Experience: I found a 95-year-old message in a bottle

I grew up on Black River, Michigan, and started learning how to captain boats when I was three years old. I’d go out on my dad’s fishing boat, had a toy Playmobil boat and trawler, and every year for my birthday I’d get a miniature floating vessel with a viewing window to take out on the water. In Michigan, we’re surrounded by lakes and I soon discovered that I loved diving and skipping school days for the beach.

After my divorce, three years ago, I became a single mom to three boys. We were in a difficult place and needed to make money. I’d been working as a waitress but successfully pitched an idea to an investor for glass-bottom boat tours in the small town of Cheboygan, where I now live.

I set up my business in 2018. We head out on the Cheboygan River and Lake Huron, and run five trips each day, all summer long. We sail over three shipwrecks, past three lighthouses and travel under a lift bridge. I have a historian on board to explain the history of the river.

My sons help out, manning the deck and phones. My youngest and I often drift dive the river, picking up all sorts of abandoned objects. Recently, we found a double-headed axe blade – the area is rich in logging history. We even found a tricycle.

On the Father’s Day weekend in June this year, I met a potential scuba diving client beside the boat, around sunset.

My first mate, Rob, was fuelling the boat. I thought I should probably keep this client interested by finding something on the riverbed. The river was pretty still, and I skimmed around, 10-12ft down, and found a giant clam shell. Then I saw a green bottle, with the sun shining on it, lying atop a fish bed.

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It was four inches long and half an inch wide. I could see something inside, but figured it was mud. I lifted the bottle and, when I looked closely, saw the word “this” pressed against the glass. I swam to my boat and asked Rob to snap a photo, using his jackknife to pull out the bottle’s cork. It was two-thirds full of water and the paper was stuck to the inside. I used a small hook to pull it through the bottle neck. I unfolded it and saw the date – November 1926. We all stood there like, “Woah, what just happened?”

The 95-year-old note read: “Will the person who finds this bottle return this paper to George Morrow, Cheboygan, Michigan, and tell where it was found?” I was amazed to have a historical artefact in my hands. My heart was so light and happy.

Rob put the paper in his freezer so it wouldn’t disintegrate. I kept the bottle, which was embossed with the words “Moone’s Emerald Oil” (an old “cure-all” remedy). Morrow is a common local name, so before I left the marina, I posted the picture on my Facebook page. I thought there was a chance someone might make a connection, but didn’t expect what followed.

When I checked Facebook the next morning, during an early boat trip, there was a long stream of notifications. My phone blew up with messages.

The next day, as I drove home from visiting my dad, I got a phone call from Michele Primeau. She told me she was George Morrow’s daughter and someone had sent my number. I wasn’t sure whether to believe her at first. When she became emotional, I knew she was for real.

She said her dad would float notes in bottles any time he went on vacation, or hide them in walls when he remodelled their homes. She looked at the date and figured that he’d posted this one on his 18th birthday.

In autumn, Michele travelled from Detroit to meet me. She brought his second world war journal with her. The handwriting matched. It felt wonderful that a piece of his history should return.

Michele insisted on leaving the message and bottle with me – she felt it was the best way for his history to live on. It sits on the shelf in my shop, in a display case, with a letter she sent to me after we connected. Her last sentence was: “Isn’t this fun?”

That Facebook post has had 87,000 likes now and my story has travelled around the world. This summer, I took 5,000 people out on the boat. Plenty ask about the note or joke about finding more treasures.

In a hard year, the discovery has brought pure joy. For a scuba diver, it feels like a lifetime achievement.