Words come back from bottle floated in 1983

Robynn Woodward joked Tuesday that she might face prosecution for littering over leaving a note in a soda bottle in an upstate New York river in 1983. She also was “horrified” that she misspelled “bored” as “boared” as an 11-year-old. Woodward holds a faxed copy of the note, which is older than the two brothers who found it while fishing. They plan to mail her the original.

SPECIAL TO THE SENTINEL—A photo taken by Brandon Wolfe of Norfolk, N.Y., shows the letter that his brother Johnathon found in a bottle Sunday while they were fishing a river in upstate New York. The note was written and set adrift in the bottle 29 years ago by Robynn Woodward, now 40, who lives in Carbondale. The brothers tracked her down using Facebook.

Try as she might, Robynn Woodward can’t remember the day back in 1983 when, in her 11-year-old boredom, she set afloat a message in a bottle in a New York river, hoping someone would find it and write back.

And the Carbondale woman, now 40, certainly didn’t expect to hear back in 2012 from people who weren’t even born 29 years ago, via a medium — Facebook — that only recently came to exist.

But that’s what happened after two brothers went on an Easter fishing outing in Norfolk, in upstate New York.

Norfolk residents Johnathon and Brandon Wolfe, both in their early 20s, were fishing by boat on the Raquette River when Johnathon spied a soccer ball on the riverbank. He got out to pick it up and then noticed an intact, small Pepsi bottle and a letter inside. Unable to remove the cap and anxious to read the letter, he broke the glass bottle to retrieve Woodward’s note.

It read:

“Hi! My name is Robynn. Pl - - - - - ease write me.”

After giving her address in nearby Norwood, she declared, “I’m boared!” She also dated the letter and gave her age and birth date.

“I was shocked, seeing how old it was, by it still being around when we found it,” Johnathon Wolfe said. “It didn’t get smashed or anything. I couldn’t believe it.”

By that night, helped perhaps by the unusual spelling of Woodward’s first name, the brothers had located her via Facebook and sent her a message. Woodward hadn’t seen the message before family members got in touch with her Monday. That was after reporter John Friot of WWNY-TV in Watertown, N.Y.,  caught wind of the bottle’s discovery, also via Facebook, and began tracking her down through her family.

Friot said that when he called Woodward, she told him she didn’t remember writing the letter. Then he mentioned the birth date it contained.

She said, ‘Oh my God, yes, that’s my birthday.’ So we knew then that it was her,” Friot said.

“It’s just an amazing tale,” he said.

Woodward said despite not recalling penning the message, she immediately realized it sounds just like something she would have done. She wasn’t allowed to watch television as a child, so she grew up with books and fantasies that probably inspired the letter, she said.

“I just was a daydreamer, romanticizing and daydreaming. I lived in the clouds and had a vivid, vivid imagination, so it just makes total sense to me that I did something like this,” she said.

She added, “I was always going around saying, ‘I’m bored,’ to my poor mother, so it was really funny when I saw that on the letter.”

She wasn’t a Pepsi drinker, she says — she favors Mountain Dew — but she used to help an older sister who worked at a convenience store and drank a lot of Pepsi, which might explain the bottle’s origins.

The big mystery surrounds where she put the bottle in the river. Her grandfather lived close to her, along a calm part of the river where it formed a reservoir above a dam. She used to spend a lot of time there, but wasn’t allowed to go alone at that age to the flowing waters below the reservoir, where the bottle was found.

But Woodward said the reservoir often was frozen in March, when the letter is dated. And then there’s the question of how it could have remained intact after a trip over the dam, which Johnathon Wolfe said might be 15 feet high. He said that while he has no idea what conditions might have been like 29 years ago, at least today there are rocks on the river bottom below the dam that would pose hazards to a falling bottle.

Woodward and Friot note that somehow the bottle also survived decades of icy northern New York winters.

“How it was able to last the 29 years is beyond me,” Friot said.

Woodward said she first moved to Colorado in the 1990s, and then returned East to be closer to family. She just moved to Carbondale from Buffalo six weeks ago, and works as a veterinary technician at Birch Tree Animal Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

She jokes about possibly facing prosecution for littering now that her missive has been found. She said she also is “horrified” by her spelling of the word “bored,” considering that her mom is a retired librarian with a master’s degree in English.

“I read much more than the average kid did, but that doesn’t really reflect in that letter, does it?” she said.

But Woodward also has enjoyed what the bottle’s discovery has revealed to her about herself as a youngster.

“It’s kind of woken up something inside of me about what I was like as a child,” she said. . “... It’s inspiring, and I can’t even tell you why; it just is. It shows a younger you.”

Wolfe said he plans to mail the letter to its author.

“She was 11 years old. She’d like to have it back, I’m sure,” he said.

As for Wolfe’s fish haul on Sunday, it was nothing to brag about.

“I didn’t catch a thing. Just a message in a bottle, that’s all I got,” he said.


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