Editor’s note: This story has updated from a previous version to correct that the girls’ parents graduated high school 29 years ago, not 19.

Three girls found a mysterious message in a bottle in Lake Michigan on a sunny July day while they were swimming in Evanston.

Betsy McMahon, Thea Ryan and Amelia Walsh were hanging out on a large float in the lake close to Betsy’s grandparents’ home on July 7. Betsy was visiting from out of state.

From left: Amelia Walsh, Betsy McMahon and Thea Ryan read a message they found in a bottle floating on Lake Michigan on July 7. Credit: Patrick McMahon

The girls were going to attend McGaw YMCA’s Camp Echo in a few days. Their parents had all been friends at ETHS and counselors at Camp Echo. In the 29 years since graduating Evanston Township High School, the parents had gone to college, gotten careers, married and started families. As luck would have it, they each had daughters around the same age so they arranged a get-together for the girls to meet and the parents to catch up. Betsy’s dad, Patrick, wanted her to go to camp knowing someone.

Thea spied something floating in the lake. She’s a strong swimmer for her age and she peeled off to retrieve the object. It turned out to be a watermelon rind, which might have been the end of her aquatic discoveries had Betsy not called out to her, “Look over there! What’s that?” 

The bottle by the beach Credit: Patrick McMahon

Thea swam over and held up a glass bottle. Much better than a watermelon rind, she thought. She brought the bottle onto the beach so Betsy and Amelia could look at it, too.

The clear bottle had a small medallion attached with twine, wound tightly around the bottle’s neck. The words on the medallion read, “Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.” The bottle was topped with a plain cork stopper.

Inside the bottle, the girls could see small shells and pebbles floating around in lake water.

The girls ran up to where the adults were sitting around talking.

“Look what we found! Look what we found!” they exclaimed. Everyone gathered around to examine the bottle, which the girls decided to open. 

McMahon pulled the cork stopper out of the bottle and turned it over. The water, shells, pebbles and a small, rolled-up note dribbled out. 

The note from the bottle. Credit: Patrick McMahon

The note was still legible in spite of sharing such a small space with lake water. It was written in a foreign language the girls couldn’t decipher, but one all the adults knew how to read: cursive. 

This is what the note said: “They say time heals all wounds but this wound never healed ever since the day I had to say goodbye. If I would’ve known I had so little time I would’ve made every second count. Until we meet again.”

Underneath, the numbers “03/17” were written near a signature, possibly a name starting with the letter “K,” with what looks like a flourish underneath. 

There were so many unanswered questions: Who was the writer? Who was the letter for? What was the rest of the story? Where did the bottle begin its journey?  

Thea thought the writer started off sad, but was “a little happy” by the end.

A quick Google search showed that waterproof paper and ink are no longer reserved for James Bond types. Anyone can buy them now. 

The quote on the medallion, “Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures,” is attributed to Lovelle Drachman. A search of Drachman’s name results in nothing substantive, only examples of pithy quote on merchandise or blogs.

 As for the name in the signature, it’s unclear what it says.

With no more information to be gleaned, the bottle and its message may remain what Winston Churchill once called “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” 

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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  1. What a nice story. How about this idea… Take a few youngsters, put them in a locked room. Tell them they have 20 minutes to figure how to escape. The instructions are written in cursive, there is an analog clock on the wall, and a rotary phone they can use.

  2. Sad that people cannot read cursive…
    It is not a foreign language but the standard until schools quit teaching penmanship.
    Shame on the educationl system!!!!

  3. I was quite touched by the message in a bottle article about the three little girls that found it. That is a life lesson for them to always remember and cherish.

    The reason I was so touched was because my young son died tragically some years ago. I use to take my two children to Lake Michigan for vacations on the beach before my son died. It was a special treat for both of them.

    The message in the bottle had 3/17 and the letter K written on it. My son’s birthday was on 3/17, and my daughter’s name starts with a K. Even though it’s just a coincidence, it still was heartfelt to me.

    Thank you for printing your article.

  4. Such an exciting mystery for three little girls on summer vacation at the beach! Thank you for your report, Wendi.

  5. Thanks so much for this story, Wendy.
    My granddaughter and I sent a message in a bottle during Covid, probably summer or fall of 2020. We’re still hoping someone may find!