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Descendants of message in bottle writers meet on Harsens Island

by Candice Miller on July 24, 2013

July 22, 2013

Descendants of message in bottle writers meet on Harsens Island

By Christina Hall

Detroit Free Press

http://www.freep.com/article/20130619/NEWS05/306190026/Message-in-bottle

Patricia Leone remembered the stories her mother, Tillie Esper, told about not having a place to go swimming in Detroit while she was growing up.

 

How she often took a boat or a ship to go up to the islands and the river and the lake, presumably Lake St. Clair, for a summer outing.

 

But her mother never mentioned writing a June 30, 1915, message, “Having a good time at Tashmoo,” signing it with her friend, Selina Pramstaller, stuffing it in a bottle, corking it and tossing it into the St. Clair River, where it sank and stayed until its discovery 97 years later.

 

On Friday, Leone, 87, of Delaware saw the island (Harsens Island) her mother talked about and the message she wrote nearly a century earlier.

 

Leone recognized her mother’s signature — the beautiful handwriting that put everyone else’s to shame.

 

“It was like a piece of my mother coming back,” she said today. “It was exciting to see a lot of where her life was. It was really very special for me.”

 

On Saturday, she saw relatives she hadn’t seen in years and members of Pramstaller’s family, all of whom gathered on Harsens Island for Tashmoo Days, an event to celebrate the era when the Tashmoo steamship brought visitors to Tashmoo Park on the island for a day of fun that included swimming and dancing.

 

The event was attended by about 100 relatives from both women’s families and relatives of Donald McAlpine, the last captain of the Tashmoo, said Bernard Licata, president of the Harsens Island St. Clair Flats Historical Society.

 

He said nearly 2,000 people attended Tashmoo Days, with about 1,500 going through the museum to see the message in a bottle, which was on loan.

 

The bottle and message were discovered last year by diver Dave Leander. Licata’s attempt this year to find descendants of the message writers went global after a story appeared in the Free Press, resulting in this weekend’s meeting.

 

Relatives of the women were excited about the find and meeting on the island, including William Morrisroe, 83, of Warren, Pramstaller’s nephew.

 

“Knowing that the bottle was found and they were able to get in touch with me, it was quite a surprise,” he said. “It was a surprise and a very nice surprise.”

 

He said he enjoyed the day and seeing the bottle with Leone for the first time at Licata’s house on Harsens Island the night before, when powerful storms battered the island then left behind a full rainbow that stretched to Canada.

 

“It was very heartwarming,” Licata said, especially of the moment Leone touched and held the bottle with the message signed by her mother decades earlier.

 

He said the museum also benefited from the experience. While revenues and expenses are still being tallied, Licata believes the event ended on a positive financial note.

 

The museum also received a few donations including a watercolor of the Tashmoo steamer and framed tickets from the Put-in-Bay boat that traveled during that era, Licata said.

 

There also was a framed photo of the steamer from the Library of Congress from Rep. Candice Miller. Gov. Rick Snyder’s office provided a special tribute.

 

Other people, Licata said, discussed loaning artifacts to the museum, such as an anchor and propeller.

 

Pam Leander, whose husband found the bottle, connected many of the familial dots by talking with the relatives, gathering photos and putting together postcards for the event. She found out an interesting tidbit — which shows just how small the world really is — that one of McAlpine’s relatives lives only 30 minutes way from Leone.

 

“In some ways, this is the 100th anniversary for most people,” Leander said, but added that the 100th anniversary of the writing is only two years away and many of the relatives, such as Leone, are planning to return.

 

The historical society is still accepting donations to buy the building in which the museum is located. Donations may be sent to the historical society, P.O. Box 44, Harsens Island, MI, 48028.

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