Not one week after St. Patrick's Day, Catherine McKenna thought she had found her pot of gold.
Then she discovered it was worth only $17.75.
"I guess I'll go to lunch," said a crestfallen Ms. McKenna, an 81-year-old Baltimore resident who said she became both alarmed and excited yesterday to realize that her name was published alongside 17,000 others who have unclaimed property in Maryland.
Ms. McKenna said she had hoped to reap a small fortune, but her scant windfall was mere change from a long-forgotten AT&T; Corp. stock profit.
The money was found as part of a program by state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who is hoping to identify the owners of millions in unclaimed paychecks, savings accounts, checking balances and stock dividends before the money is turned over to the state's treasury in mid-June.
A 15-page ad that appeared in yesterday's editions of The Sun listed row upon row of names of businesses and individuals identified by banks and other institutions as having unclaimed property. Most of it is cash.
In all, 215,000 accounts worth a total of $62 million have been transferred to state general fund coffers since 1970.
Each October, state law requires reports to the comptroller's office of all accounts or properties that are inactive for five years. About 80 days after publication of the ad, all funds and property are transferred to the state. They may be reclaimed, however, at any time by the owner or the owner's heirs.
Proper identification like a bank passbook, Social Security card or driver's license is required to make a claim, said Marvin Bond, the comptroller's spokesman.
There have been successes in finding a match, Mr. Bond said. A booth for unclaimed property at the Maryland State Fair attracts 15,000 people, with one in 10 seekers finding a lead. Last year, more than $8 million in unclaimed funds were returned to 11,936 individuals, Mr. Bond said. The average claim was $675.
Still, others could cash in on stale, high-stakes claims. Irving F. Cohn of Hopkins Plaza has an unclaimed $108,000, state records show. Dana S. Benton of Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase is owed $34,465; William. M. Carney of Merritt Street in Forestville has a $72,000 windfall, and May Disney of Crain Highway in Glen Burnie can claim $28,320, Mr. Bond said.
"If you see your name or the name of someone you know in the ad, please call our unclaimed property office at (410) 225-1700," said Mr. Goldstein in a statement. "We'll put you in touch with the right people to claim your money."
At 7:30 a.m. yesterday, the phones in the unclaimed property office on the third floor of the state office building in Baltimore started to ring with curious callers who saw their names in the ad. A crew of seven workers answered the phones as they rang nonstop until their extended workday ended at 6 p.m.
"I'm going home and take the phone off of the hook," said Marie Weems, a weary secretary who answered 156 calls in eight hours. "It gets hectic."
Mr. Bond estimated that the unclaimed property crew will receive up to 3,000 calls in three days.
Two years ago, James F. Hart of Charles Village saw his name on the comptroller's unclaimed property list, which is published annually. He called the state, realized he was due $2,000 from a stock sale and used the money toward a new blue Honda Civic.
Yesterday, Mr. Hart saw his name published on the list again. His heart leapt. "This time, I'm ready to retire to Aruba," he said, as Ms. Weems searched the computer for his name.
Within seconds, Mr. Hart learned he would not be moving to paradise. Instead, he was entitled to $50 in forgotten stock profits from the Atlantic Richfield Co.
"I was being very optimistic," he said.