I Found $90 Last Week but Can’t Find the Owner. Now What?
Maybe you read the story. I saw a man drop $90 on the subway last week, but he disappeared before I could return it. I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I did what I know: I wrote about it.
I spoke to a philosophy professor, a lawyer and a transit official, asking each what to do. I published what they said, hoping the story might reach the owner. Then I waited.
[Read what they had to say.]
Since then, I’ve heard from dozens of readers, but not the man. Improbably, my moral dilemma expanded: On Tuesday, I found even more money, a pair of $20 bills, on a sidewalk near my home.
So what am I going to to do with all this cash?
When I found the $40, it was nighttime and I was walking my dog, Kevin, with a friend. Nobody else was around. With no way to confirm a claim to ownership, I plan to donate the money to GiveWell, a nonprofit that maintains a short list of charities that make especially effective use of donations.
As for the $90? That I’ll hold onto a little longer, in case my previous story — or this one! — reaches the owner. If no one comes forward with a legitimate claim, I’ll donate that money, too. Most likely it will go to The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, a nonprofit that, for more than a century, has provided direct assistance to troubled children, families and older people.
[Here’s how to give to the Neediest Cases Fund.]
In the meantime, I did enjoy the dozens of responses I received.
While a few people made half-baked attempts to claim the money (nice try), more wrote in to ask for an update (here you are). Most, however, wanted to share their own stories of finding valuables and wrestling over what to do with them.
These are their stories.
The cross and the chain
On a Sunday afternoon about a dozen years ago, the Rev. Boniface Ramsey, of St. Joseph’s Church on the Upper East Side, was walking up First Avenue near the United Nations on his way to see his family.
In the street, the priest found a small, diamond-studded gold cross. A block later, he found an accompanying gold chain. Father Ramsey was “thrilled” with the find, he said, until he showed it off to his mother and brother.
“Their concern was entirely the person who lost it and what the loss must have meant to him or her,” Father Ramsey wrote. “Sheepish at this reaction, a day or two later I called the appropriate police precinct, where the officer on the line couldn’t have cared less.”
The officer had made him feel stupid for even bringing it up, but Father Ramsey walked the same route the following two Sundays in search of posted signs about the missing items. He found nothing and still has the cross and chain to this day.
“They are indeed the real thing,” he wrote. “A jeweler offered to buy the cross from me for $500, which I am told means that it is probably worth double that.”
A $2,020 bundle of cash
Caroline Hopkins, a 24-year-old journalism student at Columbia University, shared a column she wrote for class about finding a large sum of money on an Amtrak trip — and her disappointing experience trying to return it.
The money, 20 $100 bills and a single $20 bill, had been left behind by a man who was her seatmate from New York to Philadelphia. She hadn’t noticed the cash until a passing conductor, assuming the money was hers, chastised Ms. Hopkins for leaving it out.
After realizing what had happened, Ms. Hopkins chased down the conductor, who said she would meet her back at her seat. When the conductor returned with a colleague, Ms. Hopkins asked if they could look up her seatmate’s name. They took the money and asked what he looked like, so she described him: middle-aged, tall and black.
“I saw it then,” she wrote in the essay. “A subtle side glance between the two conductors. Barely discernible eyebrow raises. They’d made the drug dealer assumption, I just knew it.”
What if he was a musician who had just been paid for a set, she thought. “He could have been anything,” she wrote. Soon after, Ms. Hopkins departed the train, wondering whether the conductors would even try to find the man, having already written his story in their heads.
‘The universe returned my $60’
A few years ago, Kelli Butenko, a reader in Helena, Mont., lost $60 at a concert. When she called the venue the next day to see if it had turned up, the person on the phone laughed at her.
In 2017, Ms. Butenko found herself at the other end of the situation. After finishing the New York City Marathon, she came across $60 in a discarded phone holder. She called the marathon office the next day and left a message reporting the find.
“I got a return call from race personnel, again, laughing, telling me that no one would ever report missing cash, so just keep it, and congratulations on finishing the marathon,” she wrote in her email. “So, the universe returned my $60.”
Instead of keeping it, Ms. Butenko exchanged the bills for 60 singles and distributed them to buskers and the homeless.
“That part was such a fulfilling experience that, when we return to N.Y.C. in a few weeks, I plan to bring a bunch of singles for just that purpose,” she said.