While most of us are content to beachcomb for pretty shells or stones or sea glass, John Anderson sets the bar a lot higher. Anderson, a retired plumber, was lured into the world of beachcombing near his Pacific coast town of Forks, Wash., by a friend who introduced him to Japanese glass fishing floats. These glass floats were ubiquitous in the early to mid-1900s and continue to occasionally wash up on beaches. Most are blue-green in colour, and “they’re real pretty,” says Anderson.
He quickly became hooked. “I was the only plumber in town,” he says, “and you don’t get a whole lot of exercise with plumbing, so I would go beachcombing, and packing the stuff back was good exercise.”
Easy to find among the beach debris were plastic floats, which Anderson began hanging in the trees and along fences of the acre of land he’d been gifted by his parents. “And then, when I built my house, I put a 40-foot-tall tower in the yard and covered it with buoys. It just kind of snowballed from there.”
By “snowballed,” Anderson is referring to John’s Beachcombing Museum, which he created post-retirement at the urging of friends. At first, he gave informal tours to anyone who happened by. But word spread of the museum, which housed such finds as a mammoth tooth and fossilized whale vertebrae that experts from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle determined were from the Pleistocene era, so they are at least about 12,000 years old. An anchor chain from a shipwreck is believed to be from the 15th or 16th century.
He’s also found plenty of notes in bottles, which he always responds to if there’s an address. Many of those are from school kids doing science projects, but he did alert a woman, whom he found via Facebook, that she was beloved by a secret admirer.
How does Anderson get so lucky? “My beach is more remote, so not a lot of people go there,” he says. Anderson shares his tips and tricks with visitors to his museum and at beachcombing fairs and clubs.
Those expecting a jumble of scavenged finds are surprised at how organized Anderson’s museum is. “People come in and are blown away,” he says. He’s put signs on the many items, including puns “to make people laugh.”
One thing you won’t find at Anderson’s museum is a dead body. “I’ve been a day late and a day early,” he says. “But I don’t need to find one as far as I’m concerned.”