top of page

Adam Phillips finds decades-old message in bottle from Mattituck High School

Adam Phillips was cleaning out his duck blind in Shinnecock Bay Thursday when a green glass bottle on a bed of seaweed caught his eye.

Back home on the Shinnecock reservation in Southampton, Phillips found a rolled-up paper inside. He tried delicately pulling out the note with tweezers, but when it seemed the old paper would tear, he had to crack the bottle open. 

As he looked at the paper, he wondered what far-off place it washed up from.

It turns out, not very far.

Dated October 1992, the note scribbled in pencil reads:

“Dear Finder, As part of an earth science project for 9th grade this bottle was thrown into the Atlantic Ocean near Long Island. Please fill in the information below and return the bottle 2 us. Merci, gracias, danke, thank you.”

It includes a return address to Shawn Magill, Ben Doroski and Mattituck science teacher Richard Brooks, plus postage of 19 cents.

Phillips, 32, said he was “fascinated” by the discovery. The outdoorsman regularly finds vintage bottles along the shore.

“You find all this cool stuff that’s been hidden in the marsh,” he said Friday. “It’s a little piece of history.”

He shared what he found in a Mattituck alumni group on Facebook that got thousands of reactions, igniting nostalgia for students who fondly recall the activity and their teacher, who died from Alzheimer's disease in September at 83.

“It’s such a testament to my dad and the impact that he had on generations of people,” his son John Brooks, 56, recalled Friday.

He said it comes at a "fragile" time as the family grieves Richard and his youngest daughter Heather, who died suddenly in her sleep weeks later. "It's just so heartwarming," he said.

Richard Brooks taught science in Mattituck for more than 30 years, coached girls volleyball, track and started a sailing team at the school, according to his obituary.

Every year, he’d have students release messages in bottles as part of a lesson on ocean currents.

John Brooks remembers doing the project as a student in his father’s class and said hands-on activities were his style.

Students shook up dirt and water in jars to learn about sediments, picked up litter on the roadside, examined rock carvings on an Orient beach and listened to Brooks sing silly songs to emphasize key points.

“Whatever got through to the students,” John Brooks said. “He loved the earth, digging in the dirt.”

Bottles released in Brooks’ class have turned up much further away.

Mattituck-Cutchogue superintendent Shawn Petretti recalled one popping up near the Azores around 2010.

“It immediately takes you down memory lane,” he said, recalling how Brooks routinely shared wisdom with him from the moment Petretti began as a substitute teacher in 1995.

He said earth science teachers still do the project in his memory.

Phillips said he’d like to return the bottle and has connected with Doroski and the Brooks family online. Doroski couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday, but remarked on social media that Brooks was “an awesome teacher.”

All marveled at how the bottle ended up in the bay.

“Thirty-two years later, and it finds its way home,” John Brooks said.

This spring, John, who lives outside of Dallas, is planning a fitting tribute in his dad’s honor. He’ll make a pit stop on Long Island on his way to his daughter’s college graduation in Massachusetts to release a message from the family into the waters his dad loved.

It’s now part of his legacy; floating at sea, far — and near.

62 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page