Have you ever lost your wallet? The answer for most of us is probably – yes. I lost my wallet in 1984 when I was working at a printing company – someone stole it out of my locker. Maybe someday, in another 20 years, someone will be renovating that locker room and will find my wallet, without money, stashed above a drop ceiling, or hidden under the floor, or behind a wall. Then I will be reunited with a time of my life when I was a starving college student, working my way through college.
Though this seems like an impossible story, or at least improbable and rare, it isn’t. In fact, lost or stolen wallets turn up all the time.
Prior to the advent of the Internet, these amazing discoveries and stories were local news. These stories were of stunned people being reunited with, not just their wallet and the contents inside, but also their lives from 20, 30, 40, 50 years before. The wallets had the power to transport these lucky people back to another time in their life.
Now we can find these stories on line mostly through local news reports. Sometimes the stories make national, or even international, news. But always, these remain local stories – rooted in the small towns and big cities (even harbors) where the wallets are lost and, later, rediscovered.
The finders of these lost wallets are almost always selfless and dedicated – driven to find the owners, or the relatives of the deceased owners. In the rare instances where money is still inside the wallets (many are stolen and the money long ago removed), the money is returned along with the person’s life story, encapsulated inside a leather time machine. The love letters, school identification cards, photographs, coupons, bowling league membership cards – the ephemera of a person’s life, all still there.
The wallet owners, now reunited with something they long ago forgot about, are universally stunned to be taken back to that time earlier in their life. They are equally stunned at the kindness and generosity of total strangers who will go through all manner of obstacles, time and expense, to track them down. To find them and return a small piece of their past.
Here are ten such stories.
Kenneth Couch was a hard working dental supply salesman and WWII veteran, well known to dentists around the Portland area where he worked as a salesman from the time he was 17 years old. In 1982, he went for surgery and placed his wallet in the desk drawer. The wallet was stolen.
Sometime in early 2010, Rudy Kaplan was working as a carpenter on a project at a Portland hospital when he lifted a ceiling tile and saw an old wallet. Opening it he saw photos of an elderly man and kids and decided to find the owner, or the owners’ children. Eventually he got into contact with the daughter and son of Kenneth Couch and returned the wallet. Without the stolen money, of course. For the children, the wallet was a miniature life story of their father – WWII military records, business cards, photos of his children throughout the years, and a bowling membership card.
In 1999, Werner Ferrone received a call from someone saying that his father’s wallet had been found. Ferrone didn’t believe the caller and later admitted to being a bit rude to him. He had reason to be skeptical however, since his father, Benjamin Ferrone, died in 1982. But the next day, the younger Ferrone flew to New York to retrieve the wallet and shake the hand of the man who found it.
The story began more than 60 years earlier when Benjamin J. Ferrone, then 22 and living in New York, visited the Paramount Theater in Peekskill, New York. While at the theater, his wallet must have been stolen, stripped of cash and dumped in a crawl space. Though the Paramount Theater had been renovated many times, that part of the theater had not been touched.
Then on Feb. 13, 1999, Curtis St. John, production manager for the theater, now known as the Paramount Center for the Arts, found the wallet while cleaning under a stairwell. Using the Social Security card in the wallet, St. John and a local reporter tracked down the younger Ferrone and called him.
Producers from the “Today” television show heard about the story and brought Ferrone and St. John to New York, where Ferrone received his father’s wallet. The wallet contained a yellowed driver’s license for “Bennie Ferrone,” complete with an incorrect birth date — evidence that his father had lied about his age to acquire a job — and a registration for a used 1929 Model A Ford.
One day Ian Clapton, a construction worker in England, found an old wallet stashed in a crevice, while working on a roof. Inside were a WWII ration card, family notes, theater tickets and membership cards all belonging to an American WWII era service man. Clapton knew he had to find the rightful owner and return this wallet. But how? This set him off on a mission that took the wallet from a tourist town in England, to farm country and the small town of Milladore, Wisconsin.
