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The World’s Strangest “Lost & Found” Collection

I read an article long ago about the things people leave behind on trains. Tokyo is literally crisscrossed with commuter trains that carry millions of passengers to and from various places every day. Most are traveling between homes and offices, but many others are just out and about in the world’s largest city.

The article caught my eye because its main point was that people lose lots of stuff on trains and some it is very odd. In addition to expected items like umbrellas, books and cell phones, rail employees have found false teeth, wedding rings, pet tarantulas in containers, gold coins, hair pieces, underwear, entire stamp collections and, in a famous incident, a 50-kilo bag of potatoes (it was never claimed).

Well, I’m not one to try to out-do someone’s great tales of weirdness and odd events, but when it comes to “lost & found” stories, I’ve got some winners.

If you think people leave unusual items on trains, consider what kinds of things you find on international flights. It’s truly a grab-bag of unexplained, puzzling and sometimes scary belongings. Now and then, passengers will phone the airline and say they have lost a particular item. However, more often than not, the items are never claimed. Anything of value is usually donated to charity. Worthless stuff is stored for a while and then thrown away.
I don’t have any hard and fast statistics, so can only speak from what I have personally seen.

About 95 percent of left-behind and lost items on planes are articles of clothing. Some of them, however, are quite valuable. I personally found a full-length, leather jacket that a woman had forgotten. When I went to turn it in, the office clerk said she had already called for it and was at her local hotel. The garment carried a famous designer label and was worth well in excess of $3,000. Of course, the woman was elated that we had rescued her pricey item and quickly returned to pick it up.

Most lost clothing is in the more mundane category. Things like inexpensive coats, sweaters, gloves and hats make up the bulk of the inventory. People seldom call the airline looking for it. In the few cases where there is a name or other identifying mark on an item, we will contact customers and return it to them if they wish.

But it’s the other 5 percent of lost items that make life interesting. Like the Tokyo train employees, our workers have found wedding rings, watches, earrings, necklaces, phones, tablets, laptops and thousands of books. I’ve never heard of false teeth being left behind on a plane but have found my share of hearing aids. People often take their hearing aids off during a long flight, stuff them into the seat pouches and forget to take them when they arrive at their destinations.

My all-time best “lost & found” stories include a first-hand and second-hand account. My friend and coworker, Janelle, found a small box that contained two one-ounce gold ingots. We’re talking solid gold. The things were worth about $1,200 each and the person who left them didn’t call to claim them for two weeks.

My first-hand story didn’t involve anything that pricey but should win an award for weirdness. I was double-checking the overhead compartments in New York one day and discovered a black, plastic trash bag that was too heavy for me to lift out. A coworker helped me, and when we got the giant bag onto the floor we realized that it smelled horrible, like rotted food.

What was in the mystery garbage bag? Nothing less than 20 kilos of very old onions. We both nearly fell over backwards when we opened it up and had to call security to clear it and dispose of it.

Maybe it’s just my luck. I don’t find gold bars. I find old onions.