Weirdest Unclaimed Luggage

It's a sight all too familiar to travelers: the lonely luggage that endlessly circles the airport baggage carousels. But, have you ever stopped to wonder where it all ends up? Some might be surprised to learn that the answer is Scottsboro, Alabama, home of the nation's only retailer of lost and unclaimed luggage.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center spans 40,000 square-feet, covering an entire city block, and sells approximately 1 million items annually, all left behind by travelers.

"Upon first impression, a lot of visitors think our store is really large but they have to realize that we're not a chain, we're one location collecting unclaimed baggage from all over the country," said Brenda Cantrell, director of marketing for the UBC. "The airports and airlines are really good at their jobs. Over 99.9 percent of the bags that are checked get reunited with their owners."

Only after an airline fails to match the baggage up with the owner over a 90 day period, does the airline go through their claims settlement processes, making the luggage and its contents available for sale. The luggage then gets snapped up by the UBC, who buys lots of luggage from undisclosed airlines, sight unseen.

What's of most interest, though, is what's inside the bags.

"When people travel, they shop. We get a lot of interesting domestic and international things – interesting art and displays, clothes and items from all around the world," said Cantrell, who described shopping in the store as "going on a treasure hunt around the world."

While the majority of the sprawling building contains the usual items toted by travelers – clothes, computers, cameras, and jewelry – a small department, nestled between Rugs and Men's Coats, displays finds of a more unusual nature.

A violin from the 1770s resides near Hoggle, the dwarf-like gatekeeper from Jim Henson's classic '80s movie, Labyrinth, in the small museum that houses discoveries that were too weirdly wonderful to sell.

Other amazing finds over the store's 40 year history have included:

A full suit of armor – The suit turned out to be a replica of a 19th century original.

A collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts – An old Gucci suitcase was opened to reveal ancient items including a shrunken head, a mummified falcon, a burial mask, and scarabs, all dating back to 1500 B.C. The items were later sold by Christie's auction house back in the '80s.

A $250,000 piece of Naval equipment – A Naval guidance system for a F16 fighter jet was discovered among lost luggage, and surprisingly, was never claimed. The UBC turned the quarter-million dollar GPS back over to the Navy.

A 5.8-carat solitaire diamond ring – This platinum-set ring was found at the bottom of a sock in the corner of a plain-looking suitcase.

A Barbie stuffed with cash – After purchasing a Barbie doll for her little girl, a woman was startled to find $500 in cash, rolled and stuffed into the dolls body. Thankfully, her daughter pulled the head off promptly, revealing the bills.

A rattle snake – Whether it slithered in while no one was looking, or it was purposefully packed, a live rattlesnake was found by workers unpacking unclaimed bags.

A 40.95-carat natural emerald – The gem measured ¾ of an inch, and was found tucked away in a small plastic bag, stashed in the corner of a piece of luggage.

A NASA camera – The camera, which was specially designed for the Space Shuttle, was returned to the government agency.

A suitcase of designer dresses – In the late '90s, UBC workers discovered an entire suitcase filled with Versace dresses, straight from the runway.

Expensive art – What the store tagged and sold as a $60 painting turned out to be an original artwork, valued at $20,000.

For many, the thrill of the hunt, and the stories of the bizarre, prove too difficult to resist.

"We've become one of the top tourist attractions in the state of Alabama," said Cantrell. "It's kind of like the giant ball of yarn, people travel from all over the country, and all over the world, to visit us."
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