Mysterious message in a bottle found 126 years later hidden inside wall of Back Bay building

A Boston resident made an interesting discovery in their fireplace recently.

Hidden away in a space between the fireplace flue and an interior wall was an old rye whiskey bottle, and inside the bottle was a folded up piece of paper. It turned out to be a handwritten note, with the name “Tom Ford” scrawled on it, along with the mysterious phrase “6 on Shea,” and the date, Sept. 23, 1894.

In an effort to gain some insight into the meaning behind the cryptic message, officials from the City of Boston Archaeology Program posted photos of the corked bottle — and the handwritten note that it contained — on social media. The label on the bottle said “N. Simons, Importer and Wholesale Liquor Dealer, 31 & 33 Castle St., Boston.” The home where it was found is located in the Back Bay near Commonwealth Avenue.

“We have a mystery for the hive mind this week!” the post said. “A Boston resident found this amazing message in a bottle tucked into the space between their fireplace flue and an interior wall, presumably placed there by past builders. . . . Anybody have any ideas about N. Simons, Tom Ford, or ‘6 on Shea?’ ”

The crowdsourcing request received several responses.

This handwritten note was found inside an old whiskey bottle that was recently discovered at a home in the Back Bay near Commonwealth Avenue. The city's archeologist hopes to find out more about the person who wrote it and what the message means. City of Boston Archaeology Program (Custom credit)

“Sounds a bit like a wager or betting slip,” wrote one commenter on Instagram. “Note for bookmaker?”

“Maybe they were hiding the evidence of both drinking and gambling!” someone quipped on Facebook.

Some suggested that the note may have had something to do with betting on a horse race. “Maybe there was a horse called Shea and he bet 6 on it? (I come from a long line of compulsive gamblers and this is instantly where my mind went LOL),” wrote one Twitter user.

“A brick mason bet $6 on a losing horse (a week’s salary), then drank his sorrows away?” another tweeted.

Or perhaps it was reference to a different sport entirely. “Six games in a series of ballgames?” someone else tweeted. “Six runs on a pitcher? Six rounds of boxing?”

Other Twitter users offered different theories.

“My guess is that in 1894 Tom Ford lived at 6 Shea Road in Boston,” one person tweeted.

Or maybe it didn’t say “6 on Shea” after all. Perhaps it was someone’s name?

“I read it as ‘Con Shea,’ ” wrote another Twitter user.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the meaning behind the note, and the identity of its writer, remained a mystery.

It was quite a unique find, according to Joe Bagley, the archeologist for the city, who hopes to learn more about the message and the person who wrote it. “We’ve seen ‘wall caches’ of artifacts hidden away in walls, but I haven’t seen something like this in Boston,” he said.

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