Skip to comments.For sale, for dreamers: A mystery in a bottle
Posted on 01/17/2003 5:53:45 PM PST by vannrox
Maria Puente USA TODAY
After the hurricane blew through, Marty DeWelt staggered from the bathroom where she had huddled through the night and went outside to survey the damage along her lakeside property near Williamsburg, Va. That's when she found the glass bottle.
It was green and it looked old, with a crude tin cap. And it had a message rolled up inside. Peering in, she thought the paper looked like parchment covered with wax. She could make out the letters ''W,'' ''I,'' ''H'' and ''C.''
Exactly how old is it? Unknown. What does the message say? Also unknown, because DeWelt has yet to open it since she found the bottle under a tangle of seaweed and debris after Hurricane Floyd struck the Virginia coast in 1999.
''My relatives and friends have been driving me crazy asking, 'Have you opened that bottle?' ''
Soon, they all might learn what's inside. DeWelt hopes to auction her find on eBay beginning Jan. 24. She would like to get $10,000 for it for mostly local charities. Her only stipulation: The new owner has to tell her what the message says.
Why would anyone pay thousands for an unread message in a bottle? Don't laugh: Someone already has offered $8,400.
This is what happens when a romantic finds a message in a bottle; anyone else would have instantly opened it and read the message. Not DeWelt, 58, a former Hollywood casting agent who retired to Williamsburg eight years ago. Finding the ''mystery bottle,'' as she calls it, set her to dreaming.
DeWelt guessed it was a love letter. She thought it might be as old as the nation itself; colonial Jamestown is just a few miles away. Then she imagined a Civil War soldier camping at the lake and writing to a sweetheart. She worried that if she opened the bottle, the paper might disintegrate with exposure to air.
So she took the bottle to archaeologists and historians at the College of William & Mary and Jamestown. They told her the bottle probably dates back no further than the early 1900s and possibly as late as World War II. The cap had been made since the turn of the century. The glass might be German.
''It's not a terribly old bottle as bottles go,'' says historian Dan Hawks, curator at Jamestown Settlement, the state museum replica of the original settlement.
The bottle could have been dropped from a passenger liner or even German spy ships during the war, Hawks says. He lauds DeWelt's charitable instincts, but he says she might be expecting too much.
''It could be an old bottle dumped there the day before yesterday,'' he says. ''It could be just a typical boy-puts-message-in-bottle that says, 'Hi, Mom, having a good time in Atlantic City.' ''
DeWelt tried to auction the bottle last year, but it didn't sell: She set a reserve price of $25,000, and the highest of eight bids was $8,400. Her new auction will have a lower reserve of $10,000. Proceeds will go to help tornado victims in Mossy Grove, Tenn., two local schools, a local library and a cancer research fund.
If the bottle doesn't sell, DeWelt plans to open it on Valentine's Day (news - web sites) in a scientific environment, in hopes of preserving the love letter she is sure is there.
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The message is:
Watch out for that Idiot, Hillary Clinton!
DeWelt, 58, a former Hollywood casting agent who retired to Williamsburg eight years ago.
Damn, the infection is spreading back to the home state...
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