March 22, 2008
Message in a bottle needs forwarding address
Pa. boy finds letter written in Cortland 25 years ago
Cameron Rought, 10, of Laceyville, Pa. holds a letter and bottle he found in the Susquehanna River. The letter was written by a boy in Cortland in 1983.
CORTLAND — While walking along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania with his neighbors on Tuesday, Cameron Rought noticed a glass bottle with something seemingly stuffed inside.
Inside the bottle was a letter written 25 years ago this May, a message that had traveled at least 50 miles.
“That’s pretty awesome,” the 10-year-old from of Laceyville, Pa., said of the experience in a telephone interview Friday afternoon.
But writing a return letter won’t be as easy — the boy who wrote the letter all those years ago provided only an incomplete address.
“Hey, lucky you, you’ve got a new pen pal,” the letter begins. “Write to me at: 15 Hickory, Cortland, NY 13045. I won’t sign my name, but I’m a boy.”
There are further details that reveal how the letter wound up in a river in Pennsylvania. The author wrote that that the bottle was thrown in the Tioughnioga River behind Yaman Park on May 11, 1983, and then the anonymous boy issued a challenge: “Figure it out!!”
Cameron’s mother, Gabrielle Rought, wrote an e-mail to the Cortland city clerk and asked for help doing just that. Deputy City Clerk Sherrie Massmann was intrigued and started her own search on Cameron’s behalf.
But Massmann had a problem — there is no “Hickory” in Cortland, only Hickory Park Drive and Hickory Lane. Massmann enlisted the help of County Clerk Betsy Larkin and the pair got to work.
The property has changed hands since then, Larkin said Friday, and she had to go back to the records from that time, when local developer Jim Yaman was just beginning to develop the neighborhoods in that area.
Hickory Lane hadn’t had any houses built on it by 1983, but Hickory Park Road had and Larkin found the owner of the house at that time, an Elizabeth A. Demers. Demers sold the home in 1987, and that’s when the trail grows cold — local directories don’t show any current holdings in Demers’ name, and an Internet search turned up at least 50 “Elizabeth Demers,” and listings with the same middle initial couldn’t be reached Friday.
The bottle traveled down the Tioughnioga River before being washed into the Chenango River at Chenango Forks, which in turn brought the bottle down to Binghamton, where it entered the Susquehanna River and eventually found its way to Cameron’s hands.
Gabrielle Rought said that the Susquehanna River had just begun to recede from a period of high water when Cameron found the bottle.
”We cleaned it up. We had a really tough time getting the top off,” of the glass Pepsi-Cola bottle, Gabrielle Rought said. The rubber band that bound the rolled-up piece of paper had begun to disintegrate and fell apart after it was removed, and the paper was yellowed, crumpled and didn’t smell all that great, Rought added.
“Cameron had taken it into school Wednesday and showed it off, and some of his teachers started researching it and couldn’t find anything,” Rought said. “It’d be pretty interesting, because whomever wrote it is probably as old as my son’s father now, and maybe he has kids and they would be interested.”
The local newspaper in Laceyville is also writing a story on Cameron’s find, and Gabrielle hopes the publicity will help turn up the original author.
Meanwhile, one of Cameron’s friends has written his own message in a bottle and Cameron himself went back down to the Susquehanna River with a Sprite bottle.
This time the recipient will have a name to go by if the Roughts move.
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