Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: A pedestrian who stops by to use a funeral home's restroom signs the visitors' book at the wake of a stranger and hits the jackpot.
Variations: A less common version of this tale sees the only person to show up for a curmudgeon's funeral rewarded with the dead guy's estate.
Origins: Our "fortunate funeral home visitor" story goes back to at least 1986, when it was set in New York City. The year 1997 saw a resurgence of the legend on the Internet when the "Spanish Luck" story quoted above began popping up in everyone's inbox, most likely from a garbled version of the following 1996 Associated Press story:
HAMBURG, Germany (AP) - A Spanish businessman and devout Roman Catholic who stopped to pray at a church during a trip to Stockholm ended up a millionaire, the Bild newspaper said Wednesday.Even Associated Press can get taken on occasion, and this was one of them. In the wake of that story's hitting the newsstands, various journalists tried to locate the suddenly-rich Eduardo Sierra, yet none of them had any luck, Spanish or otherwise. Neither the Swedish Embassy in Madrid, the Catholic diocese in Stockholm, nor the Swedish press knew anything about the legacy or Svenson. A German journalist then claimed she had altered the names but insisted the story had nonetheless come straight from the lucky heir, who requested anonymity. Yeah, right.
The church was empty except for a coffin containing the remains of a man, so Eduardo Sierra knelt down and prayed for the deceased for
Sierra, 35, signed a condolence book after he saw a note saying those who prayed for the dead man should enter their name and address. He noticed he was the first to sign.
Several weeks later he got a call from the Swedish capital informing him he was a millionaire, Bild said.
Jens Svenson, the man he had prayed for, was a 73-year-old real estate dealer with no close relatives. He had specified in his will that "whoever prays for my soul gets all my belongings," Bild said.
The "fortunate funeral visitor" is a variation on a bewhiskered storyline so hoary as to be included in the 1946 round-up of overused plots:
Cynical old Jonas Gruber dies, leaving a will (found and read by his children years before) in which the bulk of his fortune is bequeathed to a home for cats. He has six sons; not one of them attends his funeral. He has one daughter; she goes to the funeral, and she is grief-stricken. A short time later, a lawyer reads theThe funeral home story speaks to one of our most cherished dreams: that someday we're going to be standing in the right place at the right time to have a fortune handed to us. No adult fairy tale is better loved nor more fervently wished for.
Barbara "longing for a rub of the green(backs)" Mikkelson
Sightings: An episode of the Fox TV show Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction (aired 2 June 2000) dramatized the story of a woman who was the only mourner at the funeral of a stranger and later received $34 million the dead man had bequeathed to whoever attended his services.
Last updated: 13 April 2005
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