112 Year Old Message in a Bottle Found Inside Montclair University Wall
When Robert Kanaby was demolishing an old brick wall on Montclair Unviersity’s campus, he knew something was “off” when he “hit a void” and “heard glass break”. According to Montclair’s Marilyn Lehren, that’s when he put down his chipping hammer to investigate. “We took away the debris and I found the glass and then I found the note,” he said. Imagine Kanaby’s surprise when he realized he had just found a 112 year old message in a bottle, one of the oldest ever found.
Montclair magazine contributor Marilyn Lehren reached out to me for some context on the tradition of concealing messages in bottles in buildings, walls, floors, etc. The story of Montclair’s 112 year old message in a bottle found in a wall reminded me of so many stories, they couldn’t all possibly fit in a single article!
First of all, a few years after the discovery at Montclair, the oldest message in a bottle ever found was recovered from a house in Edinburgh, Scotland, in November 2022. At 135 years old, it edged out the previous (seafaring) record of 132 years.
Then, there’s this story of a lovely, lengthy message in a bottle concealed in a fireplace in 1982, and discovered in 2017, which “reunited” two sisters with their deceased father who wrote the note.
There’s also this story of a 90 year old man discovering an 83 year old message in a bottle from his father who had hidden it in the walls of a building he helped construct.
One of my personal favorites (because I got to solve the case!) is the wild and fascinating story of Carl Ott, who hid a message in a bottle in the walls of his Indianapolis dry cleaning business back in 1930. After 87 years, the building was demolished and his message in a bottle was found in the rubble. I got to “find” Carl Ott by digging through old newspapers where he appeared often. Then, I got to “reunite” Carl and his granddaughter, as I located her and made sure she received the note.
One unsolved message in a bottle mystery is that of Eugene McNamara, who left a message in a bottle in the ceiling of a Japanese hotel around 1948. In the hotel, where he lived for two years, he was neighbors with General Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of Allied powers. Sooo… Why exactly can we not find this guy?
One lovely story is that of Jean B. Evans who discovered a 95 year old message in a bottle under the floor in her family’s ancestral home in Connecticut.
Another surprising story is that of a message in a bottle from 1967, jackhammered out of a slab of concrete in Australia. The message urges the finders to “observe a day of rest”.
Imagine the astonishment of Peter Brandt, who found his own grandfather’s message in a bottle concealed in a German church he was renovating!
Such was Robert Kanaby’s surprise when he found this bottled note in the wall at Montclair University. Take a look:
Montclair University Joins Tradition of Bottled Letters Hidden in Buildings
People have been concealing messages in bottles in buildings for ages. Far from being mere “time capsules,” these bottled letters bring their long-gone authors back to life, so to speak, even if just in our hearts. The sense of wonder and gratitude felt by the surviving family upon receiving these landlocked messages in bottles is not one bit less than it would be if the bottles had come from the sea. You see, whether a message in a bottle ever gets wet has nothing to do with the magic of the bottled note. The mere fact of these bottles surviving renovation and demolition is simply amazing.
How a Message in a Bottle Can Illuminate Family History
Montclair University’s 112 year old message in a bottle is a great example of the power of very old notes like this to bring to light the lives of our ancestors. Writer Marilyn Lehren reported in a follow-up piece about the Montclair message that:
“Descendants of James Lennon now understand more about the man they knew only through a single photograph. The fate of William Hanley is poignant and best understood through the newspaper account of his young wife’s funeral just a few months after the co-workers built and left a note in the wall.”
The information contained in the bottle led Lehren and others to dig deeper into history for information on the masons who left this bottled note. What they found is just amazing, and worth a read.
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