112-Year-Old Message in a Beer Bottle Found Inside Wall at New Jersey University

Eric Todisco

A demolition worker in New Jersey is opening up about uncovering a century-old message in a bottle at Montclair State University.

Robert Kanaby told CNN and News 12 New Jersey that he found the 112-year-old letter inside a beer bottle back in February while taking down a wall in the university’s College Hall building.

“It’s a very old brick wall, about 14 feet with three layers of brick,” he told CNN. “So I was going brick by brick with a tool.”

As Kanaby continued to chip away at the wall, he made a shocking discovery.

“All of a sudden I hit an unusual void in the wall,” he told News 12 New Jersey. “My chipping gun went in and I heard glass breaking.”

When Kanaby cleared the debris, he found the legible letter, which read, “This is to certify that this wall was built by two bricklayers from Newark, N.J., by the names of William Hanly and James Lennon, members of No. 3 of the B.M.I.U. of America.”

Montclair State University
Montclair State University

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Kanaby then decided to bring the note to Sharon Mahoney, the university’s director of construction management, who was shocked by the century-old discovery.

“Amazing to think, if he started chipping a few feet in either direction, the bottle may have been inside a wall section which was taken down in one piece and may never have been found,” Mahoney told CNN.

Since the discovery was made in February, officials at the school have been researching the identity of the two men who authored the letter.

According to CNN, the school used a 1920 census and found a William J. Hanly, who was 33 at the time and lived on Central Avenue in Newark. In a 1930 census, they found a bricklayer named James Lennon, born around 1875, who also lived in Newark.

Montclair State University
Montclair State University

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Mike Zanko, the university’s associate vice president for capital planning and project management, told CNN that the school is planning to exhibit the letter and the bottle, along with other artifacts that were discovered during the renovation.

“The two men who placed it with him our original building, College Hall, are part of our community forever. So we want to let any descendants of them know, that they are a part of our community as well,” Andrew Mees of Montclair State University told News 12 New Jersey.

The university has searched for living relatives of both Hanly and Lennon but to no avail.