The message read:
"Onboard the sloop Michigan, September 29, 1895. To whom it may concern: We are in a storm and our sloop cannot weather it, as she is shipping water at every sea, and she is filled with water between decks, the cabin being flooded."
The author of the note was one Owen Reynolds, from Grand Haven.
"We lost our sails and dingy this morning while off South Haven (Michigan) as we were trying to reach shore, being about three miles out at sea at that time," the message continued. "Our party left Grand Haven on Thursday, the 26th, for a week's sail around Lake Michigan."
Reynolds wrote that in addition to himself, aboard the ship were George A. Stewart and his wife from New York, Arnold Kennett of Milwaukee, and Miss Mamie Kane of Chicago.
"This note is written knowing full well we are doomed, and with the hopes that it may be washed ashore, we have given up on all hopes of seeing our homes and friends again," Reynolds’ note concluded.
Two boys who found the message in the bottle brought it to Henry W. Allison, who then sent a telegraph to his brother in Grand Haven "with the request that he take steps to ascertain, if possible, whether the parties mentioned in the letter are known there," one newspaper reported.
Allison was acquainted with Arnold Kennett, but a mystery unfolded as to who the author of the message, Owen Reynolds, was. An inquiry also discovered the sailing vessel, The Michigan, had not sunk as the "doomed" letter had suggested.
The Michigan, which first set sail October 19, 1874, endured several beachings over the following decades and was routinely repaired. It sank in Lake Superior on October 2, 1901, and no one in Grand Haven seemed to know an "Owen Reynolds."
"There were several Owen Reynolds who lived in the area (Muskegon and Fruitport), but were born just before 1895 or just after and could not have been even a teenage passenger in 1895," local historian Wallace Ewing said. "There is no recorded birth of an Owen Reynolds at any time between 1867 and 1902 in Ottawa County."
Soon after the message in the bottle was found, newspapers began to report it "was a fake."
Whether a joke contrived by the boys who claimed they found it, or some other party who tossed the bottle into the lake, remains unknown.
What is curious is that a man named Owen — John Emory Owen — had previously owned The Michigan. In 1886, when the vessel sprung a leak, it was rescued and towed to port by a tugboat named Owen. But, apparently, "Owen" Reynolds, said to be the author of the infamous farewell-at-sea note, never existed.