Messages in bottles have the power to connect their senders and finders in ways that are almost magical. I often say: messages in bottles are as close to magic as most of us will ever get! I’ve collected here some of the most incredible, heart-warming, gut-wrenching, and inspiring message-in-a-bottle stories I’ve ever come across.
Ake and Paolina Wiking
In the early 1950s, Ake Wiking was a young, lonely Swedish man at sea. He sent a message in a bottle in the Mediterranean looking for a beautiful young woman–and he found one. Actually, a man in Italy found his bottle. But the man gave the message to his niece, Paolina. She wrote to Ake, and the rest, as they say, is history. Ake and Paolina fell in love through their letters, and they married just over a year after they first connected.
Although few know this story today, it was extremely famous at the time. In fact, you can see video footage of their wedding shot by the news media at the time. Ake and Paolina were totally celebrities! Just look at how people clog the streets for their wedding! About halfway through the video, you see a group of young people tossing messages in bottles into the water. They hoped to find love the way Ake and Paolina did. So, if you ever hear someone doubt that messages in bottles can lead to love, tell them this story! Click here to see the video.
Frank Hayostek and Breda O’Sullivan (click here for the full story)
Frank served in Europe in WWII. After the war ended, he was sent home on a “liberty ship” for Christmas 1945. It was President Truman’s goal to get everyone home by Christmas that year. But the rush of soldiers coming home clogged the ports, and some ships got stuck at sea–including Frank’s. While stuck just offshore from the US, he sent a message in a bottle explaining his situation and offering friendship.
About 8.5 months later, Breda O’Sullivan and her dog, Oscar, were walking on the beach in Ireland. Oscar took off when he spotted a bottle, sniffed around it, and then ran off to chase birds. But then Breda was drawn to the bottle. When she found Frank’s message inside, she wrote back to him. And Frank wrote back to her. And then, they hit it off. For years, they wrote each other letters. Finally, Frank saved enough money to visit Breda in Ireland.
Sadly, the news media hounded both of them, and never left them alone during Frank’s visit to Ireland. The media tried to push their friendship into romance, but it backfired. Messages in bottles are powerful, but this one wasn’t quite powerful enough to propel their friendship into love. Frank left Ireland, and, after a few more years of tepid letters, they fell out of touch. Like Ake and Paolina, Frank and Breda were celebrities of their time, though that attention hurt their relationship in a way it didn’t hurt Ake and Paolina. Their story is, to my mind, one of the greatest message in a bottle tragedies of all time. For the definitive version of this story, you simply must listen to Peter Mulryan and Liam O’Brien’s radio documentary–just click here to listen. It’s unforgettable.
The Only Real Message in a Bottle From The Titanic
The sinking of the Titanic remains one of the worst maritime disasters of all time, and certainly the most famous. Messages in bottles began to surface, claiming to be from the doomed Titanic, but all were proven to be fakes. But, a year after she sank, a message in a bottle washed ashore in Ireland claiming to be from a Jeremiah Burke of county Cork, Ireland.
In the early twentieth century, fake messages in bottles from tragic sinkings were disturbingly common. But this message appears to be authentic. In the media, this message is often described as having been sent while the ship was sinking. But, notice that the message says nothing about sinking. It’s possible (and in my opinion probable) that he sent the message while the ship was fine, before any sign of trouble. At least one of Jeremiah Burke’s surviving family members believes that, since he was permanently moving to America, his “Goodbye” simply meant “Goodbye to my friends and family in Ireland,” and not, “Goodbye world, we are sinking”. Today, we travel back and forth between America and Europe so easily that it’s hard to imagine a time when getting on a ship was such a commitment. But, at the time, tons of people were immigrating to America, never to return to their home countries.
Sadly, the date on the message is impossible to read, so we simply cannot know whether he sent it on the date of the sinking, or before the sinking, as his family member thinks. Either way, it is a gut wrenching message–the final farewell from Titanic‘s victims. It now resides in the Cobh Heritage Center in Ireland.
Private Thomas Hughes, World War I (click here for the full story)
On September 9th, 1914, Private Thomas Hughes of England was a 26 year old soldier crossing the English Channel to join the fighting in France. During the crossing, he wrote two notes, sealed them in a bottle, and sent them overboard. The first note was to his wife:
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.
The second letter was addressed to the finder:
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.
Two days later, Private Thomas Hughes was killed in combat. He left behind his wife Elizabeth and two-year-old daughter, Emily. His bottled note drifted for 85 years until a Thames fisherman named Steve Gowan caught it in his net in March 1999. Steve opened the bottle, read the letters, and discovered that Thomas Hughes’s daughter was living in New Zealand. Then, he flew there to deliver the message to her in person! Of course no note can replace the father she lost, but Emily Crowhurst told the BBC that it helped fill a void in her life. What began as a sweet, parting gesture to his wife ended up being a priceless gift to his daughter. And major Kudos to Steve Gowan for doing the right thing and giving Emily the note. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful messages in bottles can be.