Lost? Found.

Lost and Found HQ

While we don’t know for sure, since we don’t actually track these things, we’ll venture to say that Burning Man has one of the more labor-intensive Lost and Found systems among events of its size and ilk. Ours is done by hand, and is supported by a small team of dedicated volunteers who work during, as well as long after the event ends to reunite lost stuff with the … um … losers. Wait, that came out wrong.

If you’ve lost something on playa, and it was turned in to Playa Info, it’s now sharing a small office on Burning Man HQ’s 8th floor with Lauren, Lois, Bobalou, Phil, Carolyn or Matty, who are busy sorting, cataloging, and finding YOU, its rightful owner (let’s use that term, shall we?).

Lois

“This room smells like playa and sweat … every time you come in here, you really get a powerful whiff of home,” says Lois. This is Lois’s first year doing Lost and Found for Burning Man. She came intending to stay two days, and she’s been here over two weeks now … and she doesn’t know when she’ll stop. “I’m having a great time,” she says with a big smile, as she adds photos from people’s lost cameras to our Flickr set (which people use to identify their cameras). This is a big change from when we’d have to get people’s film developed (remember those days?), scan some key pictures, and post them on our website. With the advent of digital technologies, things have become exponentially easier.

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A long-time Playa Info volunteer, Bobalou has been working on Burning Man’s Lost and Found for (ready for this?) 11 years. “Here’s where we store people’s IDs and wallets, so you can be sure they’re safe and not going anywhere,” he says, tapping a small suitcase next to him, secured with a combination lock. Burners being Burners, of course there’s a fair amount of valuable belongings (including cash) that gets turned into Lost and Found.

“A lot more items were turned in this year than ever before … we’ve seen a big jump in the number of smart phones especially,” said Terry Schoop, Burning Man’s Community Services Manager. “We had 320 ‘gadgets’ (phones, cameras, walkie-talkies, etc.) this year, up from 215 in 2010. We charge them and plug them in to see who owns them, and we’ve learned that Verizon (at least) will take them and send them back to their owners, which is pretty cool. If we find the owners on our own, we ship them back and people reimburse us for shipping.”

Gadget Fest 2011

“Volunteer Brillig created a database for us to catalog items more easily on site. It makes for less typos in the item categories and descriptions, since it uses drop-down menus,” Terry says. Items getting sorted and sifted include backpacks, cameras, phones, wallets, IDs, goggles, glasses, walkie-talkies, jewelry, clothing, costume bits, and random miscellany of all kinds (as you can imagine). Bins of them fill every nook, cranny and corner of the overstuffed office … and only by finding their owners will the team make more room for themselves. Volunteer Lauren really stepped up this year and is looking at this process holistically, creating a new manual strictly for the Lost and Found process – from intake to return – and all the steps in between.

Matty Working the Database

The crew works like private detectives, looking up people’s names in Facebook, finding them through Google, or other random sources like the Verizon store … this is the fun part of the job. (Of course, it’s easier to find you if you labeled your belongings with your name and identifying information.) “It’s really satisfying reuniting people with their lost things, but unfortunately they pick their stuff up from Rachel upstairs, so we don’t get to see them in person. Ah well,” Lois shrugs.

If you’re looking for something you’ve lost, email a description of it to lostandfound here: lostandfound (at) burningman.com … the team will be happy to go to work on it for you. But be quick about it, we stop the effort when Burning Man tickets go on sale in January.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase first attended Burning Man 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art headquarters) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004-2009, then transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009 to become Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He's the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Voices of Burning Man blog, and content manager for Burning Man’s websites. He also manages the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social networking efforts.

19 thoughts on “Lost? Found.

  • I’m still hoping to track down my Scott Mountain Bike that was all dressed up like a Donkey. My name and phone number is written on the frame with black survey marker. When it was taken from in front of the ARTery on burn night, It had a big gray donkey head on the high rise handle bars, gray fuzzy fabric over the frame and a gray fuzzy milk carton on the back rack. I’ve posted on the lost and found on eplaya and at lostbikes at burningman.com with no luck. I would gladly pay to ship this bike back to me in Phoenix…had it for 15 years and 5 burns.

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  • i emailed lost and found about a month ago. i imagine that there’s a metric tonne of cataloguing and sorting to do before people can be contacted. do you happen to know when they’ll be responding to queries?

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/burning_man_lost_and_found/

    instructions:

    If you discover your images in the lost and found set:

    To get your camera back, please send an email to us at lostandfound here: lostandfound (at) burningman.com, and put the camera/Flickr Set number in the subject line.
    Please provide us with a description of your camera: make, model, color, or if it was in a case or a bag.
    Also, describe any unique photos that aren’t published on Flickr, and if possible, send us a photo of yourself or someone who would appear in your photos.
    Lastly, include your mailing address. If we have your camera we will send it to you; we just ask that after you receive your package you reimburse us the cost of postage.
    Act now! All Lost and Found efforts to reunite you with your lost items must end when ticket sales begin in mid-January for the 2012 Burn! After that the cameras and phones will be donated and all image files deleted.

    ….and remember to put your name on your camera next year!

    Thanks, and good luck!
    Lost and Found

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  • How beautiful! Thank you guys SOOOOO much. I always take the first picture of a paper with phone number and address and camp site just in case I loose it and someone finds it :) If anyone deserves a pat on the back it’s you guys :)

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  • I am so excited and so full of belief in playa miracles. I lost my camera and have been emailing all my campmates, posting on e-playa, bugging Elecktra and Lawton Found and yet still maintaining hope that my camera would come back. Yesterday the samples of pictures from lost cameras was posted and my phone started ringing off the hook. So many friends saw my pictures and recognized me and of course, everyone knows I lost it. I got calls and emails and facebook posts. It was a very happy day. Thank you Burning Man and the Burning Man participants and all the people involved in helping me get my camera back.

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  • Thank you!! You all do a great job! The day I logged in and saw I had an email from the lost and found I became like a kid on Christmas morning; I couldn’t click on it fast enough! You had found my camera! Plus, I got a wonderful personalized message from Lois. I got my camera back a few days later. The playa miracles continue! Thanks so much! $1.60something will be on it’s way to you ASAP!

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  • hello. wow, thank you so much for doing this!!! i didn’t even check until now cause i thought, “no way”. i lost a fedora that was made from 100% paper and was the brand “ole”. it had a fabric band around it that was red, blue, and maybe a neutral color. also, i lost a turquoise and gold scarf that my friend got me from thailand. it has gold thread tassles at the ends. it is sooo beautiful. and a black sweater and pink tennies. i have realized that i should not take things that i dont want to lose next time. it was an amazing experience. thank you for making it come full circle. you are all so great to contribute to this.

    sincerely, danielle mccoy

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  • 2014…check check…Lost pair of vintage ray bans sun glasses..long shot but my daddy gave em to me and they are special… why on the playa with special glasses? Cause they were lucky…not anymore… Blue and white very large old school actual glass …sun glasses…if found please let me know. otherwise see ya next year.

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  • Nothing ever surprises me any more when it comes to how effective this community of volunteers is. Inspiring. I believe that someone borrowed my bike, I was packed to leave and didn’t have a chance to look for it the next day. I should have locked it, I am poor about those things. I have already been givin a very cool old schwinn to take it’s place. My bike was a white del sol, with white rope lights, a white speedometer, and a black bell, it was also decorated with pieces of moop, that I picked up on the playa, and riding around the neighborhoods. Really I just wanted to tell a story. Thank you, for helping people reunite with their personal items. Bravo, bravo. Just Milt.

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  • It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to this fantastic blog!
    I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to brand new updates and will talk about this site
    with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

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