Woman wins contest 24 years later

OCEAN CITY, N.J. - December 2, 2009

It was called the Message in a Bottle contest. The bottle hit the water off Ocean City, New Jersey. It took 24 years to make its way 300 miles to Duck, North Carolina. It washed up after a nor'easter two weeks ago; someone spotted it, and followed the directions written almost a quarter century earlier.

It's been 24 years, but Heidi Mozzo remembers that July back in 1985. It was long before she moved to where she lives now in Claymont, Delaware and started a family with her husband. Back then, she was still Heidi Kay Werstler from Earlville, Pennsylvania; she was just 6-years-old and needed her mother's help to fill out the form.

"I was a little girl. We vacationed in Ocean City every year and my mom entered me in this contest," Heidi said.

Contestants filled out a message with their name and contact information and had to find a bottle to carry it. The one that traveled the farthest was the winner.

"I remember asking vendors on the boardwalk for any type of bottle," Heidi said.

The deadline for the contest was a month later on August 1, 1985. However, Heidi's bottle had its own plans. It turned up two weeks ago in North Carolina.

A worker at an Outer Banks resort opened the bottle sealed tightly by Heidi's father 24 years prior and called the number for the Ocean City public relations office.

"We thought she was a grown person and would be in an old folks home right now," Ocean City spokesman Mark Soifer said.

But after tracking her down, Soifer is crowning her contest champion, even if the bottle turned up a little late.

"They're getting a 3 day vacation in Ocean City for First Night, a big bag of salt water taffy, and a piece of the walk," Soifer said.

That message in a bottle contest doesn't exist anymore. Soifer admits it wasn't the most environmentally friendly of ideas. Instead now, he says there's a message in a bag contest to help the less fortunate and neither the bags nor messages end up in the ocean.

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