Sixty years after it was lost, Clapton was able to reunite the wallet with the daughter of its former owner, Robert McIntyre – Cynthia McIntyre Kane. McIntyre was a Navy man stationed in England during World War II. Though he passed away in 2002, Ms Kane said “I almost feel like I’ve had some contact with my dad again”. Though there was no money in the wallet (it is possible the wallet was stolen and stashed by the thief to avoid discovery) it is priceless to Ms. Kane. Clapton went to a lot of trouble searching for McIntyre’s family because he just wanted to see the wallet returned to the family of the rightful owner.
The McIntyre family is grateful such a thoughtful person found the wallet.
In 1968, Katherine Geissler went to a bar in downtown Chippewa Falls. While she was there, someone stole her wallet. Forty years later Kent Andreas was renovating the basement of his house in Eau Claire Wisconsin, when he found her lost wallet. How the wallet ended up in the house is a mystery, especially considering the house had previously caught fire, been flooded and had been moved about a block from its original location. Inside the wallet was a coupon for a ten cent beer. The bar is no longer open, or she could cash in her forty year old coupon. Scanning the contents of her forty year old wallet, Geissler stated that she had a more active life then than she does now.
In 1946, Bill Fulton attended a Baker High School basketball game, and was sitting in the upper bleachers in what is now the Baker Middle School gym. Sixty three years later, when his wallet was found and returned to him, Fulton did not even remember losing it. But, apparently, he lost his wallet at the old gymnasium and there it lay for over six decades. The wallet was in excellent condition, the leather still smooth. Inside was his social security card and bicycle license. While removing the old bleachers from the gym balcony wall, Nathan Osborne found the wallet. He also found lost library books, homework and play programs. Fulton later had children who also attended Baker schools and in the 1960’s went to the Middle School building to watch a game – never realizing how close he was to his lost wallet.
One day Mike Tidwell received a call from the contractor who was working on his house. He asked Tidwell if he knew Dewey Bartlett. Tidwell did – Bartlett was the town mayor. The contractor informed Tidwell that he had found Bartlett’s wallet. Tidwell assumed they had found the lost wallet outdoors. In fact, the contractor was tearing the second floor ceiling out of a closet and out fell the wallet. When Tidwell retrieved the wallet, inside were an ID card, a Coca-Cola Hi Fi club membership card, a hunting and fishing license, and a 1959-1960 Tulsa Catholic High Schools student athletic ticket, all with the name Dewey Bartlett. This was not the mayor’s wallet, Tidwell realized, it was the mayor’s wallet when he was a kid.
Tidwell returned the fifty year old wallet, still in excellent condition, to Bartlett. His reaction – “God, look at that, I’ll be damned.” The wallet was given to him by his father, Dewey Bartlett Sr., an Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator. His father gave him wallets from his travels around the country. Bartlett had no problem identifying this wallet, of his many wallets. This one had a piece missing, chewed out by their pet collie. Bartlett figured he lost the wallet at the age of 13 at his best friend Ricky Mahan’s house. Ricky Mahan’s old house is now Mike Tidwell’s house. But Bartlett cannot recall how he lost the wallet or how it ended up above a second floor bedroom closet ceiling.
On October 24, 1982, Ruth Bendik was in New York City’s Central Park, watching the New York City marathon, when someone stole her wallet. Twenty seven years later Josh Galiley, a tree-care supervisor for the Central Park Conservancy, was chopping down a 50 foot tall black cherry tree when he discovered her blue leather wallet in the trunk of the tree. With the help of people like detective Frank Irizarry, Bendik was eventually located and the wallet returned. The $20 she had in the wallet was gone, but not the memories. Among other things, she found bank cards for two banks both of which have gone out of business. Though the wallet survived 27 years, the banks did not.
