An email correspondent asked me if the following story could be true:
Paolina and Ake Viking were married in Sicily in the autumn of 1958, thanks to a far-traveling bottle. Two years earlier Ake, a bored young Swedish sailor on a ship far out at sea, had dropped a bottle overboard with a message asking any pretty girl who found it to write. Paolina's father, a Sicilian fisherman, picked it up and passed it to his daughter for a joke. Continuing the joke, Paolina sent off a note to the young sailor. The correspondence quickly grew warmer. Ake visited Sicily, and the marriage soon followed their first meeting. Initially, I was skeptical, because of the large number of hoaxes involving messages-in-bottles (See here and here). But it turns out that the story of Ake and Paolina is true.
The tale was widely reported in the news back in the late 1950s. A 1959 article in The American Weekly titled "Love in a Bottle" told the story in more detail and actually included a few pictures of the happy couple, in one of which (shown above) they were posing at the spot where she found the bottle. Here's the text of the American Weekly article:
Ake, a Swedish sailor, relieved his tedium at sea one day in 1955 by writing a letter. "To Someone'Beautiful and Far Away," he poetically inscribed it. After giving his home address and a brief description of himself, he added, "Write to me, whoever you are," and signed his name. With that, he tucked the paper into an empty bottle of aqua vitae, replaced its cork and tossed it overboard. Two years went by. Then, on his return from another voyage, he found a letter, postmarked Syracuse, Sicily. The message was in Italian, which one of his shipmates obligingly translated. It was from a 17-year-old girl, who wrote: "Last Tuesday, I found a bottle on the shore. Inside was a piece of paper, bearing writing in a strange language. I took it to our priest, who is a great scholar. He said the language was Swedish and, with the help of a dictionary, he read me your charming letter. I am not beautiful, but it seems so miraculous that this little bottle should have traveled so far and long to reach me that I must send you an answer ..." Other letters, consigned to ordinary post, followed the first two. Photographs were exchanged and, finally, vows. Ake set sail for Syracuse and now, together, he and his pretty, if not beautiful, correspondent, who has just turned 18, are embarked on the sea of matrimony.