As long as we’ve been a city, we’ve been losing stuff


Contributing editor, Urban Times

George Pogue was one of the first, perhaps the first, white settler in what would become Indianapolis. Pogue, for whom Pogue’s Run was named, lost some horses in 1821 and, when he went to look for them, he also got himself lost (and probably murdered) and never returned. He was the first in a long history of people who have lost stuff in Indianapolis.

Calvin Fletcher, the city’s pioneer diarist, lost $200 in August 1857 – an amount equivalent to about $5,000 today. That same month, on what Fletcher assumed to be the hottest days of the year, he also lost his thermometer. He recorded both losses in his diary.

By the 1880s, the city’s losers had a public forum to try to find their lost items. Local newspapers began running Lost and Found sections. These paid advertisements were the losers’ last chances to get their stuff back.

A Lost and Found item from the Dec. 24, 1911, edition of The Indianapolis Star, one of several listings that day.

On Nov. 22, 1884, The Indianapolis News devoted front-page space to two Lost advertisements. “Lost — Memorandum Book, on North end of Mass. Ave. Return to A. B. Meyer & Co’s. coal yard, Mass. and Christian aves.” And “Lost. November 19, p.m., either on Illinois Street north of Seventh or near 212 E. Vermont street, an alligator skin pocket-book, containing an envelope enclosing three medical prescriptions, addressed to Mrs. J. J. Tuttle: also one ten dollar bill and a five dollar bill, besides some small bits of silver.”

By the 1890s both the Indianapolis Journal (at 5 cents a line) and The Indianapolis News were publishing Lost and Found sections, benefiting from Indianapolis losses.

On April 11, 1895, The News had a long list of Lost items, which included both lost stuff and lost animals. In fact, it would probably be possible to track the introduction of dog breeds to the city just by reading lost and found ads. This day’s list consisted of a “black and tan dog, Gyp.” and a “little white poodle, female.” Losers were hoping that finders would bring their little dogs home.  Other lost items: two pairs of “gold nose glasses with chain” lost by two different people; a cluster breast pin and a black silk umbrella, both lost at the Food Exhibit.” The Pure Food Exhibit was held at Tomlinson Hall near the City Market. Among the displays there was one for “Lieber’s Tafel Beer.” According to a Lieber advertisement, Tafel beer was “liquid bread,” that “produces a cheerful stomach, warms the heart, makes folks happy and companionable,” and perhaps also caused them to walk off without their umbrella.

By 1907, The Indianapolis Star was in the Lost and Found business. A section in that paper listed the following lost items on Oct. 24. Lost animals: a brown pony mare; a black and brown rat terrier; a white and brown fox terrier; a black, white and brown hound pup, just three months old; a white bird dog; and a “benched beagle hound, female; answers to the name of Cassie, collar and tag.”

Other lost stuff in 1907 included a buggy lap robe; a tent; a gold bracelet lost at the Park Theatre and a “two-set ring left on the washstand at the K. of P. Building; a gold locket left on either the Illinois or Pennsylvania street car; and, a “brown leather surgical instrument case, return to H. E. Zimmer Drug Company, 132 East Washington Street, and receive reward.”

Although the amount of reward was not mentioned in any of these lost and found sections, one ad in The Star on July 3, 1927, offered an “increased reward” for the return of a gold bar pin lost at 17th and Meridian streets. Also lost that day was a registered English bulldog, the ad for it offering a “liberal reward;” another English bulldog named Hoho and a Boston bull named Buster, as well as a fox terrier and a female hound.  Rewards were offered all around for the lost dogs and for an initialed gold cuff link and a topaz ring set left in either Block’s or L. S. Ayres basement store.

In 1933, in addition to the usual complement of missing dogs, some odd items were noted in The News, such as the “end of a daybed” lost somewhere between Michigan and Dorman streets. And a portable Remington typewriter had gone missing in the vicinity of Pleasant Run and Barth Avenue [a little Google searching shows that a “portable” typewriter in the 1930s was quite large and weighed about 20 pounds, a hard thing to misplace].

During the years of the Great Depression, lost and found sections – which rarely offer “found” items, by the way – seem especially poignant, knowing that few people could afford any additional losses at this time. The “billfold with bonds and money” and the “black purse with three diamond rings and a wrist watch,” both of which were listed in The Star Lost and Found on Aug. 30, 1936, seem to hint at people aiming to sell their valuables.

The stuff that people lost after the nation entered World War II in 1941 sometimes offers a tiny glimpse at life during the war years. For instance, noted in The Star on Dec. 13, 1942, Clarence Clark lost two “T-1 gas books,” that would have allowed him to buy severely rationed gasoline. And a soldier lost his Elgin wrist watch at the Traction Terminal station, perhaps while boarding a train to his destiny.

By the 1950s, the war was finally over and the city was in a time of plenty, some of which – of course – its residents lost. A new list of lost dog breeds took up most of the Lost and Found space in The News on Feb. 22, 1950. A black Labrador, a springer spaniel and a black cocker spaniel went missing from the new suburbs of the city at Arden and Sherwood, and on W. 86th Street. Also noted, two different women lost Lady Bulova watches and two men lost Masonic rings. And one poor fella lost a three-carat unmounted diamond. It seems unlikely that one ever got returned.

And the Lost and Found sections continue through the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and into the 2000s. From the very first years of the city’s history, through good times and bad times, Indianapolis residents just couldn’t keep from losing their stuff. We’re still doing it. The people of this city are inveterate    losers.  It’s OK. The lessons of the past teach us to place an ad. Don’t forget the reward. n

Connie is a historian who researches and writes about design history and Indianapolis and owns C. Resources, a preservation consulting firm.