Lost and Found

Photograph by Walter Smalling

New York's Grand Central Terminal is the largest facility of its kind in the world. A train arrives at or departs from Grand Central every two minutes; every day half a million people pass through it. Once in a while one of them inadvertently leaves a little something behind.

If some unscrupulous person doesn't make off with it first, that little something is carried down to a small room tucked away in a remote corner of the terminal's lower level. In all, 15,000 items end up in Grand Central's Lost and Found every year. Last year 56 percent of them were recovered by their original owners. "Our goal is sixty percent,"says Steve Hutcher, the manager of the Lost and Found. "The low-value items—keys, one glove, a hat, stuff that no one comes looking for—are what drives our numbers down. When I got here, two years ago, we had three whole tubs filled with keys."

Photograph by Walter SmallingToday they've got it down to one tub. They still have several tubs of hardcover books. There's also a tub of cellular phones and pagers, a tub of eyeglasses, a tub of gloves, and a tub or two of compact umbrellas.

The terminal gets its share of expensive items, too. One day a purse came in containing two pairs of socks. "When we checked it out, we discovered that each pair of socks had five thousand dollars rolled up in it,"Hutcher says. The purse was quickly recovered. "We've had a couple of things from Tiffany's. And a ten-thousand-dollar fur coat. You'd be surprised—you actually get a lot of laptop computers. How could somebody leave behind something that valuable?"

And then there are the things that you would think passengers couldn't forget: prosthetic limbs, glass eyeballs, hairpieces, an urn containing a husband's ashes. "A huge, inflatable rubber raft," Hutcher says. "It's been here for two years."

Fred Chidester, who ran the Lost and Found before Hutcher, recalls, "A plastic surgeon once left two eyebrows and an earlobe."

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