A very brittle envelope rolled up on the outside of the message had a return address that said “Morrison-Knudsen Company & Associates, P.O. Box 1678, Grand Forks, North Dakota”.
The message inside reads: “9-19-1964. Meramec, Missouri. Thrown in the river at Jesses James hideaway cave, Meramec, Missouri 9-19-1964. Please write when found. H.J. Laine, Ontonagon, Michigan”
There is a picture of how I found it (a beautiful green glass bottle surrounded by snow).
Found by Melanie Cheney, Assistant Program Manager with Missouri River Relief, February 15, 2014 at 5664 Meramec Bottom Road • St. Louis, MO 63128 during a clean-up dubbed "the Untouched Floodplain since 1993 Cleanup" organized by the “Arnold Stream Team 211”.
Missouri River Relief is Stream Team #1875, and as such has developed working relationships with many like-minded organizations and Stream Teams across the state working on river clean-ups for the past 14 years.
Who is Missouri River Relief? Missouri River Relief is a community & equipment based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to connecting people to the Missouri River through hands-on river clean-ups, education events & stewardship activities. In its fourteen years of operation, Missouri River Relief has expanded its reach to more than 800 miles of the Missouri River, organizing events in communities stretching from Yankton, South Dakota all the way down to the confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Since 2001, we have organized 133 river clean-ups utilizing more than 20,000 volunteers, and removing more than 800 tons of trash (a million and a half pounds!) from the river.
In addition to organizing our own clean-ups, we travel with our boats & equipment to other people’s clean-ups, resulting in over 70 “Away Teams” we've participated in throughout the years.
The Arnold Stream Team 211 members are a very special group. We refer to them as the “Arnold Animals” because they are one of the toughest and most dedicated volunteer Stream Teams in the state. Every weekend, two guys in particular are out working on streams, dumps, water quality monitoring and mapping. A tire dump with 1,000 tires? No problem for the “Arnold Animals”. They will bring or get whatever resources are needed to get the job done. As we developed a relationship with these guys, namely, Brian Waldrop and Bernie Arnold from Arnold, MO they began coming to our clean-ups, and in turn, if they are organizing a clean-up, a few of us try to come to theirs.
211/MRR Classic Rock Star pose
So that is how a few of us River Relief’ers found ourselves in the Meramec Bottoms on a frgid February morning Even though there was still a little snow on the ground, and temperatures would barely reach above freezing, no way the “211” was backing off or canceling this event.
What intrigued me most was the “untouched floodplain” part of the clean-up. Whereas I am usually driving volunteers around on the Big Muddy in a boat, and picking up tons of “single-use” plastic bottles, this was a chance for me to romp around the woods, finding unique and very old treasures for River Relief’s future “Trash Museum” (We have been collecting stuff for awhile now and have found just about anything you could imagine out there). Finding treasures is actually one of the best things about picking up trash. You just never know what you’re going to find, some scary looking baby doll head or kids toy, a piano, a sign that simply says “Be Courteous”. Often times, someone will find a message in a bottle. But never one from 1964! I believe this is the oldest message in a bottle we have ever found, and by far the coolest!
After working for a good part of the day, my friend Laurie aka “Ready” Ferretti and I took off through the woods to go check out some of the ruins that had been left in this forgotten floodplain. There was an old truck, and lots of foundations from houses that once stood there. We were searching for the “stairway to nowhere” of which we found and took some pictures on. After we found the stairs, we saw a really cool looking foundation further back, with the chimney standing tall. It was here that we were hanging out and exploring, (I was thinking that this would be the greatest playground ever for a bunch of kids growing up here) that I looked down to see the green bottle peeking out of the snow, clearly with a message rolled up neatly inside.
Some of the other treasures I collected that day included a plastic mug from the 1982 World’s Fair, a baby sandal, a plastic whale and some really cool old glass bottles, pictured here:
The Arnold Stream Team 211 recruited me with their facebook event page found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/579393298812290/
Here was their description of the event: “This cleanup needs everyone's help. This land has been collecting trash since the Great Flood of 1993. There are 1000's of tires, hundreds of 50 gallon barrels, 3 boats, hot tubs, fuel-oil tanks, camper-shells, and a whole bunch of litter and trash. In some areas, you can walk across the trash without touching the ground. Yes, it is that bad.
This will be a two day cleanup, and still will not complete with this area. This will be a ongoing project for years, but we can make a large dent in the trash. With this amount of tires and barrels, the mosquito population is completely out of whack.
We will be having food on Saturday around the Noon hour and be parking in a small area past Butler Lakes and at Butler Lakes, then walking in to the site. Multiple dumpsters will be needed for this one.
**Look for the Stream Team Signs**
We could use ATV's and a Bobcat if you have them, possible with a trailer or two. This is also a good opportunity for Community Service for Scouts, church/school groups.”
It turned out to be a really successful clean-up, with a one 40 cubic yard dumpster crammed full of trash, plus many plastic and metal 55gallon drums kept out of the trash dumpster. Now, for the tires, we filled one dumpster with 27 passenger tires, 12 tractor trailer tires, 255 tires with rims and a whole pile of tires that still need to be loaded up in trailers on Monday. Just incredible the work these volunteers are doing.
River Clean-ups accomplish a few things effectively: they engage people proactively in stewardship of our water ways, often getting people out on the river for the first time. They also educate people about the problem of solid waste on our streams and rivers and physically bring interested parties together to accomplish something real. We don’t have to tell people how bad “single-use” items like plastic water bottles are for the environment – we show them. Clean water is something I think we can all agree on, it is quality of life. And we are proud to be a part of Missouri’s Stream Team program, of which there are nearly 5,000 in the state looking after and taking action on our waterways.
Anyone interested in learning more about Missouri River Relief should check out the website at: www.riverrelief.org. To connect with other Stream Teams or to sign-up for one yourself, check out www.mostreamteam.org.
More on the message: In the month following the finding of the message, a friend of a friend who writes for the River Hills Traveler and saw my photos on Facebook did some digging on the source of the message. Here is what she found:
For 50 years, the bright green glass bottle survived the worst the Meramec
River could throw at it. Ontonagon is a town of 1,500 people, many of Finnish
descent, who migrated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to mine iron
In a town of that size, surely someone would know something. Several
evenings of internet sleuthing proved futile. We’ve forwarded a digital copy
of this note to the historical society in Ontonagon, and to the genealogical
society. So far, no answers.
Cheney sent a digital copy of the message to Traveler, which we forwarded
to Maureen Guseck, editor of the weekly Ontonagon Herald. She agreed
to run an item in her paper.
Within a week we found out that a Mr. Uuno J. Laine was buried in the
Riverside Cemetery. Looking at the message again-- yes the first letter was
a squared off U, not an H. Born 1911, died 1973 in Ventura, California.
Morrison-Knudsen no longer exists, but used to be a construction engineering
We’ve got a few more fishing lines out, still seeking more info on the author
of the message in the bottle, which miraculously survived 100 miles and
50 years, just to be found, and in the finding, create more questions than had
it stayed entirely obscure.