A Cache of Lost Finds : Unclaimed Belongings Turned Over to Disneyland Office Are Auctioned Off for Good Cause

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Have you ever lost a water bed? How about a glass eye? A wooden leg? A set of dentures? A bag of jewels, or $3,500 in cash?

Well, guests at Disneyland have. Those are just a few of the odd items that have made their way to the lost-and-found office at the Happiest Place on Earth.

"You'd be surprised by the things we get here," said Peggy Ephrom, who for 10 years has worked at reuniting lost belongings with park patrons.

A bigger surprise sometimes is the things that are reclaimed.

"There are times when we get a hat or something and say, 'Oh my God, who would wear that?' but it may be very important to that person. Sometimes it's a child's toy that means the world to them. There's that sentimental value," said Susan Shadrick, who supervises the Disneyland lost-and-found office.

An item that remains unclaimed by either the owner or the finder after 90 days is moved to a Disney warehouse, where it awaits an annual sale and auction.

This year's sale was held Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. for Disney employees and later opened to the public. It raised $16,000 for Operation Christmas, an Anaheim charity that provides gifts to needy children. Unsold items are donated to other charities.

Located in a cul-de-sac off Main Street, U.S.A., the lost-and-found office can seem as busy as Star Tours or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

"On a typical day in summer, we get about 150 hats, same amount of sunglasses, a lot of cameras and about 10 to 20 strollers," Ephrom said. "Those are the most common items."

Lining the lost-and-found storage room are scores of boxes filled with lens caps, stuffed animals, Mickey Mouse hats, jackets and jewelry. Each piece is carefully filed by date, type of item and place found. Also recorded is the finder's name, because after 90 days, the finders-keepers rule prevails.

"It's amazing to us how many people don't check and see if it's here," Shadrick said. "I think most people think that once they lost it, that's it."

Usually, by the time of the sale there is a large and often bizarre collection of lost items, some of them found by the night and morning crews, including a diving team, who comb the grounds when the park is closed.

"Last year, there was a wooden leg for sale," said John McClintock, senior publicist for Disney.

Among the more common items lining the sales tables Saturday were more than 50,000 pairs of sunglasses and thousands of baby strollers, said Jonna Bartges, a Disney publicist. Other items included an eight-foot-tall flagpole with a Canadian flag that sold to a Toronto native for $3, and a pair of adult ski boots.

The item that brought in the largest bid was a broken video camera that sold for $165.

The event proved to be even more popular than last year, Bartges added, with about 10,000 people attending the sale.

"At 3:30 this morning, we had 1,000 people waiting for it to open," Bartges said.

The lost-and-found office also gets "a lot of dentures," Ephrom said. "Full sets of uppers and lowers sometimes." Those usually turn up near the tracks of Space Mountain, the Matterhorn and Big Thunder--all roller-coaster-type rides. Usually, the false teeth remain unclaimed, as did a glass eye found several years ago.

A hair dryer, televisions, briefcases, knives and even a couple of handguns have turned up.

Some people may lose things on purpose, such as the owner of a water bed who drained it and left it behind in the parking lot.

But even valuables such as diamond rings and wads of cash are turned in to the lost-and-found office.

"People return all amounts of money," Shadrick said. "People are a lot more honest than many would think."

If there are clues to the owner, Ephrom and her colleagues pursue them.

They look for name tags, receipts or letters. If the item is a wallet or purse, they will call airlines, hotels and banks to reach the owner. If it is a video camera, they look at the video for a familiar face.

"We go to great lengths to return items," Ephrom said. "It's hard to match (people to lost items), but when you do, it's really worth it."

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