Lost Horizons

When staffers go through the Ski Train at the end of each run from Winter Park to Union Station, they find backpacks, boots and cell phones. Lots of cell phones. "And everyone has 'Mom' programmed in," says Jim Bain, Ski Train president and CEO. "So don't lose your phone, because we always just call your mother and tell her we have it, and she knows you've lost it."

Security screeners at DIA have seen it all -- even an abandoned chainsaw. "Basically, if you can think of it, we've had it," says Holly Bachmeyer, Lost and Found operations administrator at the airport. "The saddest thing is when we find a ratty old stuffed animal, because you know that somewhere, a child's heart is broken." More common finds are laptops left behind by flustered business travelers going through security; nearly ninety ended up in Lost and Found in the weeks after 9/11.

But it was in the less-security-conscious days of the late '90s that airport employees made their most disconcerting find. A bulky carry-on object was wrapped in newspaper and plastic, and the X-ray machine revealed that it was a horse head -- preserved in formaldehyde, to be precise. Its owner never claimed it.

Paging Damien Hirst.

DIA's standard procedure for found items is to keep them for two weeks, then ship them to a city warehouse, where they sit for another two weeks. If they remain unclaimed, the errant earrings, coats and books are auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the City of Denver. The horse head didn't travel normal channels, though. Bachmeyer believes it was disposed of through the airport's health clinic.

Steve Wilbourn is the stock-keeper at the city's last-resort lost-item warehouse, a 10,000-foot structure located at 4120 Brighton Boulevard. This is where unclaimed items from Red Rocks, the Colorado Convention Center, the Denver Coliseum, DIA and other city facilities wind up. "I just get the junk," Wilbourn says.

Not entirely -- because the city uses the warehouse for surplus storage as well as a Lost and Found. "I got seven pallets of parking meters when the downtown switched to the new digital meters," Wilbourn remembers. "The city couldn't unload them on anybody else, so they ended up with me."

Jim Norris, general manager of the Ogden and Bluebird theaters, knows exactly what happened to the oddest item ever found in either of those venues. A woman on the dance floor apparently got a little too jiggy with it and lost a falsie. The rubber insert made the rounds of musicians and staffers while Norris waited for the woman to realize what she'd lost. He saved the fake breast for a year -- as he will all lost items -- but the owner never appeared to claim her better half.

At the Denver Performing Arts Complex, lost articles usually find a new life on the stage. "After ninety days are up, we take the item down to the costume department to see if they want it," says Lee Maes, director of security. "They're always looking for small, random items to use as props, especially unclaimed jewelry."

A few things don't get offered to the theater company, though. "Sometimes we find crack cocaine, marijuana and needles around the perimeter of the complex," Maes reveals. "In those cases, the Denver Police Department is contacted to come and pick up the drug paraphernalia."

He once received a phone call from the rightful owner of some missing high-quality mushrooms. "He asked me if I had found any 'shrooms," Maes reports, "but when I asked for his name, he hung up."

Thomas Scott, manager of security and safety for the Denver Public Library, received a similar call. "When he asked if I found his marijuana, I said yes and asked if he would come in and claim it," Scott remembers. "He agreed."

When the pothead arrived, the police were waiting, and they busted him for possession.

Most of the stuff left at the library is much less exotic -- textbooks, notebooks, folders. Items of greater value, such as birth records or diamond rings, are kept for at least six months. After that, if an article of clothing remains unclaimed, the DPL will donate it to a local charity. And in some situations -- such as the time a DPL patron left a $65,000 bank draft -- library employees will work diligently to find the owner. "The draft was already signed and could have been cashed by anybody," Scott says. "Still, we worked with the bank and got the money returned to the rightful owner. It turned out to be a woman who had just closed on her house."

RTD drivers regularly deal with lost funds. If a driver finds more than $20, the bills are kept in a safe for thirty days -- but only released if someone can prove their claim to the cash. "If it's in a wallet or an envelope," says public affairs director Scott Reed, "then there are at least some identifiable markings. But if it goes unclaimed, it ends up in the RTD general fund." The proceeds aren't going to fund the next FasTracks line, though: RTD only collects about $200 a year from forgetful passengers.

But money isn't the only thing left behind. "We've found crutches, wheelchairs, inline skates, bikes, keys and even dentures," Reed says.

Normal items, such as books and clothing, are kept for ten days; more expensive items are kept thirty days. After that, everything is donated to charity -- except bikes, which go to the Denver Police Department for official use or the DPD auction.

Skis are the main mode of transportation for Ski Train travelers, but they forget those, too, as well as the usual books, sweaters, scarves, sunglasses and shoes. "I always wonder how the passengers are able to get off the train without their shoes," says reservations manager Stacy Arnold. People have until the end of the season -- the train runs through April 2 -- to claim their missing items; after that, clothing is donated to nearby shelters. The staff keeps ski paraphernalia as a traveler's aid for future passengers, and will loan last season's leftovers when someone reaches Winter Park and realizes he forgot gloves or goggles.

Beats calling your mother.

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Corey Helland

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