Tag Archives: Lost Property Department

The Lost Property Department: 1883

lost property office Waterlood Station 1936 lost umbrellas

Hundreds of umbrellas in the Lost Property Office of Waterloo Station, 1936

ABODE OF THE LOST

SOME OF THE ARTICLES THAT ARE FOUND ON THE TRAINS.

Several days ago the following advertisement appeared in one of the morning papers.

FOUND-TWENTY-THIRD STREET ELEVATED station, a roll of money. Owner can receive it by proving the number of bills, at No. 17 West 120th street.

“There is an immense number of miscellaneous articles of every description left or dropped in the cars of the company,” said General Manager Hain, of the “L” roads, when his attention was called to this advertisement. “When found by the conductor, or handed to them, the rules of the company direct that they shall be handed to the ‘Despatchers,’ as the men who send out the trains are called. If the loss occurs on an uptown train the despatcher at 155th street is given the article, and if it is on a downtown trip the dispatcher at the Battery receives it. They in turn deliver the article to the property clerk, who gives them a descriptive receipt for it, which ends the despatcher’s obligation in the matter. All persons are obliged to go there and give a full description of their lost property before the money, article, or whatever it is is returned to them.”

The room for lost property is located at No. 4 Front street. A dingy sign, on which is inscribed, “Lost property,” is tacked to the wall on the lower floor, and a hand points the way to a narrow staircase, which winds up to the third floor, where the property clerk holds high court. In a room adjoining his office the lost property is stored, and this apartment looks like a cross between a pawnbroker’s vault and a West street junk shop. In it every manner of article is heaped.

The property clerk was found at the desk, polite to the last degree. In answer to one of the first inquiries as to the amount of property lost, he said that since January 4, 1882, to January 9, 1883, 4,500 articles had been turned over to his care, a surprisingly small number considering that nearly ninety millions of people travel over the road during the same period of time, even after admitting that a large number of articles are picked up by dishonest persons in the cars and never turned over to the company.”

“Is there much money found on the road?” was asked.

“Yes,” considerable,” answered the P.DE., “but the amounts are usually small and seldom exceed $100. Once 200 silver dollars were found in a package, which were at once returned to the owner. The money is brought in sometimes in a loose roll of bills or in bags or pocketbooks. Then, besides, we find bankbooks, checks and drafts.”

“Are you troubled by many bogus claimants?”

“No; that class of persons seldom call, and if they do we can easily detect hem after a few minutes’ conversation.”

“What percentage of all the articles found are redeemed?” “I should say about 50 percent. All the valuable articles are generally reclaimed at once. We have now on hand over one thousand articles, but not one of them is worth over $5.”

“What disposition is made of the articles that are left unclaimed?” the reported then asked.

“After keeping them for about twelve months they are sold at private sale. Many articles are so worthless that even the owners do not care to call for them, and few persons care to buy them.”

“Articles of every imaginable kind are found, of course?” “Yes, I should say so. Ladies leave their furs, muff, circulars, dolmans, cloaks and shawls. Gentlemen, forget their coats. We find pantaloons now and then, but they are always the contents of bundles. Boys and girls leave their lunch boxes and school books. We found a statuette of Christopher Columbus the other day. Some time ago some one left a small sole leather trunk. Imagine a man forgetting his luggage. Bundles have been brought in as large as myself. (The property clerk stands about five feet nine inches and weighs over one hundred and forty pounds.). Clothing of every description is left in the cars. Umbrellas, however, have the call; there are more umbrellas picked up than any other one article. We have epidemics of certain things—umbrellas and overshoes in wet weather, vails and green spectacles in dry; fans and parasols in the summer season, skates and gloves in the winter; fruit and vegetables in the autumn, flower and garden seeds in the spring.”

“Yes, and—“

“Letters are found—many of them touchingly sweet. I never knew how much ‘taffy’ could be laid out in black and white until I occupied this position. We find poetry, too, from young ladies to their beaux, but as a general thing the spelling is fearfully wild,” said the P.C., “and the verses don’t go to any tune I ever heard.”

“Every class and trade, then, contributes its mite?”

“Certainly. A plumber left a cast ion sink frame; it was certainly too large to lose, but he forgot it. Sportsmen leave their guns, doctors their surgical instruments, invalids their bottles of medicine, and, would you believe it, one lame man skipped off without his crutch. Old gentlemen sometimes get off and leave their wives behind, but none are ever turned in.”

While this conversation was progressing, several persons called to inquire about their lost property. As a rule they were an anxious lot, and many seemed to have just awakened after a long nap. At last a very pretty young lady tripped into the office, with a face radiant with smiles and blushes. She said:

“I have lost a package.” “Indeed,” said the P.C. “Of what?”

“Must I tell?”

“We must get some idea of what is lost, you know.” “Well, it was underwear—ladies’ underwear,” said the pretty one, looking blushingly down.

“Describe, Miss, if you please,” said the P.C., beginning to look a little weary.

“There were six handkerchiefs and__”

“Yes.”

“And six pair—pair—of—stockings—new ones,” she added. “Ah@” said the P.C., with a start, as if he had never heard of such things before.

“And a—oh, dear, must I tell! Oh, a pair –a pair of—cor—cors-e-t-s,” breathed the fair one in a voice so low and sweet that even the reported began to feel as though he had better leave the office, while the P.C. wriggled in wretched silence and suddenly became interested in the mucilage bottle on the desk. At last he muttered, because it was his duty to:

“Was that all?”

“Oh!” was the reply, “oh, there was,” and she blushed the color of a Marshal Ney rose, but she did not bloom alone, for the P.C.’s face was a red as a boiled lobster, “there was—a—pa—oh! I think I’ll go—n-e-v-e-r mind the things—there was a pa—pa—ir—a pair of—“

“Oh, take the bundle,” exclaimed the P.C., as he handed out a neatly tied package.

There was a rustle of a silk dress and the door banged behind the beauty—she was gone.

“Oh, Lord! Wasn’t that dreadful?” said the P.C. N.Y. Herald

Jersey Journal [Jersey City, NJ] 17 January 1883: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The P.C. protested too much, in Mrs Daffodil’s severe opinion. The handkerchiefs and stockings alone should have been enough to identify the parcel, but this Fiend in Human Shape was obviously enjoying the spectacle of a modest young woman exposing her innermost wardrobe secrets. Mrs Daffodil, whose mind naturally runs to plots, suggests that the P.C. hoped to embarrass the young woman into abandoning the parcel, whereupon he could purchase it at the unclaimed property auction and take it home to his wife. If such an excrescence has a wife…

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.