Message in a Bottle

Every year just before Christmas my dad would take my brother and me to Pittsburgh to enjoy the preparations for Christmas. We would pack into the VW Camper bus and drive down Routes 8 and 28 to what is now called the North Shore but we knew it as the North Side. There had been a time years before when the trip would have included a trip to Boggs and Buhl a department store on the North Side, but that was gone and is but a faint memory now. Dad liked to save money and parking at the garage downtown cost a few dollars. We parked instead on an old wharf on a street curiously named “Bronco Way”. One wonders just how many broncos were busted along East Ohio Street. My brother and I actually enjoyed the walk across the Sixth Street Bridge, the same one now named for the Roberto Clemente. It was fun watching the Allegheny River slowly churn and roll along. It was not unknown to see icebergs floating down the river even in mid-December.

It was watching this powerful water conveyor in action that inspired our really neat idea back in 1965. Before we left home, we had taken an expended milk bottle from Knapp’s’ dairy, enclosed an explanatory letter and a post card, sealed it up using the cap and some melted wax and attached a very long string. Our aspiration was that this bottle would sail for weeks down the Ohio to Paducah then to the Mississippi to Vicksburg. Hopefully it would be found by another kid (Who else would be messing around by the river?). They would read the letter, share in the excitement, keep the letter and return the card after filling out the blanks we had left to indicate the date and location of the find.

We lowered the bottle by the string from the bridge once we thought we were far enough from the shore. We let it go. We were prepared to wait for months, allowing our normally adolescent patience to be satiated in the knowledge that the wait, in this case, was the prize. The longer the wait the better.

Our reply came about ten days later. The card had been returned as instructed. The bottle was indeed found by a boy who reported that he had found the bottle which had failed even to leave town. It had been pulled from the bank of the Allegheny River a few hundred feet from its launch.