A Belgian man was visiting the beaches of Bourdeaux, France last month when he spotted a broken sign littering the sand. Reading it, Hannes Frank was able to determine that the sign was from Diane Turton Realtors, in New Jersey, so he sent an email to the company.
According to the NY Times, his email read, "Hi, Just wanted to let you know that I found part of one of your signposts washed up on the beach near Bordeaux France pictures available if wanted. Not in best shape after that crossing."
"This is a joke, this can't be for real," recalled Diane Turton, who spoke to us this morning about seeing the email. "So we asked for photos."
She added, "I Googled a map because I wanted to see where Bourdeaux, France is, and it's almost right across from New Jersey"—give or take 3,500 miles.
After receiving photos (the pictures' metadata says they were taken in France), Turton and her team looked through work orders for signs—they have 18 offices along the Jersey Shore—and realized the sign came from a waterfront home that was for sale on Cedarhurst Avenue in Brielle. The home lost its sign during the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Usually, when signs are damaged, they just "break or they are hanging from the hook," Turton said. But Sandy "broke $10 million homes in half."
After consulting with an oceanographer who confirmed that the timing of the sign's reappearance was plausible, the company shared the news on Facebook: "Two weeks ago, a resident of France contacted our Marketing Department regarding Diane Turton, Realtors signage that washed up on the beaches of France. The Diane Turton, Realtors signage was lost during Hurricane Sandy and was discovered by Hannes Frank on the beaches of Bordeaux, France. The Diane Turton, Realtors Wall Office owned the sign which was lost from one of their waterfront listings during Hurricane Sandy. Having our signage wash up in France on the beach truly proves that Diane Turton, Realtors is a global real estate company."
Since everyone loves a message in a bottle story, interest in the transatlantic broken sign has exploded. "I never thought it was going to go this viral!" Turton exclaimed, with media on both sides of the ocean reaching out to her. "London papers are calling!"
It gets crazier: oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer told the Times this might have been the sign's second trip to Europe, "There is a great gyre of water that runs from New Jersey to northern Europe down to Spain and back to New Jersey and takes 3.3 years on average, and it takes about a year and a half to drift across the North Atlantic one way from New Jersey to France... So five and a half years is just about right."
Naturally, Turton is planning a trip to France to retrieve the sign and to meet Frank. "Hannes is going to be in Bourdeaux in the late summer," she said. Turton and her husband are going to meet him and take a picture with the sign on the beach, before bringing it back to hang prominently in the office. "I'll have to open an office in Belgium now," she mused.