February 2017

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Lost at Sea

Our Visitor Services team reviews the Lost & Found items collected over the summer

By Kristen Sheldon, Museum Volunteer Manager

Items found at BEACH
Lost and found items at the BEACH.
Photo by Museum staff.

Check the binder, which has grown this summer from the 1" variety to two, stuffed 3.5" tomes. They're divided by category: iPhones, HTC, Samsung Phones, sunglasses, shoes, wallets, eyeglasses, watches, jewelry, cameras, and "other." Next, check the file boxes, drawers, and bags that have begun to stack up. None of us could have imagined when Snarkitecture's summer BEACH installation was built, that the lost-and-found would be quite so expansive. Tending to it has been part careful organization, part sleuthing, part "snorkeling," and nearly a full-time job.

As museum staff, we know the importance of objects. They tell stories, hold meaning, and are the keepers of memory. That concept is easy to see in something as precious as an engagement ring; there have been several lost and some returned at the time of this writing.

But what about a bandana? The bandana's description was very clear: blue, yellow, and green with the words "peace and love" stiched on it. The bandana turned up and I dutifully called the owner. The teenager I was expecting turned out to be a 60-year-old woman. She was thrilled, but afraid that we would think her silly for looking for a bandana. She explained that she has always used them to tie back her hair or demurely blot her face. (Me too!) This well-loved bandana, which would be reunited with its owner, is some 20 years old.

Amidst the mounting bags, boxes, tags, and envelopes are stories. A child's first watch or wallet, the charm bracelet whose owner returned home to Brazil, and the ring of a newly engaged couple not yet accustomed to its finger, its owner writing an inquiry in tears. We found and returned that ring. High fives were exchanged with the visitors who found it while searching for their phones after hours.

The physics of an ocean of plastic balls defy understanding, and items can disappear. Watches that are usually snug slide off.  The homing technology of a lost smartphone might show it drifting from far left to far right in a matter of hours. Are there rip tides in this synthetic ocean? Trade currents? Swirling eddies of sunglasses hidden beneath? One item might turn up the next day while another might not wash up for two weeks or more.

People are taken aback by the quantity of lost items. "What's the weirdest thing you've found?" they ask. There was a smokeless vaporizer, a hearing aid, and lots of solo shoes. The shoes raise the question: how did that person get home?

The indoor sea has claimed some victims: tiny parts of glasses and jewelry have not yet been found, and may never.

A treasured find during this process has been the good humor of people. Phones, diamond rings, and expensive sunglasses are retuned without a thought. Visitors help each other as they search, sometimes working until exhausted. Wallets are retuned with all contents intact, including a child's wallet with two neatly folded $20 bills still inside. Loose bills found their way into young hands, startling their parents in the gift shop.

Who knows what treasure awaits when the ocean is emptied and our staff sifts with a fine-tooth comb? Check the binder, check the notebook, and hopefully reunite another BEACH-goer with their item.

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