By DUSTIN FOX, The Gadsden Times
GLENCOE, Ala. (AP) — It’s not unusual for Shea Shaneyfelt to find washed up bottles and other floating debris in the backwater slough of the Coosa River near her home in Glencoe.
It was unusual, however, for her to find a bottle with a handwritten message inside.
In February, while she was out collecting driftwood, Shaneyfelt spotted a glass Diet Sunkist bottle with something rolled up and tucked inside. A closer looked revealed a sheet of paper sealed inside, with some handwriting visible. The letter, dated Oct. 14, 1982, was written by Julie Watson, a third-grade student at Eura Brown Elementary School in Gadsden.
Watson’s letter described the lesson her class was learning in school, and the school’s location near the Coosa. It also asked the recipient to reach out and contact her.
Shaneyfelt took up that challenge and began her search on Facebook.
After she shared the story online, some of her friends joined the search and tried to help her find Watson. Several people found a Facebook profile that seemed to match — Watson’s married name is Menk — and a couple of Shaneyfelt’s friends reached out.
“My mother went to the dentist,” Menk said. “Evidently a friend of Shea’s worked in that office, and he asked Mom if she knew me” after he recognized her mother’s last name.
He showed her the picture of the letter Shaneyfelt had shared online, and she recognized her daughter’s handwriting.
“Mom called me and asked, ‘Have you seen that letter you wrote?'”
Menk eventually was put in contact with Shaneyfelt through Facebook, and the two exchanged messages about how interesting it was that the letter was found so many years later.
“I was really shocked,” Menk said. “It’s amazing to me that after 35 years it would still be intact and the letter would be legible.”
While she doesn’t remember all the details of her letter, Menk recalls what led her to launch that message in a bottle on the Coosa. Teacher Thelma Johnson’s third-grade class was studying Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Americas, and Menk said she described Columbus putting a message in a bottle into the Atlantic Ocean, hoping it would wind up back in Europe.
She said that may have just been a legend, but her teacher let the class write letters to send off in the Coosa behind the school.
Menk said she did not really expect anyone to find her message or the messages written by the nearly two dozen other students in her class. Instead, it just seemed like a fun activity for students learning American history.
Shaneyfelt said she regularly walks the backwater banks near her home in search of driftwood to use in building decor she sells at Little Brown Cow in Glencoe.
“I was excited because my parents built this house in 1987,” she said, “but this is the first time I’ve found something like this.”
Shaneyfelt said she regularly finds bottles and other trash washed up from the river and is careful about picking things up. Sometimes she will kick an interesting looking bottle over to see what it looks like, which is what happened when she discovered Menk’s bottle.
Shaneyfelt and her family tried getting the note out of the bottle without breaking it, but the paper began to tear and they decided to break the bottle instead of damaging the note.
Menk, who still lives in the Gadsden area, said she would be interested in seeing her letter in person, as well as where Shaneyfelt found it, but they’ve not yet had a chance to get together.
“It’s just unbelievable that someone would find it and it would be intact,” Menk said. “I figured the bottle would have gotten broken on a limb or debris or something.”
She said she remembered thinking the message might be found a few feet away from where she put it in the river, in a month or two.
Instead, someone found it more than 35 years later, nearly 5 miles downriver.
Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com