The Magic of a Message in a Bottle

I’ve been thinking about this story all weekend. It begins with a tweet from Eileen Webb, whose father Patrick Webb died last month: “Here’s a true story about my dad. When I was little, we were on a beach in Oregon and he found a message in a bottle”…

Here’s a transcript of the rest of her posts, which appeared as a Twitter thread:

It had very clearly been thrown in the ocean from the nearby crab docks. It probably traveled a whopping 1/2 mile before washing up in the sand.

He decided to wait until we got back to California to send the postcard, so it would seem like the bottle floated all the way south.

The postcard ended by saying “I threw the bottle back in the ocean for someone else to find!

Then he shared the address with his brother, who sent a similar postcard from Seattle a few weeks later. His postcard ended the same way.

They did this for DECADES, sending postcards to this kid from all the places they traveled, always saying they were throwing the bottle back in the water. Mexico, Alaska, Boston, Florida, London! “I found it in the Thames!”

Sometimes he’d recruit friends, so that the handwriting didn’t always match. He sent that kid postcards from Chicago, from Paris, from landlocked towns in Wisconsin and Oklahoma. He kept the address in his wallet, though it didn’t really matter because he’d memorized it long ago.

Somewhere out there a grown man from Tacoma has hundreds of postcards in my dad’s scratchy handwriting. If there was a way he could do a good deed *while also being slightly mischievous*, he was all in. That’s the kind of guy he was.

I was telling Aron and the kids about it, and it made me tear up to think about Eileen sharing this touching story about her father, just three weeks after losing him. It says so much about him.

It turns out that Patrick Webb was a retired FBI agent who had served 34 years and helped track down the “unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski. His obituary in the Wall Street Journal tracked his interest back to “a Boy Scout program that allowed him to learn fingerprinting and ride with police officers in patrol cars.” I wonder what kind of detective work his postcards may have inspired in the boy.

I hope that we get to learn more about the other side of this story. Somewhere out there, if not the boy himself, is someone who was witness to the postcards’ arrival. Were they forwarded to a new address? Did new homeowners take part in solving the mystery? And who was it all for? The boy? Or the boy scout?

Do you have any unsolved mysteries you’ve been thinking on? 

P.S. Lying to kids about Santa Claus. Some might say that the postcards were overly deceptive. Do you think so? Also, be sure to check out the comments in the thread, too.

[Photo of Oregon Coast via Adorama, by Nathan Lee Allen]

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