Michigan Message in a Bottle Mystery Solved

The message in a bottle spent nearly 100 years at the bottom of a river.

ByABC News
June 19, 2013, 2:00 PM

June 20, 2013 — -- Eric Schiebold was enthralled by the story of a nearly 100-year-old message in a bottle found in a Michigan river and the search for the writers' descendants when he read about it in his local newspaper.

"I was reading the paper at breakfast and I'm reading this story and I thought, 'What a great story. What a find. Here's a piece of history, and I'm sure somebody is going to be very excited to hear about this,'" Schiebold told ABCNews.com.

And then he came across the names of the two women who had penned the note in 1915: Selina Pramstaller and Tillie Esper. The latter name was very familiar to Schiebold.

"That's my grandmother's name. It couldn't be her. And then they have a biography, like a sidebar story, and I said, 'Oh my God. That's grandma,'" he said, still shocked.

He immediately called his cousin, Janet Baccanari.

"He called me right away at 7:30 in the morning and, of course, I thought at that time someone had died," Baccanari said with a laugh. "It was such an amazing story."

The bottle is small and transparent, sealed with a cork. It contains a deposit slip from a steamboat that was part of Tashmoo Park, a popular amusement park on Harsens Island in Michigan.

On the back of the slip is cursive handwriting that says, "Having a good time at Tashmoo." It was dated June 30, 1915 and signed by Selina Pramstaller and Tillie Esper of Detroit.

It was tossed into the St. Clair River almost exactly 98 years ago. Esper was around 22 at the time and she died in 1984.

In June 2012, Dave Leander, owner of Great Lakes Divecenter in Shelby Township, Mich., was on a dive in the river with some friends at a spot that was known for having "stuff that's been discarded years and years and years ago."

Leander said he always looks at every piece of glass he finds and was fanning silt away when he noticed the little bottle.

"I could tell that there was an airspace in the bottle," Leander told ABCNews.com. "When I finally dug it out, there was a note inside that wasn't quite legible underwater but when I brought it up to the surface I could read it pretty well."

The bottle sat in Leander's store for the next year without much thought until the president of a local historical society heard about it and called Leander to ask him if he really had a message in a bottle. Leander told him he did and soon enough the man had come to see it.

The historical society was planning Tashmoo Days, an event in July to celebrate the since-closed park that was home to steamboats, an amusement park, beach and dance pavilion. They wanted to display the bottle in the museum.

"This is a first," Leander said. "We find some nice old bottles and stuff, but this was definitely and eye-opener and an attention-getter."

On Tuesday, a story about the bottle appeared in the Detroit Free Press newspaper, which was when Schiebold read about it and called his cousin. They connected with the historical society and have been invited to the July event to see the bottle at the museum and meet everyone who has been involved in the bottle's story.

"We are so excited," Baccanari told ABCNews.com. "I feel like I just stepped back into this other era and I'm learning so much about my family's history - because who thinks of their grandma as a 22-year-old? What we do at 22 is so much different than what we're doing at 70. They were probably laughing and put the bottle in as a joke."

She said that two of Esper's children are still alive and were "floored" at the news of the bottle.