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Cast Away: 5 Amazing Stories of Messages in Bottles

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Whenever a message in a bottle is discovered on a beach or floating in the ocean, it feels like something out of a fairy tale. The idea that two people have made a connection that mathematics would say is virtually impossible gives us hope that life is more than a series of random events. Here are five stories of the almost unbelievable connections these messages have brought about.

1. A Ticket to Freedom

During a 1979 cruise to Hawaii, Dorothy and John Peckham passed the time by writing notes and throwing them overboard inside empty champagne bottles. They asked anyone who found one of their bottles to write them back, and even went so far as to include a $1 bill to cover the postage.

On March 4, 1983, John's 70th birthday, the couple received a letter from Hoa Van Nguyen. Nguyen, a former soldier in the Vietnamese Army, said he and his younger brother had found one of the Peckhams' bottles as the two men were floating 15 kilometers from the shore of Songkhla Province in Thailand. They were braving the waters of the Pacific in a small, shallow riverboat in order to escape the Communist regime in Vietnam.

When they saw the bottle, they felt as though a prayer had been answered, giving them the strength to carry on. After reading the letter, the Peckhams looked for Songkhla on a map and were shocked to find that the bottle had traveled 9,000 miles from Hawaii.

nguyen_peckhamThe Peckhams corresponded with Hoa for years, sharing in his joy when they received a photo from his wedding, then again nine months later when they saw his newborn son. But most of all, they empathized with Hoa's desire to give his family the best life he could. So when Hoa asked if the Peckhams could help his family move to the U.S., they didn't hesitate. After months of working with U.S. Immigration, the two families finally did meet in 1985, when a plane from Thailand landed in Los Angeles—the Nguyens' new home.

[Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.]

2. Love in a Bottle

Ake Viking was a lonely Swedish sailor who decided to place his search for love in the hands of fate. He wrote a simple letter "To Someone Beautiful and Far Away," corked it inside a bottle, and tossed it overboard in the hopes that it might help him find a young woman to marry.

Two years later, in 1958, he was surprised to receive a letter from a Sicilian girl, Paolina, who said, "I am not beautiful, but it seems so miraculous that this little bottle should have traveled so far and long to reach me that I must send you an answer"¦" The two began writing one another and, three years after he threw a bottle into the sea, Ake moved to Sicily to marry his very long-distance love.

3. A Soldier To Watch Over Them

josh-bakerWhen Josh Baker was 10 years old, he dumped an entire bottle of his mother's vanilla extract down the sink. He then wrote a quick note that said, "My name is Josh Baker. I'm 10. If you find this, put it on the news. The date is April 16, 1995." He stuffed the note inside the empty extract bottle and threw it into Wisconsin's White Lake.

Life went on and, after high school, Josh signed up for the Marines. During his tour of duty in Iraq, he survived the dangers of fighting door-to-door in Fallujah and made it back home to the U.S. safe and sound. Tragically, shortly after his homecoming, Josh was killed in a car accident, leaving his family and friends devastated and asking the obvious question, "Why?" A few months later, Steve Lieder and Robert Duncan, friends of Josh's, were walking on the banks of White Lake, when they saw something glimmer on the water. After fishing it out, they realized it was a vanilla extract bottle with a piece of paper inside.

To friends and family, the message from 10-year old Josh appeared when they needed it most. It felt as though he was reaching out, letting them know that he was watching, and trying to help them move on. This message of hope is currently displayed in the Bakers' home as a constant reminder that their son is still with them, even though he's gone.

[Image courtesy of CBS.]

4. The Right Fisherman

In 1999, Steve Gowan spotted something clinging to his fishing nets. It was a very old bottle containing two letters written by Private Thomas Hughes, dated September 9, 1914. The first message asked the person that found the bottle to forward the second message to Hughes' wife, Elizabeth. The note for Elizabeth was a nice, simple love letter, showing that his wife was in his thoughts as he made his way to France to fight in the early days of World War I.

emily_bottleAfter reading the letters, Gowan felt a great personal responsibility to see that they found their way home, even though he assumed Mrs. Hughes had died long ago. He began searching for her descendants and soon learned that Thomas and Elizabeth Hughes' daughter was still alive in Auckland, New Zealand.

Sadly, Hughes died in battle shortly after he wrote the letters, so he never got to see Elizabeth, nor his two-year old daughter, Emily, ever again. Due to her young age at the time of his death, Emily never knew her father, though she grew up listening to stories about him from her mother and cherishing his posthumously award medals. So when The New Zealand Post offered to send Gowan to Auckland to hand deliver the bottle to Emily, he jumped at the chance to help her connect to this lost piece of her past.

For Emily, the bottle was a great source of joy and comfort. She said her father's message couldn't come home "until the right boat came along at the right time with the right fisherman."

5. Laura Buxton, meet Laura Buxton

(Technically this isn't a "message in a bottle" story, but it's the same concept—and the story is simply too good not to mention it.)

In June 2001, Laura Buxton (almost 10) released a red balloon into the air over her hometown of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England. On one side of the balloon, she had written "Please return to Laura Buxton," and on the other side, her home address. A few weeks later, a man 140 miles away in Milton Lilbourne found the balloon stuck in the hedge that separated his farm from the next-door neighbors. He noticed Laura Buxton's name and address and immediately took the balloon to the neighbors' house, showing it to the 10-year-old girl who lived there...whose name was also Laura Buxton.

Laura Buxton from Milton Lilbourne wrote Laura Buxton from Stoke-on-Trent to let her know that she had found the balloon. Thinking this coincidence was simply too amazing to be true, they decided they had to meet in person. And that's when things got really weird.

On the day of the meeting, the two girls wore the same outfit "“ a pink sweater and jeans. The girls were the same height, which was unusual because they were both tall for their age. They both had brown hair and wore it in the same style. They both had three-year old black Labrador Retrievers at home, as well as gray pet rabbits. They both brought their guinea pigs, which were the same color and even had the same orange markings on their hindquarters. It was almost as though these two Laura Buxtons were the same person.

The strange events surrounding their meeting have helped the girls form a strong bond, and they remain friends eight years later. Both feel the circumstances that brought them together are too significant to be written off as mere coincidence.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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