Message in a bottle finds owner after 30+ years

By Patrick Cronin
pcronin@seacoastonline.com
July 26, 2011 2:00 AM
HAMPTON — When Paula Pierce heard a 26-year-old English tutor at the University of Kentucky may have found an old message in a bottle that referenced her late mother, she was overwhelmed with emotion.

“It feels as if my mom is reaching out to me,” said Pierce. “She’s been gone for 31 years and when I heard about this, it was eerie.”

That’s because Pierce and her cousin “were just reminiscing about old times and our mothers the night before,” she said.

Pierce — the current owner of the Beachcomber Motel — was interviewed shortly after a story appeared in Seacoast Sunday about Clint Buffington, a self-proclaimed message-in-a-bottle hunter.

Buffington seeks out messages stuffed in bottles that wash ashore on beaches, tracks down the sender and then writes a blog about his finds and the people he meets on his Web site, messageinabottlehunter.wordpress.com.

His recent find, on the islands of Turks and Caicos, was an old Coca-Cola bottle with a message that led him all the way to Hampton Beach.

The message reads “Return it to 419 Ocean boulevard and resieve (sic) a reward of $150 from Tina, owner of Beachcomer (sic).”

While Buffington discovered the Beachcomber Motel was in Hampton and was once owned by Tina and Paul Tsiatsios, he thought he reached a dead end.

He learned Tina had died from information he had read in documents from a 1999 state Supreme Court court case that concerned the ownership of the motel after Paul’s death.

Pierce said Tina was her mother and she died in 1980 after a courageous battle with cancer.

But after reviewing the handwriting, she doesn’t believe the message was written by her.

“My mother would never misspell ‘receive’ or ‘the Beachcomber,'” Pierce. “She was a perfect speller.”

She believes the writer was actually her brother Charlie, who died in 2010.

“It looks like Charlie’s writing and something he would do,” Pierce said. “He was a prankster and was probably doing it as a joke on my mother. But he was a good speller as well. Maybe he purposely misspelled the words to throw her off.”

Pierce said Charlie was also a big drinker of Coca-Cola.

“He loved Coke and for the message to be in a bottle of Coke, it’s classic,” Pierce said. “It’s my family’s M.O. (method of operation).”

The age of the message is unknown.

However, Pierce says it would have to have been written between 1960 and 1980, the year the family bought the Beachcomber and the year her mother died.

“I wish I could figure out how old it was,” Pierce said.

Still, the blast from the past put a smile on her face, especially now when only she and brother George are still alive.

Her family has owned the Beachcomber motel since 1960, when her father purchased it on a whim.

Pierce was 7 years old when she and her dad took a walk to Bridge Realty.

“The next thing I remember is him telling my mother they were going to buy a motel,” Pierce said. “He didn’t say, ‘Do you want a buy a motel?’ Just, ‘We are buying a motel.'”

Pierce said one of the main reasons her dad bought the place was because its street address, 419 Ocean Blvd., symbolized her mother’s birthday, April 19.

Her mother, she said, ran the hotel and was a stickler for cleanliness.

“She would clean and not even break out in a sweat,” Pierce said. “She was a real lady and she worked hard and she remembered every customer’s name.”

Pierce has been running the motel for the last 10 years and tries to run it just like mother did.

“It feels strange to be doing what my mother did,” said Pierce. “We lost the motel for a while and we were not sure if we would ever get it back.”

From 1990 to 1999, Pierce, along with her brothers instigated a legal case against their father’s second wife after they lost the hotel after their dad died in 1990.

Their legal position maintained their dad had promised them that if they worked without compensation at the motel, he would give them the property after his death.

A jury agreed, and after many appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, they were given back the property.

“We made case law in the state of New Hampshire,” said Pierce.

Buffington said every time he finds a message in a bottle he asks the same questions: Who writes them? Why are they written? How far do the bottles travel before being washed upon a beach? How long does it take for the messages to be found? Meeting the senders, he said, is the only way to find out those answers.

“Personally, the biggest motivation for me is meeting these people who are total strangers and finding out their stories,” Buffington said.

When asked what her mother would have said if someone ever did come knocking on her door to collect the $150, Pierce laughed.

“She would stand their with hands on her hip and say ‘now wait a minute,'” Pierce said. “She would get a laugh out of it, but she would certainly not pay them any money.”

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