Oldest Message in a Bottle Discovered

So this is a really cool story. A Woman in Australia has found the oldest known message in a bottle in the world. Tonya Illman was on a beach in Western Australia, just north of Wedge Island when she discovered something sticking out of the sand. She picked up what looked like a “lovely old bottle” and then when a friend went to tip the sand out of the bottle, they discovered the note.
The message was dated June 12, 1886 and was thrown into the Indian Ocean from a German sailing boat which was going to Cardiff, Wales. There were thousands of such bottles thrown into oceans as part of a German experiment on global currents to help them find faster shipping routes, according to the Western Australia Museum. The Illmans brought the bottle to the museum and the finding was compared to the ship captain’s journal notes indicating they had thrown a bottle overboard. So far, 663 message slips have been recovered from that experiment but only one bottle – the one the Illmans brought in.

Friendships That Stand the Test of Time

Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce

You never know where friendship will grow, or who will influence each other throughout their lifetimes. On this day, 150 years ago, a heart-broken President Franklin Pierce wrote to his sister, Mrs. Mary M. Aikens, to recount finding his dear friend, writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, dead.

The two were inseparable friends, having met at Bowdoin College when Pierce was a sophomore and Hawthorne a freshman. When Pierce was nominated for President, he had Hawthorne write his campaign biography. The biography, The Life of Franklin Pierce (1852) helped Pierce to get elected to the Presidency. He returned the favor to Hawthorne by electing him to the American foreign service as the Consul at Liverpool.

Hawthorne, though sick and weak, had recommended to Pierce that they take a trip together, and it was here that Hawthorne died. As Pierce wrote to his sister in a letter that is part of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation “Between the Lines” program,

What I said would perhaps prepare you to some extent for the intelligence which may reach you by telegraph before you receive this. We came here yesterday afternoon. At about 9 o’clock Hawthorne retired, & soon fell into a quiet slumber. He changed his position in about half an hour, but continued to sleep. I retired before 11 thinking that he would have a quiet night, I awoke between 1 & 2 o[‘]clock and went to his bed side. (There was a light in my room & a door between it and that of H, which was left open[,] our beds were near each other) He had again changed his position but was lying naturally upon his side with his face toward me and I supposed was in quiet repose. I returned to my bed, but waking between 3 & 4 o’clock I was surprised to observe that his position was unchanged[,] and placing my hand upon his temple found that life was extinct.

He continued, as evidenced by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s letter to say, “Mr. Hillard[,] who knows dear Hawthorne[,] had gone to Boston this morning. Poor Mrs. Hawthorne & the children. I am full of sorrow of course, but my heart literally aches for them.”

The letter, written on May 19th, 1864, is four pages in length and shows the love that Pierce had for Hawthorne and the loss that he would face over it.

This Day in History: The Typewritten Presidential Letter

It was 125 years ago today that one of the first type written letters left the White House. In February of 1880, the White House received a Fairbanks and Company Improved Number Two Typewriter. While Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Cleveland all ignored this machine, President Benjamin Harrison gave it a room. The typewriter shared two small rooms with a telephone and a telegraph and they had their own operator, Miss Alice Sanger.

The letter that President Harrison wrote on April 4th, 1889, and that is in the Shapell Manuscript Foundation collection, is the earliest known example of a presidential typewritten letter. The President sent the letter to a book bindery owner in Philadelphia to thank him for the gift of an olive wood box which he has made for the new President. Interestingly, while the typewriter was a great invention, it was a difficult one for historians who want to capture the penmanship of the presidents. As the typewriter became used more and more, the presidential autograph’s letter became virtually obsolete.

The letter showcased by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation says,

“Charles F. Heller, Esq.,
Philadelphia, Penna.

My Dear Sir: –

I take pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of your favor of the 2nd inst. and also of the box made of olive wood. I beg to express my appreciation of this finely executed specimen of your workmanship, and of the friendly spirit which prompted you to make and send it to me.

Very truly yours,


Grief From The One We All Grieve

jfk letter
Letter at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation written by JFK

As we approach the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, the country reflects on its grief and memory. It is interesting, while so many reflect on their grief over the death of a great president, to look at his grief during his own life.

On August 7, 1963, the Kennedys gave birth to a baby boy, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy. He was born premature and died just 39 hours later. He had a lung condition that blocked the oxygen from his bloodstream, but JFK recounted after his death that he “put up quite a fight.”

While Kennedy did not usually show emotion, he was seen crying three times during that week. He was seen crying by himself after the death, when he told his bedridden wife about it and at the funeral when he was “overwhelmed with grief.”

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation has, in its possession, a letter that JFK wrote and signed during that time. Written on August 14, 1963, he thanked his sister-in-law’s brother, George, and his wife Pat for their message of condolence. As he wrote in the letter, “You were kind indeed to think of us at this very difficult time. Your message was a comfort to me and my family and we are very grateful to you.”

And the nation will, again, be thinking of JFK at this “difficult time” as we approach the anniversary tomorrow of his death.

Ireland: A Country to Behold Then and Now

If you’re looking forward to some fall travel, now may be the perfect time before the real harsh weather of the winter sets in. Prices are relatively good for hotels and airlines now, as it’s not the high season of the summer or Christmas break.

One great travel spot before the winter really sets in is Ireland. With beautiful scenery, friendly people and romantic accommodations, it’s the perfect spot for anyone, even the President of the United States. As we approach the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, it’s interesting to look at the president’s experience in this beautiful location.

When he visited in the summer of 1963, he made history for many reasons. He was the first Irish-American President, the first Catholic President and the first sitting President to visit Ireland. He visited relatives in New Ross, toured the ancestral homestead and more. As JKF proclaimed during his trip, “They love me in Ireland!”  Upon his return home, he penned a letter to Dot Tubridy. Housed with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, the letter said,

jfk ireland
Letter by JFK with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation

Now that I have returned to the United States and I look back on my visit to Ireland I find that I have nothing but pleasant memories. My visit there was nothing but pleasant memories. My visit there was definitely the highlight of my trip…Dot: It couldn’t have been better. We loved it – All of your countrymen were wonderful to us and so were you.

Certainly, if a President of the United States enjoyed his stay this much, the rest of us would undoubtedly have a lovely visit there as well.


Today in History: John Wilkes Booth Performs for Abraham Lincoln

Shapell Manuscript FoundationJohn Wilkes Booth, the famous assassin who shot President Abraham Lincoln, considered himself a spy for most of his life.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation explains that “his brains, he said, were worth twenty men, his money worth a hundred and best of all, with his profession, and his fame, he had a free pass everywhere. He told his sister how he moved as a spy among Union armies and, in the most distinguished Northern society, gathered intelligence.”

Eventually, Booth came up with a desperate plan to kidnap the president of the United States. But when a better opportunity presented itself, the actor set up the perfect scene for an assassination. He wrote a letter to John Ford, the owner of Ford’s Theater in Washington, arranging to appear in a play in November.

The letter, dated September 17th 1863, reads:

Dear John

Your telegraph just rec’d:. Now that I understand it. All right. Book me for Nov 2d: for two weeks. I will be there and I will keep the two following weeks open a time longer. there may be a chance for Baltimore then, or you may want me to keep on in Washington. But consider the two weeks from Nov 2d settled. With best wishes

I am Yours Truly