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In the 1979, the rock band The Police released their song “Message in a Bottle,” and in it, the lead singer, Sting, croons the lyrics:

I’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle

Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home

 

The Police’s song was ultimately about loneliness, isolation, and the universally common need for human connection. The theme feels timeless. Not only did the lyrics ring true in 1979, similar sentiments have likely been true for as long as messages have been sent in bottles which means they were certainly true in August of 1882 when a message in bottle was found on the shores of the Tennessee at Paducah. The message read thusly:

July 26, 1882.

To the young gentleman who finds this: Please except [sic] my compliments. I am 5 feet 2 inches; weight, 121; light hair, blue eyes. Answer soon as found.

Florence Miles/Paducah, Ky.  

 

So, given only her words, what is your first impression of Miss Miles letter? Do you find them desperate? Forlorn? Or maybe you see them as playful, flirtatious, and hopeful? Perhaps her efforts can be viewed as bold since she threw caution to the currents. Or maybe they’re more apt to be passive as she left her love life up to fate.

 

The Paducah Daily News, the paper that reported the message, had their own take. Firstly, they doubted the truthfulness of the writer, stating, “Her size is captivating, but then the name; it is too suggestive of a tramp.” The word “tramp” in this sense is akin to hobo.

 

But if from a true source, the Daily News went on to further ridicule the sender for both her misuse of the word ‘except’ and for her forwardness. The paper said, “Secure yourself a ‘blue back’ speller and a book on discretion, Florence, and study both intently. It will do you good.”

 

It sounds as if the Daily News was not convinced there was a real Florence Miles, and in checking the 1881-1882 City Directory on our Local and Family History shelves, no one with the last name of Miles fits the description of the person in the message. But this doesn’t necessarily mean she didn’t exist. Perhaps she was staying with a relative who had a different last name. Or she was a student. Or she lived just outside the city limits so she wasn’t listed in the directory.

 

We may not ever know if Florence Miles was real or not. But does it really matter? The message was real, and that’s  good enough for me.

 

–Matt Jaeger

 

*The accompanying photo is from Wikimedia Commons. It is not the actual message in a bottle from 1882.