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Message in jar washes ashore in North Dakota

Brenda Staples displays the jar with a note inside that she found last week while walking in the woods on her farm in Harwood. David Samson / The Forum

Harwood, N.D. - As a collector of junk, Brenda Staples often walks on her property along the Sheyenne River looking for treasures.

Last week, she made a noteworthy discovery when she picked up a jar containing a message, written neatly in capital letters:

"Whoever finds this note please send a letter to Clay Chose, Fort Ransom, N. Dak. Tell me your name, where you live and where you found the bottle. I would appreciate it very much. Thank you."

In cursive, it was signed "Clay Chose, Fort Ransom, N. Dak."

Staples and her family searched for Chose on the Internet and found him in Lisbon.

Chose, 57, vaguely remembers writing the note, but figures he did it more than 40 years ago when he attended grade school in Fort Ransom.

Staples, who farms and is an on-call nurse for North Dakota State University Student Health Service, lives on a 10-acre farmstead that has about 20 acres of woods behind it. The property has been in her family since 1952.

Each year when the Sheyenne River floods, it brings with it bottles, cans and debris onto their land, Staples said.

Sometimes she'll find a glass Coke bottle or an antique hinge that she'll clean up and save.

"I love finding old stuff and collecting it," Staples said. "I think it tells so much history to find a piece of something. I usually tend to save everything I find."

Staples was with her oldest son, David, 17, about a week ago clearing debris from their cross-country ski trails when she spotted a jar beneath some branches.

The small, glass jar with a rusty lid had a folded piece of paper inside, about three-quarters of an inch wide. Her family thinks it may have been a mustard or honey jar.

The lid was sealed tightly, and Staples struggled to get it open, even trying to break the glass on the concrete.

She eventually got the lid off and pulled out a brittle, yellowed piece of paper.

"No water could have seeped into it because it's written in pencil," Staples said.

Her first indication that the letter was old was the state abbreviation "N. Dak."

"Who knows where it's been or who had it in their backyard," Staples said.

After Staples' family helped her find Chose's phone number, she called him last week to tell him of the discovery.

Chose, a contractor and part-time building code administrator for the city of Lisbon, said he was surprised by the phone call and ever since he's been trying to remember when he put the jar in the river.

"It was kind of a fun thing to hear," Chose said. "To have somebody actually follow up on it is kind of neat."

Chose recalls going on many hikes near the Sheyenne River while attending grade school in Fort Ransom. He figures he likely put the jar in the river as part of a science class in the early to mid-1960s.

"It's been through a lot of ice and a lot of different seasons that bottle, when you think about it," Chose said.

Harwood is nearly 90 miles northeast of Fort Ransom.

Staples said she plans to meet Chose when she is in the Lisbon area and wants to give him the letter.

"The neat thing is it stayed in tact," Staples said. "To find it after that many years, that's pretty cool, I think."