March 4, 2024

A French man stumbled upon a handwritten message in a bottle that washed up on the beach on the western shores of the country — 26 years after the bottle was tossed into the sea by a Massachusetts fifth grader.

“It’s crazy to think it took that long for someone to find it,” Carol Archambeault, an English teacher in the Sandwich, Massachusetts, public school district told Fox News Digital.

“The bottle is so old, I can see why people are so interested in it,” she added.

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The faded letter, addressed “Dear Beachcomber,” was penned by Benjamin Lyons, a fifth grader at Forestdale School in Sandwich.

Dated October 1997, the letter was written as part of a science unit on ocean currents led by teacher Frederic Hemmila. 

Frederic J. Hemmila and Carol Archambeault message in a bottle

Frederic J. Hemmila and Carol Archambeault taught together at Forestdale School in Sandwich, Massachusetts, in the 1990s. (Carol Archambeault)

Hemmila was not immediately available to respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.

“It was a culminating activity after studying ocean currents and tides,” said Archambeault, his teaching counterpart. “They were trying to see where the letters would end up, where the currents would take them.” 

In the letters, students provided their names, the date they wrote the letters, and where they attended school in Sandwich.

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Fifth grader Lyons wrote that he thanked the finder for being “kind enough” to pick up the bottle. 

He explained that his class was studying currents and dropped the bottles in Nantucket Sound — hoping that whoever found it could answer a few questions.

message in a botte ben lyons

Seen here is a photo of the message in a bottle, as returned by Hubert Erie, 71, of France. (Brandy Clifford, Oakridge School, Sandwich, Massachusetts)

Hemmila had a friend, Archambeault remembered, who was a boat captain.

Each year, Hemmila’s friend took the bottles and cast them into the ocean — a practice that was suspended a few years later so as not to contribute to marine litter, according to Archambeault.

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“Now, of course, we know that’s not so eco-friendly,” Archambeault said. 

message in a bottle please return

These are photos of the message in a bottle, as returned by Hubert Erie, 71, of France. (Brandy Clifford, Oakridge School, Sandwich, Massachusetts)

“But at that time, it was a very exciting activity. The kids would wait to see if they had any answers,” she added.

In his message in a bottle, Lyons included a few questions in case a person eventually found it: “Where did you find the bottle? What condition was it in? Was there anything around the bottle besides water and rocks? How did you find it?”

Fox News Digital’s attempts to contact Lyons, who would be in his mid-30s by this time, were unsuccessful.

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Archambeault said Hemmila and his students went to great lengths to seal the bottles in the hope they would make it to faraway shores with the letters still intact.

“I know that [they] sealed them with wax so they’re found in pretty good condition,” Archambeault said.

please open message in a bottle

The students sealed the bottles with wax so that if anyone found them, the written messages inside would still be intact.  (Brandy Clifford, Oakridge School, Sandwich, Massachusetts)

She went on, “The one the gentleman found in France was in decent condition because no water had gotten into the bottle in 26 years.”

Last month, a brown package arrived at Forestdale School, addressed to “Mr. Benjamin Lyons.” 

That was very puzzling to school administrators.

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“So it came here and our secretaries were looking him up in PowerSchool [a classroom attendance and management tool], trying to find out who this kid is,” Brandy Clifford, assistant principal at another local school, Oak Ridge, told Fox News Digital. 

Clifford went on, “It came through inner-office mail. They thought he was a current student, but they didn’t know who he was.”

At a loss, administrators decided to open the envelope. They found a note inside, written in French.

In August 2023, fisherman Hubert Eriau, 71, was picking up trash along a beach when he came upon an old bottle that had washed ashore. 

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He opened it — and did exactly what the sender requested.

“Hello Sir, Bottle found on a sandy beach in Les Sables-d’Olonne, Vendée, France on 19 August 2023,” the letter read. 

message in a bottle reply

Fisherman Hubert Eriau, 71, was picking up trash on a beach when he came upon an old bottle that had washed ashore. After opening it, he wrote a letter to the school in Massachusetts where the message inside the bottle was written by a student roughly 30 years ago. (Brandy Clifford, Oakridge School, Sandwich, Massachusetts)

“I was at the beach and as I was walking along, picking up trash on the beach, it was like it was there for me to find the bottle. It had several barnacles collected on it,” Eirau’s letter, which was translated from French to English for Fox News Digital, continued.

The package included a picture of Eirau and also contained the original letter from Lyons. 

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That’s when everyone in the fairly small town of Sandwich began putting it together.

“They were over the top, just so excited about this,” Clifford said. 

message in a bottle benjamin lyons

These are photos of the message in a bottle, as returned by Hubert Erie, 71, of France. (Brandy Clifford, Oakridge School, Sandwich, Massachusetts)

“Once I saw the name, I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I was having dinner with his parents two days from then.”

Archambeault did not have Lyons in class — but said she taught his sister and brother. 

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“So I’m familiar with the family,” Archambeault said. “I definitely knew as soon as they said it was Ben Lyons.”

Hemmila’s students’ messages have provided pop-ups of excitement over the years, according to Archambeault.

message in a bottle split

The message written by Lyons says, in part: “Please return. Where did you find the bottle?” (Brandy Clifford, Oakridge School, Sandwich, Massachusetts)

“It’s been a really long time since one has been found,” Archambeault said. 

“Obviously a bunch would wash up on Cape Cod,” she added. 

“I know that we had several in France, so obviously something in the currents must lead that way. And I’m pretty sure we had one returned from Greenland. So, they’ve traveled really far and the people that find them are so gracious to reach out and write back.”

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