sounds, this is the truth — that was Josh saying, ‘Snap out of it, Mom. I’m here. I’m OK," his mother recalled.
The sender(s): Dorothy and John Peckham in 1979
The finder: Refugee Nguyen Van Hoa in 1983
Uncorking the bottle: To pass the time during a 1979 cruise to Hawaii, Los Angeles trial lawyer John Peckham and his wife, Dottie, tucked messages in champagne bottles and tossed them overboard. The messages listed their names, a postal box number, enclosed a dollar bill for return postage and promised a reward to the finder. Four years later, they got a reply. In 1983, according to People magazine, Nguyen Van Hoa was praying for something to drink when he spotted one of the bottles floating past his boat, about 15 kilometres from the shore of Songkhla Province in Thailand.
The Peckhams’ bottle had travelled about 14,484 kilometres to reach Hoa, who, along with his 16-year-old brother Van Cuon and more than 30 other refugees, were crammed aboard a five-man fishing boat, braving the waters of the Pacific in a desperate effort to escape the communist regime in Vietnam. While disappointed there was nothing to drink in the bottle, Hoa, a former lieutenant with the South Vietnamese army who had escaped a "re-education camp," was buoyed by the message. "It gave me hope," he told People in 1985.
From the safety of a UN refugee camp, Hoa wrote to the Peckhams. "We tried to find freedom according to (your) letter," he wrote. "Now we send a message to the boss and we wish you will answer us soon." When the letter arrived on John’s 70th birthday, the couple were flabbergasted. For two years, they corresponded, congratulating Hoa on his marriage at the camp and sending money when their first child was born. In the end, the couple agreed to sponsor Hoa’s family so they could emigrate to the U.S. "We decided to do so because this was fate," Dottie said.
"We felt the bottle ended up as it did for a reason." After months of working with U.S. Immigration, the families finally met when a plane carried Hoa and his family to L.A. The Peckhams’ message and generosity gave the former refugee "the first freedom I have had in 10 years."
The sender: Swedish fisherman Ake Viking in 1955
The finder: His future wife, Paolina, in 1957
Uncorking the bottle: It’s hard to top a great love story. This one sounds too good to be true, but even the online Museum of Hoaxes swears it’s all above board. It began in 1955 when Ake Viking, a bored Swedish sailor, decided to relieve the tedium at sea — and improve his chance of finding love — by writing a letter, tucking it into an empty bottle of aqua vitae, replacing the cork and tossing it overboard. According to a 1959 article in the American Weekly, Ake’s message gave his home address and a brief description of himself.
"To Someone Beautiful and Far Away," he wrote. "Write to me, whoever you are." Two years later, the story goes, on his return from another voyage, Ake found a letter postmarked Syracuse, Sicily, and written in Italian. One of his shipmates translated the letter, which was from Paolina, the 17-year-old daughter of a Sicilian fisherman. She wrote: "Last Tuesday, I found a bottle on the shore. Inside was a piece of paper, bearing writing in a strange language. I took it to our priest, who is a great scholar.
He said the language was Swedish and, with the help of a dictionary, he read me your charming letter. I am not beautiful, but it seems so miraculous that this little bottle should have travelled so far and long to reach me that I must send you an answer." According to the American Weekly, the budding lovebirds exchanged more letters (no bottles were involved apparently), swapped photos and, finally, Viking set sail for Italy, where, in the autumn of 1958, he married the woman who had pulled his message in a bottle from the sea.
Which makes us hope that one day, in the not-so-distant future, some Winnipegger will fling a bottle containing their "SOS to the world" into the Red River in hopes of finding true love. They should probably wait for spring.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.
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