- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) - At 12:24 a.m. on Dec. 2, 2012, Keslie left a message in a notebook.

“My Christmas wish,” she wrote. “Cam will tell me he loves me.”

April 10, 2013. A different notebook.

“I’ve finally found a girl worth marrying,” wrote L.T. Walton.

“I’ll miss you,” reads a note in a third book. “My only regret is I didn’t know you better.” The entry is signed, simply, “Grandpa.”

The messages are a tiny sample of thousands of entries, written on lined notebook paper in small, chubby spiral-bound books and left in a handmade mailbox that sat at the northern end of Wrightsville Beach for 11 years.

During that time, visitors filled more than 100 notebooks with prayers, notes, drawings and poems, said Sidney Nykanen. She and her husband, Bernie, placed the mailbox on the beach more than a decade ago. The couple tended to the mailbox each week during that time, replenishing notebook and pen supplies, removing graffiti and repairing damage until a month ago, when someone destroyed an accompanying handmade bench. After that, the Nykanens removed the mailbox and donated it, and the notebooks, to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History.

“It kind of broke the spirit,” Sidney Nykanen said of the vandalism. “As people were journaling there, it became more on a spiritual level of gratitude, of sorrows, of people’s real feelings. We loved it for that reason. We figured it belonged to the community, where people from all over the world had visited, and it needed to be out there for people to see.”

The collection sits quietly in the museum, tucked on a corner bookshelf next to several couches and chairs. Museum Director Madeline Flagler displays several notebooks at a time, rotating volumes every few days, and encourages visitors to sit and peruse the pages at length.

“The very first day, two women sat for an hour and a half just to read. We’ve had a steady stream,” she said. “People are coming in asking, ‘Where’s the mailbox?’ It’s popular.”

The Nykanens received phone calls asking the same question, Sidney said.

When the couple installed the mailbox a decade ago, they intended to remain anonymous, staying behind the scenes to allow the written messages to speak for themselves. But then the mailbox was featured in Our State magazine and on local TV news. Travelers blogged about leaving notes there, dubbing it a “must do.” The mailbox slowly became a staple, both for visitors and residents. And that, Sidney said, was always the point.

“I have been to a funeral memorial there. My husband and I reinstated our vows there. Other people have been married there, they’ve gotten engaged there,” she said. “When you start something simple like that, you have no idea there’s such a human need…. We never owned the mailbox. We just kept it.”

Almost as soon as the mailbox was removed, several groups throughout the community, including a youth group with the Port City Community Church and students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, discussed resurrecting the project. Then earlier this week, the UNCW Student Ambassadors installed a new mailbox - white, with a red flag and “Leave a Note” painted on the front in blue - in the dunes on the north side of the beach. As of Tuesday morning, the first few pages of the burgundy notebook inside were filled with messages.

“To my wonderful wife - I will always love you,” begins one.

“LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED,” proclaims another.

Sidney Nykanen hasn’t left her mark there yet, but she’ll probably write in that notebook eventually, she said.

“So it moves on,” she said with a smile. “The phoenix rises.”


Information from: The StarNews, https://starnewsonline.com

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