Billy Mitchell was working at a shipyard on the Yazoo River in Vicksburg, Mississippi, when he found an object that caught his eye: a green bottle sitting abandoned on a barge.
Inside the bottle, the worker of the Big River Shipbuilders company found on April 5 a piece of paper on which, despite the wear and tear of time and humidity, it was still possible to read a child's handwriting.
The message was written 33 years ago by Brian Dahl, then 11, as part of a school project in which he and his classmates threw bottles into the Tallahatchie River below the Lake Saris Dam.
The bottle traveled 295 river miles through the Mississippi Delta.
[The captain of a ship jumped into the water and found a 95-year-old treasure. Thanks to a message on Facebook, she found the owner's daughter]
[The captain of a ship jumped into the water and found a 95-year-old treasure.
Thanks to a message on Facebook, she found the owner's daughter]
Dahl died unexpectedly in 2009 at the age of 29.
"It was like a voice from heaven," the worker told USA Today about the bottle, "it was a sign that she is watching over her parents."
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At the shipyard, workers tried to piece together the message and decipher the boy's name, but could only figure out that he was from Oxford, Mississippi.
Brad Babb, the company's security officer, called schools in the Oxford area but got no response.
So he posted a photo on the social network Facebook in search of clues.
Someone alerted Dr. Eric Dahl of Oxford to the bottle, pointing out that his son might have written the message.
"It's amazing that it happened," Dahl said after recognizing his child's name and handwriting.
"We got a message 33 years after Brian put it in the river," she added.
They find the oldest message in a bottle in history
"It's like something from a fictional novel or something you'd see on TV," Dahl said, "seeing Brian's handwriting from when he was 11 or 12 years old was miraculous."
The man explained to USA Today that the message was part of a class project from when the boy was in sixth grade at Oxford University School.
"The fact that it was my son who wrote that 33 years ago: what are the chances of that bottle being found?" Melanie Dahl added.
Brian's teacher Martha Burnett still remembers that project.
“It was one of the first stories in our reading book.
The story had to do with the fact that over time people had put messages in bottles.
We decided to do it,” she said.
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Each of the students in the class wrote their name, address and phone number on pieces of paper along with a message and put it into bottles.
After covering and sealing them with wax, they were thrown into the river.
The teacher said that in the late 1990s they found one of the bottles, so finding this one seemed more surprising.
“Brian was a very promising young man… It is an incredible story of an exceptional young man,” she added.
The young man's parents plan to meet with shipyard employees and take the message away.
“Seeing something connect people instantly is a beautiful thing, it was just like Brian to bring people together.
It is a testimony of what it is and what it was”, assured Eric Dahl.