The $731M Powerball winner still walks amongst those in small Maryland town, people know their identity

LONACONING, MD. — There haven’t been a lot of big wins in this little town tucked between gentle green mountains in Maryland’s far western reaches. Coal brought work, then took it away. The railroad meant prosperity, then stopped running. They made glass here, and then they didn’t.

These days, the line of cars at the First Assembly of God food giveaway is so long that the volunteers split each box into two smaller portions to feed more families.

But over the past few weeks, Lonaconing — the locals call it “Coney” — has acquired a new shine, a glint of gold in iron country. Sometime in late January, someone bought a Powerball lottery ticket at the Coney Market, and that ticket’s six numbers won the big one — $731 million, the biggest jackpot ever in Maryland and the fifth-richest payout in U.S. history.

That someone lives in Lonaconing, according to the owner of the market. But because Maryland is one of seven states that allow lottery winners to remain anonymous, and because the winner is no fool, the identity of that someone isn’t public.

The fact that someone in this town of 1,200 people (just 400 families, actually, down by half over the past 50 years) is suddenly Midas-rich has caused some strange things to happen.

Customers scan losing lottery tickets at Coney Market, which has been besieged by gold diggers since January. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

An anonymous letter circulated naming a 76-year-old grandfather of seven and his longtime partner as the winners. Besieged with requests for free money, they denied being sudden multimillionaires.

Gold diggers poured into town. People showed up from Georgia and Ohio and Arkansas, asking for a piece of the prize to care for an ailing relative, or to save their struggling farm, or to pay for that European trip they’ve yearned to take.

A woman in Georgia wrote to the owner of Coney Market asking him to buy her a couple of chain saws for her farm. Another supplicant wanted a piece of the lottery winnings to get her driveway paved.

“They say, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get,’ ” said the guy being asked, Richard Ravenscroft, who owns the market. “People don’t know the winner’s name. I’m the person whose name they do know, so they ask me.”

People from thousands of miles away have sent money in envelopes asking the market staff to send them lottery tickets from the lucky shop. (Lottery sales at the market, usually a modest $4,000 a week, briefly soared, then returned to earth, Ravens­croft said.)

Coney Market owner Richard Ravenscroft chats with customers as he leaves with a delivery order. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Out-of-towners drove through the mountains to bet the very same set of numbers that the big winner had wagered on: 40, 53, 60, 68, 69 and Powerball 22. (Some folks in town thought the winning numbers might be the ages of the winner’s family. No: The jackpot combination was a random set of numbers selected by the lotto machine.)

A man from Northern Virginia showed up to ask Ravenscroft to reissue a purportedly winning lottery ticket that the man had lost. The man stayed in the shop for an entire day, and state police had to stop by to make sure things didn’t get too crazy.

It’s not just outsiders making a fuss about the big money. People up and down Main Street are eager — “Some are pretty impatient about it,” said Debbie Bennett, Coney Market’s manager — for the winner to donate a pile of cash to improve life in a town where the poverty rate of 24 percent is more than double the statewide number.

A little food pantry in Lonaconing, where the poverty rate is double that of the state. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The No. 1 need, many say: Clean up the “Coney water,” the local name for the skanky H2O that sometimes bubbles up from underground right into people’s basements. “Mine water,” some call it, rising from old coal shafts into the houses of people whose fathers once worked those tunnels.

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