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1985 – A Year in a Bottle

Every message in a bottle is a little time machine–each one captures a life at a specific moment in time, in a specific place. That moment, time, and place remain preserved until some lucky person stumbles upon the bottle and rockets back to the moment of its creation. Like a genie in a lamp, the person behind a bottled note emerges as they were when it was sent. Magic.

Speaking of time travel, let’s step back into 1985 for a minute. What a year!

Back to the Future dominated the movie scene in 1985, a fitting film for today’s post. But a crazy number of other movies that shaped a lot of people my age came out that year, too. Here’s just a taste–and these are just the ones that were popular.

The Goonies came out in 1985. Can you believe that? Back to the Future AND The Goonies! In one year! On top of those, The Breakfast Club came out, as did Pee Wee’s Big AdventureThe Color Purple, Rocky IV, Commando, another Rambo movie, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies Pale Rider, and a bunch of others.

However, on most nights, rather than going out to the movies, you’d likely stay in and watch TV shows like Murder She Wrote, Family Ties, Cheers, or The Golden Girls. 

Driving around, burning dollar-a-gallon gas, you’d hear songs on the radio like A-Ha’s brilliant “Take On Me,” Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout,” Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love,” Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and “I’m On Fire” and “Born in the USA”.

In sports, the Royals won the World Series, the 49ers won the Super Bowl, and the Lakers won the NBA Championship.

Also in 1985, according to a lovely website, pop-culture.us, the UK launched its first cell phone network. Ronald Reagan was sworn into his second term. The FDA approved a blood test for AIDS. Tupac Shakur, just 14 years old, won a rap contest in Baltimore. Coca-Cola released “New Coke”. Yul Brynner died of lung cancer caused by smoking, but not before filming a commercial urging viewers not to smoke. Researchers found the wreck of the Titanic. Abraham Lincoln’s last living descendent died.

But wait–there’s MORE!

A bunch of lovers made some exquisite babies who were born in 1985, including, to name just a few, Anna Kendrick, Keira Knightly, Bruno Mars, Lana Del Rey, Michael Phelps, Carly Rae Jepsen, Ty Dolla Sign (who has his own song called “Message in a Bottle,” by the way). Let’s have a round of applause for all their mothers!

(Here’s Anna Kendrick and the Barden Bellas singing a Bruno Mars / Nelly mashup in Pitch Perfect 🙂 As a sidenote, my wife’s college friend, Jeff Hortillosa of Whiskey Shivers actually appears in Pitch Perfect 3, and has lines with Anna Kendrick! It’s a stretch but I have to mention it here because, you know, I can’t work Anna Kendrick into every post, or so I’m told…)

Meanwhile in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, a Science Experiment on Ocean Currents

This was the world in 1985.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, somewhere between Back to the Future and “Take on Me,” somewhere between an episode of Cheers and the Royals winning the World Series, a Cole Harbour District High School student in Nova Scotia penned a message in a bottle as part of a school science experiment. Then, three decades later, my dad found it on a desolate Caribbean island.

Cole Harbour District High School

Cole Harbour District High School. Photo: Wikipedia user EverettColdwell.

As an interesting sidenote, Mike Clattenburg, John Paul Tremblay, and Robb Wells, all of Trailer Park Boys fame, grew up in and around Cole Harbour. In fact, they were in high school at the same time as the author of this message. Of course, whether they were at the same high school or ran with the same crowd is beyond my knowledge, as are most things in this world. Cole Harbour District High School does appear on film in the hit series, though it has a different name in the show.

Trailer Park Boys

Trailer Park Boys. Photo: Trailer Park Boys / Facebook.

How to Open a Message in a Bottle from 1985 Without Ruining Everything

Today, we intend to find the author of the Nova Scotia message in a bottle my dad found. I’ll show you what we’ve got, but here’s the catch: we’re gonna need your help.

This message in a bottle has a long story that goes back decades, and our part in it is tiny–just a moment in its long journey.

Our part of the story goes like this:

One day a while back, I visited my parents after they returned from a rare and cherished vacation to the Caribbean. Before my visit, my dad had mentioned over the phone that he had found another message in a bottle. But then, while I was home, my dad showed me the bottled note.

