50-Year-Old Message in a Jar Surfaces After Sandy

By Kristi Funderburk | Asbury Park Press
|  Sunday, Aug 18, 2013  |  Updated 11:40 AM CDT
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50-Year-Old Message in a Jar Surfaces

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Fifty years ago, a 12-year-old boy named Dennis Komsa wrote a note, sealed it in a glass jar, and cast it into the Atlantic Ocean while he was in Seaside Heights on vacation with his family.

About a week after Superstorm Sandy hit, Norman Stanton was wading through storm debris outside his sister's home in that Ocean County community when he noticed a glass jar that sat away from the other trash. He propped it on the deck and got back to work.

Whether buried in the sand or under the boardwalk, the jar that Komsa threw in the water was long forgotten. That is, until Sandy found it.

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After five decades, the jar ended up about two-tenths of a mile from the spot on Sampson Avenue where it was cast in 1963. The Ball mason jar carrying a note, a 1958 nickel and an envelope with a return address got caught in the superstorm's surges and rode the waves into Sharon Roher's driveway on the first block of Kearney Avenue.

It looked like it was meant to be found,'' Stanton, 53, of Chalfont, Pa., told the Asbury Park Press.

The note Stanton found and shared with his older sister, Roher, 60, was written on Saturday, Aug. 16, 1963. Inked neatly in blue, all-capitalized letters, it read:

To whom it may concern, Please fill out the following questions and mail. This is a scientific experiment by Dennis Komsa, age 12.''

It included his Paterson address and noted that 5 cents was enclosed to buy the stamp needed to reply.

Here's what Komsa wanted to know:

Where was the jar found?

When was it found?

How was it found?

"Anything else which might help me?''

Komsa, now 61 and living in Hillsborough, was a little surprised to learn this experiment he started in 1963 had been recovered.

"Things happen for a reason. I guess it's good it came to shore. It shows anything is possible,'' he said.

On Saturday, Komsa got to meet the people who found the jar and finally get the answers to his questions.

The borough hosted a luncheon in honor of its 100th birthday this year. Arthur Fierro, president of the Property Owners Association in Seaside Heights, found Komsa and invited him as a guest to meet Roher and Stanton.

Fierro, 73, said the area would have been hit by major storms and hurricanes that September after Komsa cast out the jar, and guesses it became buried in the sand until Sandy dug it up.

"It's great that somebody from that period is coming back to visit us to recover something he did with his father on vacation,'' he said.

Fierro plans to return the items to Komsa, who said he is looking forward to having back a piece of his childhood.

"My father and I used to do stuff like that all the time,'' Komsa said.

Komsa called to see if his jar broke any Guinness World Records, but learned his would have had to stay buried another half century.

The current record is for a bottle found in 2012 by a fisherman from the United Kingdom after it spent 97 years and 309 days at sea, according to the Guinness records website.

Roher was still recovering from Sandy when she first learned about the piece of history in her driveway. While the storm spared her high-seated home, four feet of water destroyed her two rental units.

The day the jar caught Stanton's eye, he joined Roher and Roher's 33-year-old son, Nathan, and took a bus over to the barrier island to start what would be a massive cleanup effort.

Ultimately, for Roher, the jar was another interesting anecdote in the aftermath of a horrific experience.

Ask about the jar and she will also talk about getting to meet Britain's Prince Harry during a visit in Seaside Heights and doing an interview with Vinny Guadagnino of "Jersey Shore'' fame when the show's network, MTV, taped a Sandy special.

"I think it's kind of nice to have something like that in the middle of all the chaos,'' Roher said.

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