Fact Check

Funeral Visitor Rewarded

A guest who signs the visitor book at the wake of a stranger hits the jackpot.

Published July 10, 2001


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.


[Collected on the Internet, 1998]


There was this Spanish guy doing some business in Poland, and he came across an open funeral home with a casket laid out for viewing. Curious, he went in and was surprised to find no one there. He felt bad for the dead guy, said a prayer over the body, and signed the registrar. A month later he got a call from the dead guy's lawyer. Seems the dead guy's will stipulated his multi-million dollar fortune be split evenly amongst all who attended his wake. The Spanish businessman was the only one who signed the book.

[Collected on the Internet, 1995]

A traveler needing to find a restroom did not want to stop in an area where there were no people. She finally came upon a funeral home where there were lots of cars. She went in and when she was greeted. She was asked which person she would like to visit. She indicated she was here to see the person with no visitors and in her panic she wrote her name and address in the guest book. She proceded to use the bathroom and left.

Two months later she received a letter explaining that John Jones' will indicated that anyone visiting his funeral should inherit $50,000. She was the only visitor so she gets the money.

It was told to me by a friend. Her brother-in-law who is a pilot said it happened to a stewardess friend on the way home from a flight.

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.

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 20 minutes, the Hamburg-based daily said.

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.


Cartoon of the legend

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 "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 the will — the one Jonas had left with his legal advisors — which stipulates that the old man's estate be divided between those "loving children" — who are on hand when he is buried.

The 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

  Sources Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (pp. 267-268).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good to Be True.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (pp. 86-88).

    Sieveking, Paul.   "Strange But True."

    Sunday Telegraph.   4 May 1987   (p. 21).

    Young, James.   101 Plots Used and Abused.

    Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1946   (p. 44).

    Associated Press.   "Spaniard Stops by Empty Church to Pray, Inherits a Million."

    2 October 1996.

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