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Unclaimed boa constrictor skin.
Unclaimed boa constrictor skin.

Unclaimed Baggage Center

Field review by the editors.

Scottsboro, Alabama

If you've ever lost a piece of luggage on a plane, train, or bus, odds are that six months later it ended up in Scottsboro, Alabama -- with a price tag -- at Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Unclaimed luggage contents.
Unclaimed woman's suitcase.

According to Brenda Cantrell, UBC's marketing manager, only a tiny fraction of all luggage technically gets "lost," and a lot of time and money is then spent trying to reunite it with its owners. Only when all avenues are exhausted does it end up at UBC -- although that still amounts to 5,000 new items added to the store's shelves every day. Brenda said that with so much luggage always in transit, it reflects well on America's mass transit carriers that there's only one place like UBC.

We imagined UBC as a cavernous warehouse with a colossal baggage carousel, carrying a continuous steam of suitcases and backpacks, sold with contents sight unseen to daredevil buyers.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center.
Unclaimed clothing on racks.

Instead, it looks like a department store. A floor plan directs you to familiar shopping sections such as electronics, books, and sports equipment. Clothes are neatly displayed on racks, all cleaned and pressed (UBC runs the largest dry cleaning plant in Alabama). There's virtually no chance that the iPad or laptop you buy will have personal information, as every device is digitally wiped.

UBC winnows what it gets to what it feels is the best stuff, then moves it out to its racks and bins. Inventory is based on whatever UBC receives, although the store -- as you might expect -- has lots of typical travel items such as clothes, shoes, paperback books, and golf clubs. And, of course, luggage. Thousands of noise-canceling headphones hang in baggies -- a real consumer electronics morgue. UBC gets so many donut-shaped neck pillows that it donates them to nursing homes.

The Hoggle puppet.
Unclaimed Hoggle puppet.

Then there are what UBC calls "found treasures," individual oddities that make shopping at UBC unique -- such as a bearskin preserved in salt, or 50 vacuum-sealed frogs, or a camera from the Space Shuttle (which UBC returned to NASA). "Some people will pack anything that fits in a bag," said Brenda.

Some of the stranger items are set aside as permanent displays in the Lost Luggage Hall of Fame, which opened in April 2023 within the store. We spotted an ancient-looking Russian painting of John the Baptist's severed head; a ten-foot-long Tibetan musical horn; a matched pair of McDonald's golden arches; an Inuit face carved into the spine-marrow of a vertebra from a humpback whale; a basketball signed by Michael Jordan; several sets of medieval armor; and three shrunken heads. UBC's unofficial mascot, the four-foot-tall Hoggle, is another found treasure. It's a Jim Henson puppet-goblin from the 1986 cult film Labyrinth that somehow became unclaimed baggage and wound up at UBC in 1997.

Head of John the Baptist.
Unclaimed head of John the Baptist.

According to Brenda, the store is visited by a million shoppers every year, and only once in its 50+ year history has anyone ever serendipitously purchased one of their own lost items (a pair of ski boots).

Beyond the buying experience you'd get at a thrift store, UBC offers the dark thrill of knowing that the previous owner of whatever you buy never intended for you to have it. "The quality is higher," Brenda said, "because these are things that people wanted." Shopping at UBC requires you to put aside thoughts of human despair that no doubt accompanied the loss of prized outfits, favorite snowboards, cherished jewelry.

Unclaimed headsets.
Unclaimed headsets.

We worried that such personal items could carry the aura of a wrathful previous owner -- but Brenda assured us that, as far as she knew, no one had ever returned an item to UBC because it had been possessed or cursed.

Unclaimed Baggage Center

Unclaimed Baggage Center

509 W. Willow St., Scottsboro, AL
On the south side of Hwy 35/W. Willow St. on the west edge of town.
M-F 9-6, Sa 8-6 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Pencil-Headed Head of Andrew JacksonPencil-Headed Head of Andrew Jackson, Scottsboro, AL - < 1 mi.
Rock Animal ZooRock Animal Zoo, Fackler, AL - 9 mi.
Cathedral CavernsCathedral Caverns, Woodville, AL - 12 mi.
In the region:
74-Foot-Tall Cross, Huntsville, AL - 28 mi.

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