A message in a bottle holds the answer.
Kelly Palazzi of South Hackensack is a regular volunteer at the Hackensack Riverkeeper's river cleanups. She usually just picks up garbage, but last weekend, she also discovered a mysterious letter in a bottle at Laurel Hill Park.
The bottle is dirty, and the letter inside disintegrates little by little every time the bottle is moved or the paper is touched.
Captain Bill Sheehan, the executive director of the local Riverkeeper environmental organization, had taken a few of his volunteers for a ride on his Edward Abbey pontoon boat to the salt marshes to collect trash. In the midst of the work, Palazzi noticed a bottle with a letter in it.
She said, "It was just lying there. I yelled out 'I found a message in a bottle!' "
She placed the bottle in a hardhat she was carrying around. She usually uses the hat to collect balls she finds. She cleans them up and then recycles them by giving them away.
She said, "When I got back onto the boat, everyone said 'Read the message in the bottle.' I wanted to take the message out, but it started to disintegrate. So I thought I would wait to get on land and see if it dries."
She added, "By that time, I kind of figured that this thing is 31 years old. This paper is not drying out. It's just too fragile, so I just left it in the bottle."
She placed the bottle in her car for the rest of the cleanup. The bottle is now at her house.
The letter is hard to read. It's scrolled around inside the bottle, so only a few words can be read at a time. Plus, every time the bottle moves, pieces of paper fall off.
Palazzi said the letter appears to be a time capsule capturing events from the year 1973.
From what can be read from the message, it says: "At this time...a political...gate and there is a...laboratory orbiting the earth...the best actor and actress...Marlon Brando...Best Book Jonathan Livingston Seagull....Best Rock group - Beatles Best Song...black-white-Jew-Arab."
Palazzi hopes she can make some sense out of these words once the letter is safely removed from the bottle.
In 1973, the year this letter is believed to be from, the Beatles released two "best of" albums, "The Beatles 1962-1966" and "The Beatles 1967-1970." In 1973, Marlon Brando did win a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture (drama) for "The Godfather." The U.S. Skylab program was launched on May 14, 1973 as part of the first experimental space station.
Palazzi is attempting to reach the person who wrote the letter. She believes his name is Stewart O'Hara and he was 20 years old and may have lived in Lyndhurst. He should be approximately 51 years old now. She plans to hand the bottle over to him.
Local information had no listing for a Stewart O'Hara.
Not the first time
This is not the first time a letter in a bottle has been found at a Hackensack Riverkeeper clean up. A bottle was found at a cleanup at the Oradell Reservoir earlier this year.
According to Kathy Urffer, operations director, the letter was dated Sept. 16, 1999 and referenced Hurricane Floyd. The letter also made one request: That the finder attempt to contact the writer. People from the Riverkeeper organization have attempted unsuccessfully to reach the author.
With the exception of the discovery of the letter in the bottle, it was business as usual for volunteers at the clean up. The organization provided trash bags, pick-up sticks and gloves. Some of the volunteers worked the riverbank at the park. Others took canoes to clean up the marshes.
Meanwhile, Captain Bill Sheehan drove his pontoon boat Edward Abbie to land Boy Scouts onto the opposite riverbank, where they collected so many trash bags that they filled up a 20-yard Dumpster provided by the Secaucus Department of Public Works.
After all the work was done, Sheehan treated volunteers to Natoli's pizza.
The Boy Scouts received a trip through the Sawmill Creek wildlife management area as a special thank you from Capt. Sheehan.
Hackensack Riverkeeper has two final river cleanups scheduled for 2004: on Sept. 25 at Staib Park in Hackensack, and on Oct. 2 at Kenneth B. George Park in River Edge. Contact Kathy Urffer for more information at (201) 968-0808.