Josh Ferrin always wondered what he would do if he suddenly struck it rich - then he found out in the ultimate test of his character.
Josh Ferrin's hands trembled as he fumbled for the phone. He started pacing the floor. He was so giddy from joy that when his wife answered, he choked on his first words.
"Tara," he blurted, "you're never going to believe this... "
Finding $45,000 in his new home changed Josh Ferrin's life, but not the way he first imagined.
Ferrin had just discovered $45,000 stashed in his new home.
There's a biblical parable about a man who found treasure hidden in a field. Ferrin found his in a dusty attic. For years, the author and illustrator had wondered what would happen if he struck it big. Would sudden wealth change him?
Three years ago, Ferrin got his answer.
His story began one Wednesday in May, when Ferrin was miserable. He was suffering from pneumonia and had been forced to take time off from his job as an artist at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. But things were looking up. He and his wife had just closed on their first house, and Ferrin decided to take a private tour after getting the keys.
Ferrin moseyed back to the garage, where he noticed something odd: a scrap of carpet dangling from an opening in the ceiling. Grabbing a ladder, Ferrin tugged on the carpet and pulled back a celling panel leading to an attic.
When he climbed into the attic, Ferrin saw eight World War II-era ammunition boxes. He delicately pried one open, dreading seeing a grenade. Instead what he saw blew his mind: wads of bills held together by orange fishing twine. He started counting -- and kept counting until he eventually realized he had stumbled onto $45,000.
He called his wife, already envisioning how they could use the cash: remodel their new house, repair their car, maybe even adopt. But her first response chilled those plans. She told him to call the family who previously owned the house.
"I immediately knew she was right," Ferrin said. "As much as I wanted to keep it, I couldn't keep it. That just wouldn't be right."
The previous owner was Arnold Bangerter, a biologist with the Utah fish and wildlife department and a father of six. His wife had died in 2005, and after Bangerter died in 2010 his children sold the house to the Ferrins. It turned out Bangerter had been squirreling away money for years; some of the bills dated back to the 1970s.
Ferrin contacted Bangerter's children and gave them all the money.
Before he did, though, he had a little fun. He photographed his two boys, Lincoln, 10, and Oliver, 7, throwing piles of cash up in the air while he yelled it was raining money.
Not everyone thought it was a laughing matter to give back so much cash. Some people told Ferrin he should have kept the money, that he had a legal right to it because he found it in his home. For Ferrin, something could be legal, but that didn't make it ethical. How could he keep money intended for someone else?
"We always wonder to ourselves, if I struck it big would it change me?" he said. "Would I be a different person? It was hard to hand over ($45,000), but it was the right thing to do."
What sealed Farrin's decision, though, wasn't ethics; it was fatherhood. Ferrin thought about the devotion Bangerter had for his children, and he saw a kindred spirit.
"I imagined this guy, for years and years, collecting money and putting it away. I understand that need to think for the future and take care of loved ones. I can understand him as a dad."
I didn't want to be the guy who found something and kept something secretly. -- Josh Ferrin
Ferrin said he, too, is trying to leave something for his children as they grow up.
"There's a big world out there and I try to teach them to be good young men," he said. "Sometimes I come short of that. They'll forget about all the lectures I gave them. But I think they will remember this one."
Ferrin left the Deseret News but is still an artist. He draws political caricatures and whimsical children's illustrations and has written a book, "Blitz Kids," about his grandfather's role with the University of Utah's improbable basketball championship team in 1944.
Ferrin's art and his book, however, are not just a means to earn a living.
"It's my attempt to establish a legacy that will last beyond me," Ferrin said.
Now Ferrin's deed is part of that legacy.
News of his selfless act spread across the globe. His story is preserved online. He has received letters from around the world. One guy in Australia said he would be honored to buy him a beer. Another person sent him a pocket knife with the engraving, "Honesty has its own rewards." Ferrin had to stop granting interviews after a while because it became too much.
He says today that what he gained from giving away his treasure is more than what he found.
"It was one of those moments that test your character," Ferrin said. "We are the sum total of our decisions. I didn't want to be the guy who found something and kept something secretly. I don't regret it at all. It made me a better person."