In 1966, a businessman was attempting to secure his boat in the face of an approaching storm. Still in his business suit, he bent over to secure his sailboat against the gathering winds and his wallet slipped from his back pocket into Marblehead Harbor. Inside the wallet was $300 in business expense checks. Lubeck hired a local diver to search for his wallet, but it had drifted away. Unlike losing a wallet on dry land, losing one in a harbor would usually constitute “gone forever”. But James Lubeck was a very lucky man.
Nearly forty years later, a Gloucester fisherman, Antonino Randazzo, hauled in a catch that contained a neatly preserved sheath of credit cards. His search for the owner of the long-forgotten wallet led him to Lubeck. Randazzo found the wallet about 25 miles from where Lubeck lost it forty years earlier. Though caked in mud, everything inside, including paper and credit cards, was in excellent condition.
Lubeck was amazed that someone would go to such lengths to track him down and return the wallet. For his part, Randazzo was just happy the person who belonged to the wallet had not died at sea.
James Bryant came from the small rural town of Litchfield, Minnesota. He went off to fight in the Civil War as part of Company D of the First Minnesota Volunteers Infantry Regiment. He lost his wallet in July 1863, when it fell out of his pants pocket when he was shot in the thigh, fighting for the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg. Unknown to Bryant or his family, a Confederate soldier by the name of David Morgon Rise picked it up on the battlefield. More than 140 years later, his great-great granddaughter Sarah McKay discovered the wallet in a shoebox in her attic.
The story was circulated by the Associated Press and small-town historians got involved. Ultimately, the wallet was returned to Bryant’s descendants in a little ceremony in a town near the Canadian border. It featured Civil War re-enactors and remarks by local lawmakers. “It’s a healing between the South and the North,” one man exclaimed. “It’s one of those battlefield miracles.” The wallet is now on display as a historical attraction in Litchfield Minnesota.
In 2003, crews were demolishing military barracks on an old military base near Paso Robles when they stumbled on a surprising find: wallets. Tumbling out of heating ducts suspended from the ceilings, the wallets were stuffed with remarkably well-preserved personal belongings dating from World War II and the Korean War. Twenty five wallets, filled with the collected memories of 25 Army personnel. It was all there, base passes, identification cards, love letters, photographs, dog tags, tips for surviving a nuclear blast. Everything but money.
California Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Tom Murotake wanted to return the 25 wallets to the, now very old, owners, or their families, if possible. The fact that none of the wallets had money led Murotake to conclude that all of the wallets had been stolen while the service men were stationed at the base. The thief then stashed each wallet in the heating ducts to avoid detection. There the heat baked the leather to a crisp, but the contents of the wallet were undamaged. This allowed Murotake to track down 22 of the 25 wallet owners.
The wallets take one back to a time when thousands of recruits converged at the base for 13 weeks of basic training. From there, they were shipped out to the front lines in Europe, the Pacific and Asia, a few without their cherished photos and pocket keepsakes. The base was once the world’s largest infantry and field artillery training center. One of the wallet owners was Willard Groth, an Army private whose wallet went missing from his footlocker, in 1944. Groth needed the $20 in it to visit a cousin in Bakersfield, California, and without the money he had to remain on the base. Groth was stunned when Murotake called him, in late 2003. Groth put the wallet away for his kids to rediscover one day. There were only three unclaimed wallets
In 1963, Gulli Wihlborg was 18 when she lost her wallet while riding her bicycle. Inside was the money she needed to pay the rent. Forty years later, someone anonymously sent her the long forgotten wallet – along with the 45 kronor and 54 oere ($6.17). At the time she lost the wallet, Wihlborg considered that money to be a small fortune. Adjusted for inflation, the cash would now be worth about 412 kronor ($55.80).
The sender did not provide any clues about their identity, just a note:
“Dear Gulli, you should never give up hope. Here’s your wallet that was found on (the street) Oestersjoegatan many years ago. Greetings from Trelleborg!”