Holy crap! I thought–We’ve gotta open that RIGHT NOW! I mean, if your parents showed you this on a visit home, wouldn’t it drive you wild with curiosity?

Nova Scotia message in a bottle from 1985, found by my dad.

This is the message in a bottle my dad found.

Nova Scotia message in a bottle from 1985, found by my dad 2.

Nova Scotia message in a bottle from 1985, found by my dad horizontal.

Nova Scotia message in a bottle from 1985, found by my dad horizontal 2.

Anyone could tell from a glance that this thing was old. It was literally falling apart inside the bottle–another reason to open it up right away. We knew that we would have to be as careful as surgeons.

Our first task: Learn as much as possible before breaking open the bottle and disturbing the contents. This is the archaeology component of what we do. Non-destructive testing, I guess you could call it.

Now, we have learned more than anyone should ever learn about the history of bottle-making thanks to our strange hobby. Calling this a “boring” topic doesn’t quite capture the oppressive sense of dusty, reclusive, life-wasting effort that goes into reading books about turn molds, paste molds, mold stamps, date stamps, pontils, and so on. It’s a little-known fact that reading books about the history of glass bottles causes you to age at twice the normal rate.

There’s not exactly a lot of spare room in my brain for extra information, but occasionally, all this painfully boring knowledge pays off. For example, based on the bottle and cap styles, we knew right away that this bottle was from the 1980s or 1990s.

Close up of Nova Scotia message in a bottle cap.

Close up of message in a bottle cap.

Close up of Nova Scotia message in a bottle cap 2.

But the real give away was the bottom of the bottle. Often, the bottoms of bottles are embossed with all kinds of strange insignia and numbers that mean nothing except to their makers. But on this bottle, one number was perfectly clear:

Bottom of Nova Scotia message in a bottle, showing date stamp.

Bottom of message in a bottle, showing date stamp.

Bottom of Nova Scotia message in a bottle, showing date stamp 2.

That is the number 85–a “date stamp,” signifying the year of the bottle’s manufacture. This bottle would have been made, filled, sold, and consumed within a span of months. That would mean the message could be from 85 or 86 or so–just a year or two after I was born.

Of course, there was only one way to find out the exact age of the message. It was time to get out the trusty Dremel tool, fire up the flux capacitor, and head to the lab / garage!

My dad with the 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle he found, just before we opened it.

My dad with the 1985 message in a bottle he found, just before we opened it.

My dad with the 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle he found, just before we opened it 2.

My dad getting ready to open the 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

My dad getting ready to open the 1985 message in a bottle.

Dad went through the now-standard process of cutting a groove all the way around the bottle.

My dad using Dremel tool to open 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

My dad using a Dremel tool to cut a ring around the bottle.

My dad using Dremel tool to open 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle close up. My dad using Dremel tool to open 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle close up 2.

Then, the moment of truth: He carefully cracked it open.

My dad cracking open 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle. My dad cracking open 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle 2. My dad cracking open 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle 3. My dad extracting Nova Scotia message in a bottle close up. Nova Scotia message in a bottle scroll retrieved from bottle. My dad unrolling complete Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

There were multiple pieces of paper inside. Here was the first thing we gingerly unrolled:

Close up of Cole Harbour District High School Ocean Drift Project scroll.

Cole Harbour District High School Nova Scotia message in a bottle Ocean Drift Project card front.

Front of “Ocean Drift Project” card included in the bottle.

Back of Cole Harbour District High School "Ocean Drift Project" card, including place for finder's name and remarks.

Back of Cole Harbour District High School “Ocean Drift Project” card, including place for finder’s name and remarks.

Then, we realized that the main paper–the one that would likely have typewriting or handwriting from the actual sender–was folded in half. Crap. This would mean not just unrolling the brittle, dry paper, but also unfolding it. I imagined the paper crumbling to bits and disappearing in a cloud of dust, leaving us sputtering and paralyzed with regret.Flattening out 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

Main paper of 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle, folded in half.

The “main” paper of the message, folded in half. Weighted down with fossils, bullets, and a drywall knife, we’re letting it flatten out and “relax” a bit before trying to unfold it. It’s tricky: you have to let the paper relax for a minute, but you also have to get it all the way opened and flattened quickly…

This was before we figured out the water spritzing trick mentioned in my post on Message in a Bottle Day 2017 (we are a bit on the slow side). So, we just had to move quickly, before the paper dried out even MORE. I left it in dad’s hands, for I knew that if I destroyed this beautiful, fascinating, old message in a bottle, I would have to commit Seppuku with the shards from the bottle in shame.

