Cleaning algae from the windows of a glass-bottomed boat might not be the most glamorous end to a working day. But when boat captain Jennifer Dowker finished her chores and decided to go for an evening dive in late June, things took a rather exciting turn.
"I had a dive client with me who wanted to try a breath regulator, so we put on scuba gear and dived to the bottom of the water to see what we could find," says Dowker, a mother-of-three from Michigan, USA.
"The bottom was only about ten feet down and we saw a clam shell, then a brown bottle but within seconds something else caught my eye – a shiny green bottle.
"I picked it up and could see the word ‘THIS’ on it and thought: ‘Wow, there’s a message in there’. I had no idea how old it would be."
Dowker made her way to the surface and showed her colleagues what she’d found.
"It was a bright green Moone’s Emerald Oil bottle [a muscle rub made in the US in early part of the 20th century] and although the cord was badly deteriorated and it was about two thirds full of water inside, we could clearly see there was a piece of paper in there too," says Jennifer.
"We carefully pulled it out with a little tool and it was thick paper, folded in half. When we unfolded it, it had a message written in thick pencil, perfectly legible.
"It was dated November 1926 and it said: Will the person who finds this bottle return this paper to George Morrow Cheboygan, Michigan and tell where it was found?
"We all stood there in complete awe at what I’d found. It really was an epic moment and so exciting."
Within 20 minutes of the extraordinary find, Jennifer had posted the story and pictures on her business Facebook page, Nautical North Family Adventures with the words ‘COOLEST night diving EVER’.
"I’d been to school with someone called Morrow so I thought maybe a local family might recognise it and I’d be able to return it to them from their Grandpa George," she says.
"But then I forgot about it and went out for a sail next day. But when I came back I had 47 messages on my phone from people who thought they might be able to help."
Word had spread like wildfire. The post was shared over 114,000 times and generated nearly 7,000 comments. It only took a day for a lady called Michele Primeau (who isn’t even on Facebook) to be contacted by someone who spotted the post – it turned out she was George’s daughter.
"She called me up and it happened to be on Father’s Day which was emotional for us both," says Jennifer. "She told me that George had died in 1995, but hiding messages in bottles was something he would often do.
"He’d leave secret messages in walls when they were renovating too. She said the date corresponded with her father’s 18th birthday and she had a feeling he’d written this note on that day. It was wonderful for us both to feel like his memory had come alive again nearly 100 years later."
Jennifer’s plan was to return the bottle and the note to George’s family but Michele generously decided upon a policy of ‘finders keepers’.
"She told me that the right thing to do would be for me to keep it and then we could put it on display."
So that’s what she’s done.
"We’ve put everything on display in our shop – the bottle and the message along with some photographs that Michele sent to us of her father – one of which is when he was aged around 18, when he threw the bottle into the water."
Michele meanwhile is planning to make the trip to the lake in September to see her father’s bottle. And her father has a lifetime pass on board Jennifer’s boat.
She says: "I’m thrilled we could do this and keep George’s memory alive."
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