A man in Alaska found an Irishman's message in a bottle in 1964. Fifty-four years later, his granddaughter traveled to Ireland to solve the mystery of who sent it and what became of them. Many surprises, including a celebrity connection, were in store.
It's a story straight out of the movies. In 1964, Michael Perensovich, a wildlife biologist on a moose counting mission to the Yakutat region of Alaska, discovered a message in a bottle washed up on the shore.
"Finder please write John J. Fricker, 215 Sarsfield Road, Inchicore, Dublin 8th. Dropped into the Mid-Pacific Ocean April 7th 1963. From M/V Irish Rowan."
One year after finding the bottle, Perensovich wrote to the address but received no reply. Future letters were also met with silence, but the bottle continued to be a prized possession for him.
The granddaughter of a man who discovered a message in a bottle from a Dubliner on the shores of #Alaska more than half a century ago has come to #Ireland to track down the family of the #Inchicore man who wrote the note https://t.co/ZrKM7QKK0H— INVAS Biosecurity (@INVASBio) August 3, 2018
Perensovich is now 92 and lives in the city of Sitka on Alaska's Baranof Island. One of his grandchildren, Kari Perensovich, recently set out to see if she could solve the mystery.
On a trip to Ireland, she decided to go to the address in Inchicore and also shared her story with the Irish Times in hopes of it reaching someone who knew John J. Fricker.
"Everyone’s heard the story a million times so I was like, why hasn’t anybody tried this? I’m the first one to follow it up." she told the paper. "It sits on the mantle in his house and he sees it every day. It would mean the world to him if we could find the family."
And she did, over half a century after her grandfather first found the message.
With the help of the Irish Times, she learned that John "Jackie" Fricker died five years ago, but his living relatives were delighted to hear from Perensovich and were able to share the story of his life.
Per the Irish Times:
One of 10 children, Fricker trained as a chef in Paris before backpacking with friends across Europe. He then began working as a chef on board Irish Shipping cargo ships which brought him to the Pacific Ocean. A copy of the Irish Ships Signal newsletter from December 1963 confirms there was a cook on board the Irish Rowan cargo ship.
“He was a world class chef and when he wanted to change ships the crew would double his wages to get him to stay,” recalls Gerry Fricker, Jackie’s younger brother who still lives close to the family home.
“He was a really nice guy but he had a fiery temper. To meet him he was very gentle speaking. He travelled all over Europe working in hotels, he had a great life
Later in life, he owned a small shop in north Dublin and lived in the family home on Sarsfield street.
What's more, he was also a cousin of the revered Irish actress Brenda Fricker, who won an Oscar for her role as Christy Brown's mother in My Left Foot, alongside Daniel Day-Lewis.
My search resulted in an encounter with Gerry Fricker, the younger brother of the man who threw the bottle in Pacific Ocean more than half a century ago. Pick up a copy of @IrishTimes tomorrow for the full story. pic.twitter.com/IWW0W71xLy— Sorcha Pollak (@SorchaPollak) August 2, 2018
Jackie's brother described hearing from Perensovich as "like magic" and said that the surviving siblings were willing to meet with her.
Kari was thrilled, but nothing compares to her grandfather's delight.
"This won’t just make my grandpa’s day, it will make his life," she said.
It's thought that thousands of bottles containing messages are sent to drift every year, only about three percent are recovered.