Unfolding main paper of 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

My dad unfolding the main paper of his 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

Unfolding main paper of 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle 2.

He deftly unfolded the paper before it grew too crispy, then weighted it down with some of the strange menagerie of items in our garage: two fern fossils, a rock, a couple home-made muzzle-loader bullets, and a drywall knife. That’s how we roll. Or unroll, as it were.

What the Message in a Bottle Says

And here it is! What remains of the message–though many of the sentences are missing a few words (some in the transcription below are guesses).

Unfolding main paper of 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle 3.

Full text / front of 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

This is the full text of the Nova Scotia message in a bottle, minus a few words destroyed at the right side of the page.

Full text / front of 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle close up.

Here’s what we can make out and/or infer from what’s there:

Hey Dude

I’m a grade 10 student from Cole Harbour District High School. I like to party and have a good time. I…..coast and this is, I think, half decent. If you [are from another] country I would appreciate a penny [of] foreign money. Being a Canadian isn’t bad. There is a lot to do and the people aren’t so bad. This was released offshore in the gulf stream by a swordfish boat.

Yours Truly,

[Merle / Merla / Marlene]

[Dellans / Dellars / Dellanos / Dellairs / Delares]

WHY IS THE NAME ALWAYS DESTROYED?!

Who is the Author of This 1985 Message in a Bottle from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia?

Is the note signed by Merla Dellans? Merle Dellars? Merli Dellano? Here are several shots with slightly different angles and lighting. If you own any sweet photo editing software, feel free to run these images through to try to reveal the invisible letters!

Close up of signature on Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

Close up of signature on Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia message in a bottle.

Close up of signature on Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia message in a bottle 2.

Close up of signature on Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia message in a bottle 3.

Close up of signature on Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia message in a bottle 4.

Edited close-up of signature. I tinkered with this to try to bring out the ink, but my photo editing software isn’t very fancy…

So far, I haven’t found anyone online with any of these names. Can you make them out? What names do you see? Comment below with what you think it says, or drop me a line here!

On another part of the paper, you can just barely make out the year. You can see the impressions left by the pen, even though the writing has faded to invisibility. In the center of these photos, just below the watermark, you can make out “1985”. Woo! Confirmation! The message was sent in 1985!

Close up of fragment showing year of 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle. Close up of fragment showing year of 1985 Nova Scotia message in a bottle 2.

Well, if Merle / Merla / Marlene / Marlena / Marla was in 10th grade in 1985, they would have been in the class of 1987 or 1988. Thanks to the madness of the internet, I have found some interesting leads!

A Nova Scotia Message in a Bottle and The Long Arms of the Internet

Here’s a clip of Cole Harbour District High School’s cheerleaders from 1987. Could one of them be named Merla or Marlene or whatever the real name is? Or maybe they’re cheering for a guy named Merle Dellano or something?

There are also several CHDHS Facebook groups that might be able to help–class reunion groups and that sort of thing. As you read this, I am writing to them in hopes of getting their help in solving this mystery message.

But here’s the thing: This message was sent a long time ago. The person who sent it may have only attended CHDHS for one year–heck, maybe just one semester. So there’s no guarantee that anyone in these Facebook groups will know or remember this person.

That’s why I need your help again, folks! You helped me solve Ray from Philly’s message in a bottle, and Amanda from Connecticut’s, and Sabine’s and many more.

I know we can do it again. Help!

With any luck, we’ll find the author of this message and take them back to 1985 with us 🙂

***If you liked this story, click here to find me on Facebook and like my page for more message in a bottle stories! You never know when YOU could be the one to solve a message in a bottle mystery! Click here to learn more about messages in bottles, and you can always contact me with questions, ideas, or stories.

***P.S. This isn’t the only Nova Scotia message in a bottle of note… Here’s one, and there’s one in this list found on Cape Breton, part of NS., and then there’s this one that I found from a couple sailing across the Atlantic together, starting from Nova Scotia.

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