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A Mysterious Phone Call, and a 50 Year Old Message in a Bottle

When he saw and heard the voicemail, Ken Henderson didn’t recognize the number, nor the voice. He was at work in New York City (“The Center of the Universe,” as Richard Kaplan calls it). The woman on the line said she was in Griffin, Georgia and then said something outlandish. “You’ve got to check out this post about a 1970 message in a bottle,” she said, “I think it could be from you.” A 50 year old message in a bottle? Could it be? Of course he had to return the call immediately.

Ken Henderson, Author of 50 Year Old Message in a Bottle from Jekyll Island

That was when the memories came flooding back…

For Ken, the rest of the day was a whirlwind of emails, phone calls and Facebook messages from strangers.

Meanwhile in the midwest, my dad and I were on pins and needles. We wondered if our plan to ask the internet for help finding Ken would work?

Facebook Ken Henderson Message in a Bottle Plea

Ken Henderson's 50 year old message in a bottle from Jekyll Island, Georgia

The last time my dad and I spoke before I posted the story about him finding Ken’s bottle, he said to me, “Is this person even going to be alive? Or any family members that would believe he’d do something like this?”

You can’t help wondering about these things when you find a nearly 50 year old message in a bottle!

To our delight, tons of people answered our appeal for help on Facebook! Folks from Griffin, Georgia, as well as Jekyll Island spread the word like wildfire!

Amazingly, through the kindness of total strangers, Ken was located and connected with us! Thank you all so much for helping! Top honors go to Leigh and Jim, both of Griffin, GA, who were the first to connect me and Ken.

After 50 years, A Long-Awaited Phone Call

The day after Ken was barraged by strangers trying to find him, he was on the phone with my dad.

My dad later described to me his phone call with Ken, saying it went so smoothly that it felt almost like they were old friends!

“It didn’t matter what topic we brought up,” my dad said, “we just jumped right in there and talked about it like we had known each other a long time.”

That, of course, is the bizarre magic of messages in bottles: they have the power to create meaningful connections out of thin air. There’s nothing else like it.

Ken explained to my dad that he remembered sending this message in a bottle with crystal clarity.

“Actually,” Ken told my dad, “that was one of three or four I tossed that day, and that was the only time I did it. I remember well on one of our family trips from Griffin putting together several bottles and tossing them into the waves at Jekyll Island and wondering where they might end up (other than back on the beach at Jekyll). As a matter of fact, one did wash back up as I stood there! So I tossed it out again, and now I just can’t help wondering if maybe that was the bottle you found. I would never have imgined that one would end up in the Caribbean and be found. I was 15 when I tossed that bottle.”

My dad asked whether Ken ever heard back from any of the other bottles. And would you believe that he never did? One out of four lasted almost 50 years, but no others have turned up! I say, let’s give it another 50 years and we’ll check again.

50 Year Old Message in a Bottle Speaks of Childhood Curiosity

During their conversation, my dad asked Ken why he set these bottles adrift. This was years before Sting’s song almost 30 years before Nicholas Sparks’s book. So, what inspired him? Ken explained that he had always been a curious kid, and he elaborated on this in an email to me.

Ken Henderson, Author of 50 Year Old Message in a Bottle from Jekyll Island, With His Wife

“I was always very inquisitive and curious,” Ken wrote. “I enjoyed science and created all sorts of experiments during this time period. I recall reading something in a book about ocean currents and bottle messages like what I did as ways of measuring the currents. So, inspired by that reading, and with great curiosity as to where the bottles might end up and who I might hear from, I wrote a few notes (just like what your dad found), sealed them in bottles and tossed them into the water as far as I could. I recall one washing up fairly quickly and so I had to make sure I tossed it far enough and when the tides were right. Of course I forgot about it all until the recent phone calls and emails.”

So, there you have it – the simple curiosity of a child! I say “simple,” and yet, for what it’s worth, I think the curiosity of children is one of the most powerful forces on earth. Curious children tend to turn into curious adults, and this is the core human trait that has empowered us to fly, to explore the deep ocean, to journey to the moon. Simple? Yes. But silly? Never.

Somewhere in each of us is the kid that used to dream about the vastness of the world, the romance of the sea, and things like bottled letters drifting to distant shores.

But we grow up. We go to college. Get jobs. We put our nose to the grindstone and never look back – at least, not often enough.

“I think it’s amazing that he found this bottle after so many years,” Ken added. “My wife and kids and siblings were also completely blown away by all of this. They were very excited about and found it almost unbelievable.”

Ken Henderson, Author of 50 Year Old Message in a Bottle from Jekyll Island, With His Family

Well, I would agree! Also amazing is that before the internet, our only hope of finding Ken would have been to write to the address he gave in the letter. But his family moved to Oklahoma in 1975. Then in 1976, Ken went on to New York and that is where he has been ever since. Without the internet, I’m not sure we ever could have found him.

From The Vast Sea, An Impossible Friendship Emerges

Ken was just as struck by the ease of their conversation as my dad had been.

“I had a great time speaking to your dad,” Ken said. “He seems like a very interesting person, and it was a pleasure to meet him.”

Path of Ken Henderson's 1970 message in a bottle from Jekyll Island.

Path of Ken Henderson’s 1970 message in a bottle from Jekyll Island. It likely completed this circuit many times before coming to rest in the Caribbean.

If you zoom waaaaaay out, and consider the fact that my dad lives in the forest of Southern Illinois while Ken lives in the bustling metropolis of New York; if you consider the fact that they had no earthly connections, no possible reason to ever meet — only then can you really appreciate the power of this message in a bottle to connect them.

Only a message in a bottle could make friends out of such complete and utter strangers, living in different worlds a thousand miles apart. Only this message in a bottle could bring the child Ken was back into focus for a minute, and put him back on that Jekyll Island beach with his family, staring out at the inconceivably vast sea, wondering who was out there.

Well, it turns out my dad was out there. And if that isn’t magic, I just don’t know what is.

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