The LIRR Lost and Found Is a Magical Closet of Eclectic Treasure

Illustration for article titled The LIRR Lost and Found Is a Magical Closet of Eclectic Treasure

The cumbersome phrase "Long Island Rail Road lost and found" might conjure up images ripe for a Pixar animated short — a dank little broom closet filled with half-empty plastic bins that contain things like one-eyed rag dolls flashing saccharine needlepoint smiles, winning scratch tickets and wedding rings. Its door is manned by a guy named Mo who calls himself a "curator," and thriftily charges fifty cents for a peek at the goods. The LIRR lost and found at Penn Station is, as it turns out, nothing like that sad, animated movie at all — it's a place filled with the eclectic leavings of weary travelers who were just too frenzied to remember their wedding dress or brass knuckles, and its guardian is a helpful fellow named Henry Felton who has helped reunite quite a lot of distressed people with their discarded minutiae. Except umbrellas — nobody ever gets their umbrellas back.

Advertisement

DNAinfo New York recently took a gander at all the wonderful trinkets that LIRR passengers have left behind in recents weeks, things like: a wedding dress, a duffel bag stuff with eight thousand dolla dolla bills, a salad bowl, a Louis Vuitton bag, a Spider-Man bag, Spider-Man, a wedding ring set that would also make an excellent Pixar short, a bible with five thousand dolla dolla bills stuffed inside (probably Corinthians because modern people are imagination poor), a pair of Dorothy slippers, a whole box of puppies (not really), a whole box of kittnes (again, not really) and a melange box of puppies and kittens. Felton says that he doesn't always find fun stuff — sometimes he finds weapons, and once he even found a prosthetic limb. If nobody comes to claim their guns or prostheses a company in Alabama pays the MTA $35 per box (no matter the contents) and resells the indefinitely lost items to other people, creating a Brave Little Toaster situation among diasporic inanimate objects.

If, however, you have to lose something (unless that something is an umbrella, remember, because umbrellas=currency of the post-apocalyptic world), you could worse than to have it end up in the LIRR's lost and found. Since the railroad's lost and found's website has gone up, it has returned about 57 percent of lost items to their rightful owners, a success rate that Felton attributes largely to the fact that strangers will go to superhuman lengths to return items to a total stranger, because everyone secretly wants to be Nancy Drew. "Sometimes," Felton admits of his unsanctioned sleuthing tactics, "you got to get CSI on a bag." It may get messy, digging through someone else's stack of expired gym memberships, but that's just the kind of renegade lost and found steward Felton is.

People who reunite with their lost possessions are also super grateful, doling out hugs, flowers and free breakfast coupons like it's nobody's business. As for the obligatory question of who loses more shit, Felton offers his expert opinion thusly: "If you ask me, men lose more things than women. No doubt about it. We're dumb."

From Wedding Dresses to Ruby Slippers: a Peek Inside LIRR's Lost and Found [DNA Info]

Image via Torian/Shutterstock.

DISCUSSION

the fact that strangers will go to superhuman lengths to return items to a total stranger, because everyone secretly wants to be Nancy Drew.

This is true, and so, allow me to regale you with my Oprah-esque tale. In 2008 my brothers and I were visiting NYC and as we strolled West Village at around 1:00am, we spotted a purse on a closed storefront's stoop, overturned with random purse contents spilled all over the place. I don't see that every day strolling around my town in Texas, so it took a moment it to sink in that "oh, someone got their purse jacked, and here is the leftovers?"

The leftovers consisted of a relatively large keyring with about 12 keys on it, various feminine accoutrements™, and a small diary-type notebook. Clues! Immediately, I thought this must have just happened moments ago, since I wouldn't imagine even a picked-over purse would last long on the street (?) .. But there was nobody around and it was a little creepy knowing that some purse-stealing asshole was lurking nearby only moments before.

I then started to think about the sheer pain in the ass the poor victim has to go through replacing all those keys, and that was the original motivation as to why I felt we should make it a mission to find this person.

Then there's the diary. Oh, but this wasn't just a diary. This was a log of a woman's inner thoughts detailing the daily minutiae and emotions she was going through after discovering that she was going to have a baby, with a few messages written as if it were little mini-love letters to her unborn child. The mission became clear: must. find. owner.

