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Austinite finds 44-year-old message in a bottle, tracks down writer

Stock photo of the Alaskan coast. (Shutterstock)

In his third brown bear hunting trip to Alaska, Austin resident Jack Suh came across a piece of history.


On the south side of the Alaskan peninsula, he found a bottle with a note in it on the beach. The letter, typed with a typewriter, was dated 1977 and written by 11-year-old Butch Zimmerman. It told the story of his life, giving details on his dad, who was in the Coast Guard and his mom, who didn't have a job at the time. He said his sisters were named Marci and Lisa and his German Shepard-collie mix was named Rex.

Though Suh had little to go off to track down the sender, he took to the internet to find Zimmerman. Through Zimmerman's mother's obituary, Suh connected with the family.

Zimmerman thought it was a scam at first but he knew no one would know that information written in the letter. He told KTUU in Alaska he remembers the day he wrote the letter and tossed it into the harbor off Kodiak Island. His sisters, now Lisa Bontempo and Marci Holder, didn't know their brother wrote that letter. All three were shocked the bottle had survived the rough waters; Suh said it was in good condition when he found it with the note just a little damp.

The note brought back fond memories for the three siblings they say. All three now live in North Carolina.

"It's a piece of mom and dad, you know? And it's a piece of our memory of good times. Being in Alaska, being a family, being together," Zimmerman told KTUU. "When I got the letter I went back in my mind and I could picture that day just walking out to the back of the ship and throwing it overboard."

Suh says the experience is now a memory for him and asked only one thing in return for sending the letter back to Zimmerman: a photo of the three siblings holding the note.

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