FRANKLIN FURNACE, OHIO —
Carmelita Haynes was 12 years old when she slid a couple of handwritten notes into a plastic Pepsi bottle, removed the label and tightened the cap with pliers before tossing it into a swollen creek in front of her home on Peter Fork Road in a Pike County hollow more than 25 years ago.
The forgotten message turned up on the banks of the Ohio River in Franklin Furnace last week, found by a man and his grandson as they collected trash along the waterway.
“I remember doing it. I even remember where I put it in at ... right here above where I live here,” Haynes, 38, of McCarr said Monday morning, recalling she used the larger bottle and strategically positioned her note inside so that anyone who picked it up could read it. “I remember taking the label off. It was a Mountain Dew bottle because that’s what we drank. No ... maybe it was a Pepsi because it was clear.”
Haynes said she was quite surprised when she read a note on her Facebook wall which began, “I know this sounds crazy,” and explained the message in a bottle had turned up far downstream more than 25 years later.
Haynes didn’t immediately remember what she’d written on the note, and said she was concerned she may have sent a message from the imagination of her 12-year-old self.
“I said, 'Please tell me that I didn’t write in there that I’m shipwrecked and come save me!' That was the first thing on my mind,” she said with a big laugh. Once reminded of the note’s contents, along with a simple request for a response from anyone who found it, Haynes said she was still a bit surprised. “It had my whole address on there and my phone number and where the holler was that I lived in. And, the number is the only thing that has changed. I still have the same box number.”
Haynes said she’s certain the creek near her home was up when she tossed in the bottle.
“Back years ago it wasn’t nothing to stick a note in a bottle and throw it in a creek,” she said, noting recycling hadn’t quite caught on back in those days. As the mother of a 14-year-old daughter, she chuckled and agreed she would probably be terrified to know her own daughter was putting such personal information out for whoever might happen to find it.”Today? Yes, I would be scared. I mean, gosh almighty, I could’ve been kidnapped or anything ... I put everything on there including the holler I lived at!”
With a chuckle, Haynes said her daughter, Destiny, was also excited about the story, although she encountered disbelief when she relayed the tale.
“She went to school at Belfry (High School) and told about it and nobody believed a word of it,” she said. “One teacher told her, ‘That can’t happen.’ One teacher said it could happen but another said it couldn’t.”
Haynes said she is “amazed” by her message-in-a-bottle’s journey.
“You sit and think how many floods it has been through,” she said, noting someone calculated the plastic bottle traveled about 115 miles, although she’s certain the distance was many miles further. The bottle’s potential path isn’t particularly easy to track, and a spokesman at nearby Fishtrap Lake State Park theorized it went from one of the many small streams in that area into the Tug River, which eventually brought it to the confluence with the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River at Louisa, where the Big Sandy River delivered it into the Ohio River.
The plastic vessel also contained a second note which was bound with a rubber band and in considerably worse shape than Haynes’ note.
“That one was from Susan Duty, one of my good childhood friends. We hadn’t talked in 10 or 13 years, so I got her number and called her Sunday. She’s a Spalding now and lives near Kermit. It was so good to talk to her. We were like sisters,” Haynes said, noting her childhood friend remembered the notes after a little gentle reminding.
“She remembered putting the rubber band around it,” Haynes said, later adding her friend’s note included encouragement for whoever found the note to “come up Peter Fork and ask anyone” where to find them.
Brian Dingus of Franklin Furnace said his 14-year-old grandson, Darian Lisath, needed to make some money so he put him to work collecting garbage from the nearby river bank.
“There’s so much garbage in the river and it all collects right here,” he said, explaining they live at the Holiday Point Marina.
“We were on our fourth or fifth garbage can full of garbage when he found it and said there was a note in the bottle. I didn’t really think there was. All of a sudden he started reading and I thought he was playing,” Dingus said, explaining he continued gathering trash while his grandson removed his gloves and fished the note from the bottle. “When he read the date I realized he was serious.”
Dingus said he entered Carmelita Haynes’ name in the search bar on Facebook “and she popped right up,” allowing them to discuss the lost message at length. Dingus and Haynes may get a chance to meet next month when he and friends attend a Rascal Flatts concert in Pikeville, and Haynes has offered to show them some of the historic sites near her home related to the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
Dingus said he still has the note and the bottle it came in, explaining his grandson wanted him to keep it.
“He said, ‘No Papaw. That bottle found this place and that’s where it needs to be.’ That choked me up a little bit.”
TIM PRESTON can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2651.