24 April 2006

Death Records Prove Popularity of Woolworth's Wallets

The California Death Index for 1940 through 1997 shows 36 people with something unusual in common: Minnie Sly, Gene Goldsborough, Albert Bockhacker, James Pappas, Denis O'Callahan, Archie Smith, Lorin Rutledge, Williard Friend, and a couple dozen more. Thirty-one of them were men; only five were women. All of the people died in the 1940s and 1950s except two who died in the 1980s. They came to California from all over the U.S. -- nine were foreign-born -- and none of them knew each other. Their places of death were spread out over the state, from San Diego County in the south to Tehama County in the north.

What they had in common was that they had each gotten a wallet from Woolworth's. The wallet came with a fake Social Security card with a preprinted Social Security number on it, empty spaces where the name and birthdate would go, and the word SPECIMEN stamped across it. When these people died, their next of kin opened the wallet and pulled out the card. They gave the social security number on the card to the person who filled out their loved one's death certificate.

Old news, yes, but I just got around to checking it out. If you have a subscription to Ancestry.com, you can see the death index for yourself. The 36 people are all listed with the same social security number.

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