The Unclaimed Baggage Center: A Wonderful Tale Of Lost Wedding Dresses & Rattlesnakes

We need to plan a field trip to Scottsboro, Ala. ASAP. Why? Just because of a magical place called the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a warehouse that sells off all the wonderful and not so wonderful things left behind in luggage that was never reunited with airline passengers. Sure, some bags might be full of dirty socks and empty Cheetos bags (I assume), but others contain things like wedding dresses, rattlesnakes… or even shrunken heads.

Business Week has the scoop on what it’s like to work at the warehouse in an interview with one of the store’s employees. And boy, does she have some stories to tell — especially about the stuff they can’t sell. Including that shrunken head. Shudder.

“It was in this old worn-out suitcase with a bunch of Egyptian artifacts and a mummified falcon,” she remembers. “How do you sell a shrunken head? That’s not really something you can put a price tag on.”

Oh yeah and you can’t really sell a rattlesnake, either.

“We don’t know how the snake got in there,” she says. “We’ll never know if someone meant to put it there, or if it somehow found its way in during the transportation process. It’s like the wedding dresses we find occasionally. We can only guess at the back story. Was the dress on its way to a wedding or coming back from a wedding?” They released the snake in the cemetery behind the store. “That’s not something you put up for sale,” she laughs. “Although at this place, it’d probably have a few takers.”

So how does your abandoned or lost stuff end up at the Unclaimed Baggage Center for treasure hunters to pick through and buy for steep discounts? There are 25 million pieces of luggage lost or misplaced last year. If those bags aren’t claimed within 90 days, they get tossed or sold to the center, where their contents are sorted out and put up for sale.

The store gets between 5,000 to 7,000 new items on its shelves every day, and the stuff moves quick — most of that is gone within a month. Some of the items that don’t go up for sale are showcased in the center’s museum, which has featured things like a replica of a full suit of 15th century armor, a Chinese opium scale, a NASA camera and Hoggle, the famous gatekeeper from the movie Labyrinth.

All that’s lost doesn’t always stay that way, either. The employee noted one customer who picked up a pair of ski boots that seemed perfect for his wife. And they were, because they had been the same boots she’d lost during a ski trip a few months before.

There’s something kind of wonderful about lost bags turning into a vast collection of treasure. Like I said before, a field trip is in order.

Odd Jobs: Lost Airline Luggage Merchant [Business Week]