Joseph Mullan did not find a wife.
Last summer, the 77-year-old widower posted a large sign outside his elegant home in Guilford that read: "Wanted A WIFE! Picture & Performance To Joseph Mullan -- Apply Within."
The sign generated international publicity, including a front-page story in The Sun, and attracted nearly 200 applicants from at least three countries. But as aspiring women sent letters with photographs and lined up at his front door, Mr. Mullan gradually realized that the one woman he truly wanted -- his deceased wife -- would never turn up on his doorstep. "After a while I took the sign down and went to bed," says the frail, silver-haired Mr. Mullan. "And now they're all gone."
Nevertheless, Mr. Mullan says, he had fun -- so much fun that he's considering putting the sign back up today. "Why not?" he says.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Mr. Mullan is the retired president of Champion Brick Co. He sold the business in the late 1960s and then built apartments. Getty, his wife of nearly 51 years, died of cancer three years ago. "I just missed her," Mr. Mullan says. "I really thought I would find somebody."
After he put up the sign, Peggy Greenman, the oldest of his nine children, described him as eccentric. "He's always been a character," she said.
For the nearly four months that Mr. Mullan displayed the 6-foot-square sign -- from early August to late November last year -- he delighted in the flood of global attention. A friend in Poland spotted his photograph in Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper distributed around the world. Another friend saw it in the London Times. And Mr. Mullan and his wife-wanted sign appeared in newspapers and on TV screens throughout the United States.
As a result, Mr. Mullan says, he received about 100 letters from women in this country, Canada and England. And, he says, about 90 women appeared at his home in the 200 block of Northway, a tree-lined road in exclusive Guilford.
"I learned there were a lot of women who wanted to get married," Mr. Mullan says, laughing. "They were here so much the maids got sick and tired of answering the door."
Mrs. Greenman, his daughter, says her father's maids threatened to quit because of the constant intrusions. Radio stations from across the country called at all hours seeking interviews. Producers from the TV shows "Sally Jessy Raphael" and "Good Morning America" wanted to send camera crews.
Mr. Mullan declined their requests. He had all he could handle already. "I came downstairs one Saturday morning and had four women waiting for me in the living room," Mr. Mullan says.
His daughter adds: "I'd only stop in for an hour or so at a time, but there would be women literally waiting in line outside the house. The help used to take the phone off the hook because it was ringing all the time."
Mrs. Greenman says the women were all ages, some even in their 20s and 30s. Others were old friends who saw the story in The Sun or on TV and stopped by to visit. Still others were merely curious, but many were serious.
Mr. Mullan says he read all the letters and answered some before running out of energy. He talked briefly with the women who came to the house. But now, he says, he can't remember the names of any of them.
But lately he has found himself toying with the idea of putting up his sign again. His daughter says she hopes he doesn't. "It was funny -- once," she says.
The Guilford Association doesn't want to see the sign either, Mrs. Greenman says. And neither do city zoning officials. They slapped him with a violation in November, she says, prompting him finally to take it down and store it in the garage.
If he does haul it out again, the results would surely be the same, he admits. The woman Mr. Mullan wants is not available.