During the early 1930s, however, cold, hard cash — or rather, the promise of it — turned up on the beaches of Abaco.
In early November 1930, 17-year-old Marsh Harbour resident (and my great-uncle) Cuthbert Albury was walking along a Guana Cay beach when he spotted a pint bottle in the sand.
It contained a blue pamphlet, asking the finder to provide his name, address, date and location the bottle was found. Upon mailing the paper and these details back to New York, the sender would receive a $1 reward (the equivalent of about $16.30 today.)
Two weeks later, just south of Abaco, Zebedee E. Mackey of Bannerman Town, Eleuthera found another bottle. On the pamphlet he returned, he wrote, “I am an old man. Please send reward quick as possible.”
And in March 1931, Rebecca Mounts of Green Turtle Cay discovered a third bottle containing the same blue note.
The bottles, it turned out, were part of an experiment taking place 1,500 miles north in New York.
For years, increasing amounts of trash had been washing up on Long Island, NY beaches. In the early summer of 1929, the unsightly deposits of banana peels, watermelon rinds and various other household refuse — not to mention the accompanying stench — were so offensive, they threatened the local tourist industry.
The source of the mess was widely believed to be city garbage scows, dumping their loads closer to shore than the law permitted. On July 14, 1929, in an attempt to prove this theory, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle hired a lobster dory, Teona, to drop 400 bottles in the area where they believed the trash was being dumped.
In less than a day and exactly as predicted, the first bottle turned up on the Long Island seashore. Word of the find (and the promise of a reward) spread. Before long, hundreds of local residents gathered along the shore, searching for their own treasure.
More bottles would turn up on Long Island and, as time passed, they appeared further south along the New Jersey coast and at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
The Bahamian finds, a year and a half and 1,500 miles away, marked the furthest point south any of the bottles had travelled. And, as promised, the Daily Eagle promptly mailed $1 cheques to Albury, Mackey and Mounts.
Ultimately, the experiment proved successful. Shortly after the release of the bottles, the tide of trash ceased. The local Chamber of Commerce credited the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s investigation – which seemed to confirm the source of the dumping – with eradicating the garbage nuisance.