It's now 1:30am or so and as we stopped to hang out at a park bench I thumbed through the book to find a person's name and phone number. I called it knowing that the person's phone I'm calling would display a strange Texas phone number (since I chose my phone number myself long ago, my number actually looks like a typical telemarketer's number — I myself wouldn't answer the phone if I got a call from a number that looked like that!) — and some agitated freshly-awoken and heavily NY accented woman understandably answers "who's cwalling?!" ... In a most polite and bumbly fashion, I tried to explain that I found a purse, her number was in a book, asked if she had a clue who that could be, etc? She answered something unintelligible like "My purse is right heah" and "I don't know what you're twalkin' about" and hangs up.

The next morning at around 9 I continued the mission, and as I looked over the book and the keyring again, it had just occurred to me that those little keytags that grocery stores give you to zap for at-the-register discounts probably have the name and info of the victim — and there were four of those on the keyring! I could now spoke off into a tangent and lay out a screed on the complete prickishness of people I encountered on the phone when trying to explain the situation to customer service folks at two of the stores. You'd think this might be a common thing and that the fact that their little discount tag being the root cause for a victim's property to be returned is a selling point and could give them lots of fuzzypoints, but no, my attempts to find the identification of the victim through this method was exhaustive and met with utter stupidity. And just when I thought it as an ingenious lead to the owner — oh well, back to the diary.

One of the pages stuck out, and it was a page that took a while to realize it was a list of potential full baby names with a middle and last name included. So we had a possible last name of somebody — but then also I spotted a recurring mention of "Rudy" and the mention of a bus stop or something that I found out was in the Bronx. Ten minutes with good ol' Google and lo and behold, there was a Rudy + Last Name listed very close to the neighborhood of the location mentioned in the book. Fuck it, I called.

This fellow answers, and I started off by saying "Hi, my name is Robert, I'm from Texas, and I found a purse last night..." and this guy immediately starts to freak out "HOLY SHIT SOMEONE FOUND THE PURSE" .. and he stops me and goes "tell me, was there a little book?" and I said "I'm holding it in my hand" — the guy exploded with excitement, yelling to someone in the room "HE HAS THE BOOK!@!#!@#" .. The purse belonged to his girlfriend and he said that their car got broken into the night before and they were devastated to find that the purse was missing — and while relieved to hear that I also had the keychain, the book was apparently irreplaceable.

The reason for our trip was because my father (a former FDNY) was dying of cancer and since we knew about how much time he had left in life, my brothers and I thought it'd be cool to have us all reconvene in NYC (which we moved away from to Texas in 1977) one last time to go see all the old sights, his ol' firehouse, buddies, relatives, etc. Coincidentally, Bronx was on the itinerary the next day because I wanted to pop our heads into the old Yankee Stadium, where my dad attended games as a child in the 1940s. I bring this up because I was able to tell Rudy we'll be in the Bronx so he can meet us near one of the gates of Yankee Stadium. He was so excited .. and so was I, this was going to be cool.

We get to the Bronx the next day, and just as arranged, there's Rudy underneath that big ol' overhead subway track thing that hovers above as you exit the Yankee Stadium station. (It was an adventure riding the 4 train holding a big honkin' purse in plain view, I say!) And so I gave him the purse, keys, and book. He was profusely thankful and mentioned that his family runs a Puerto Rican catering business in the Bronx and so "whenever you're in town again and want to have Puerto Rican food, you give me a call"... I have his number, and so the next time I head up that way, I suppose I'll have to clear my appetite for plantain arañitas!

I've never bothered telling this story at length before, mainly because I don't want it to appear full of gloaty heroics, it really was more of a puzzle/city adventure to me — and I'd like to think that most people would do what I did — I cannot imagine the sheer "I'm screwed" feeling of losing my coveted keychain! But as Rudy had noted, those can be replaced, but things like the little book cannot — and he wasn't holding his breath that they'd ever see that stuff again. He said that his girlfriend was in tears that they were able to recover it. So, there's my feel-good Oprah experience, squee.