By Jordy Yager - 07/15/08 05:30 PM EDT
From bras and pantyhose to dentures and cold hard cash, the lost-and-found officers on Capitol Hill see one of the most unusual sides of life on the Hill.
Chances are, if you’ve lost something in the past decade, you’ve had the privilege of meeting one of the Waynes.
Wayne Powell handles the U.S. Capitol’s Property and Asset Division, or lost-and-found, while his counterpart, Wayne Epps, works in the Library of Congress’s lost-and-found department.
They have definitely seen odd items come through their doors.
“Some of the most unusual items that have been turned into the lost-and-found were items such as lady’s bras, dentures, hearing aids, pantyhose, dress pants, bottles of wine, business dress shoes, walking canes, crutches,” Powell said. “They helped add a little humor to the day.”
Epps has his share of odd memories.
“The most unusual item that I’ve had is a person left their dentures in the bathroom,” he said. “Somebody brought them to me and said, ‘I don’t know how you’re going to be able to get this back to this person,’ and it was early in the morning one day. So I told them, ‘Well, they’ll be knocking on my door around lunchtime.’ Now, it’s unbeknown to me how someone can go that long and not realize they don’t have any teeth in their mouth.”
Items such as umbrellas, glasses, keys and wallets are among the most regularly lost items. In a typical week Powell handles anywhere between 50 and 65 lost items. But large events, like this past Fourth of July celebration on the West Front lawn, tend to bring an influx of lost items to the lost-and-found.
“After the concert’s over, we get bombarded with a lot of lost-and-found property that was left on the West Lawn,” Powell said. “Especially when there is a major event, there is a lot of lost-and-found property that is turned in to the division.”
Epps has 36 years of experience working in forensics, so it’s only natural that he would apply his knowledge to his job and try to investigate an item to find its owner.
“I had a gentleman and his family come in, and they had lost about $1,500 in an envelope on vacation,” said Epps, who had the envelope of money in his office. “Through my investigation I was able to track him down, and they were staying in a hotel. I called him and he and his three or four kids and his wife came down to the office and I was getting information from them. Eventually he signs for it, and they’re thanking me and everything else and he leaves. I continue to answer phone calls and do paperwork and about 30 minutes later I look over and sure enough, he had left the envelope. So I called him back and told him to let his wife sign for it, maybe she would remember to take it with her.”
Owners of such items sheepishly call Powell, too, looking for their belongings, and over the years he has developed a sense of empathy for the embarrassment that losing something brings.
“They’ll usually call me on the phone and identify the item,” he said. “They might be embarrassed, but it’s funny and they come over and claim the item,” he said. “They would describe it pretty much accurately. I’d try to lighten some of the embarrassment they had encountered. I try to do the best I can, because we all lose things at one time or another.”
Epps said he can understand how people can forget about their belongings in the midst of a trip to the nation’s Capitol.
“People are still adjusting from 9/11 and the reality of having to deal with the X-ray machines,” he said. “So quite frequently people come in and have so much on their minds that small objects like keys, IDs and things like that, they leave right at the door.”
When someone inquires about a lost item, they have to describe the item accurately and convince Epps or Powell that it actually belongs to them. For instance, if someone lost a digital camera, they would be asked to describe the pictures the camera has on it. If the item is not claimed in 30 days, then the finder can lay claim to it.
It’s not only tourists who lose things on the Hill. Powell said even Capitol Hill employees occasionally come to see him.
“We have gotten in a few strange items like lawn equipment,” he said. “I think I might have gotten a leaf blower, a weed-whacker, and more than likely those items may have been left by the maintenance crew and I’d normally contact them and tell them to come pick it up.”
Powell said he has seen it all in his nearly two decades on the job, with some exceptions.
“I’ve never had any human beings brought to us,” he said.
Next year, if you lose something on the Hill, Powell and Epps won’t be the friendly voices who answer your call; they’re moving on. Powell moves to another division within Capitol Police, while Epps is helping the Pentagon establish its forensics unit.
Powell is also looking to retire eventually, but believes that maybe he’ll never be able fully to escape his call to duty.
“I’m getting close to retirement. I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I might even open up my own lost-and-found somewhere.”