107 Year Old Message in a Bottle Found
When Steve Thurber spotted a green bottle poking out of the sand of Schooner’s Cove Beach on Vancouver Island, Canada, he never could have guessed that he had just stumbled upon a 107 year old message in a bottle. At the time of his find, in 2013, Thurber’s message in a bottle was the oldest ever found. Though never apparently authenticated by Guinness or regarded as officially the oldest message in a bottle ever found, it actually was, if only for a while. Only a little while later in 2015, a 108 year old message in a bottle became the world’s oldest. Since then, the record has been broken again and again… But no matter how you look at it, Thurber’s 107 year old message in a bottle is an incredible find!
When Thurber pulled the bottle out of the sand, he could see an envelope inside, covered in clearly visible writing.
September 29th, 1906. Earl Willard. Steamer Rainier. En route from Frisco to Bellingham, Washington. 76 hours off coast, north.
The message also lists Willard’s address in Bellingham. Although I haven’t been able to find that exact text, it is, today, apparently the address of the Railway Museum in Bellingham.
Investigating The Man Behind The Message: Earl Willard
So, who was Earl Willard? Well, Thurber and a flock of interested friends and reporters did some digging. The Bellingham Herald apparently reported the following findings about Earl, based on the date, his name, and his address:
According to a 1900 U.S. Census, Willard was born in Saginaw, Mich. in 1889 to William C. and Issabella (Coffey) Willard, a Canadian citizen. That would have made him 17 at the time he flung the mystery bottle overboard. By 1906, Earl Willard was living in Bellingham and working as a Teamster. His address in Bellingham is now home to the Bellingham Railway Museum. He married in 1907, moved to Vancouver, B.C. and then Seattle before settling in Los Angeles, where he worked as an electrical contractor until his death in 1948.
That’s all very interesting to know, but it doesn’t explain what he was doing on a steamer from San Francisco to Bellingham, Washington in 1906. Was he just on vacation? Visiting family? This part of the 107 year old message in a bottle mystery may never be solved.
107 Year Old Message in a Bottle is Window to the Past
At 107 years old, this message in a bottle is not quite as old as the oldest message in a bottle ever found. As of 2022, Thurber’s find stands in fifth place among the oldest messages in bottles ever found. Interestingly, Willard sent his message in a bottle the same year as the fourth oldest message in a bottle ever found. However, Thurber found his a bit sooner than Marianne Winkler found hers.
Thurber’s message in a bottle lay hidden for the same century as Marianne Winkler’s 108 year old message in a bottle–through the same wars, the same cultural shifts and political developments. Thurber’s find predates the age of the automobile, which boggles the mind. The man who was president when it was sent–Theodore Roosevelt–was later carved into Mt. Rushmore. Thurber’s 107 year old message in a bottle is a tangible link to an exotically different time–a time when people traveled by steam ship, or rail, or horse, and that was about it, unless you were crazy enough to drive a Stanley Steamer “motor carriage” or something. The Victorian era had just ended. We’re talking about a long, long time ago.
At the time, the steam schooner Rainier apparently steamed regularly between San Francisco and Bellingham, Washington. The trip took up to two weeks. Often, according to old newspapers, Rainier carried lumber between the ports. So, was Rainier primarily a passenger ship or a cargo ship? Was Willard a passenger, or a worker on this ship? We may never get the answers to these questions about this 107 year old message in a bottle.
Steve Thurber Will Preserve Treasured Bottle, Rather Than Opening
After Steve Thurber found this incredible message in a bottle, he decided not to open it. If you look at articles from the time, the internet freaked out about this decision! People just couldn’t believe that he would not open such an amazing treasure. But then, a lot of them probably hadn’t followed the story closely. The thing is, Steve Thurber never needed to open his 107 year old message in a bottle, because he could read all of its writing right through the bottle’s glass. The message is written on an envelope, and the way it sits inside the bottle, all the writing is exposed. So, no need to open it. And besides, it looks extremely cool the way it is. I am 100% with Steve on this one!
Steve told CTV in 2013 that since he could read everything he needed to know–the sender’s name, address, and date–he had no plans to open his message in a bottle.
Personally, I think this is possibly the finest and most interesting message in a bottle ever found. It’s 107 years old, and we learned about the sender without opening the bottle or damaging the message. On top of that, it is still packed with mystery. Is there a letter inside the envelope? What became of Earl and his wife? Did they have kids? Are those kids alive today?
I have a feeling the story of this amazing 107 year old message in a bottle isn’t over yet.
Here is CTV’s interview with Steve Thurber from back in 2013. He just seems so nice 🙂 Wish we could hang out someday and swap beachcombing stories. Drop me a line, Steve, if you see this! I promise I won’t pressure you to open that bottle!