Scavenge a Prom Dress

March 31, 2009 at 10:36 am | Posted in News | 22 Comments

dressesA Tennessee thrift shop is doing its part to help local girls’ prom dreams come true, while raising money for a good cause.

Domestic-violence shelter Change is Possible is holding its annual Prom Dress Sale this coming Saturday at its Erwin, Tennessee CHIPS thrift store. Some of the dresses are vintage and secondhand, but many are nearly new or actually new, donated by local stores and still bearing their original tags. At Saturday’s sale, all the dresses will be priced at $25. To raise awareness about the sale, students from nearby Unicoi County High School strode the catwalk last Friday in a fashion show, modeling prom dresses now in stock at CHIPS (as seen in the photo at left, from the Erwin Record).

CHIPS received more than 90 dresses donated from area stores. Proceeds from the sale will go toward services such as counseling referrals, court advocacy and sheltering.

Scavengers, Today’s Trendiest Tourist Attractions

March 30, 2009 at 7:46 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

dharavi-773555Now this is creepy. Or is it?

The hottest new travel trend is “poortainment” — e.g., watching destitute people in exotic places scavenge to survive. Slumdog Millionaire so romanticized abject poverty, presenting the poor as feisty self-reliant survivors, that companies around the world now offer guided tours of slums, townships and dumps, according to Aneel Karnani in the Business Standard.

India’s Reality Tours and Travel offers “Dharavi Slum Tours.” (The company’s homepage won’t open at the moment, possibly because it has been deluged after lots of recent press.) Dharavi is the Mumbai slum featured in Slumdog. According to Karnani, it has only one toilet for every 1,440 people: Watching the film, “the viewers flinch, but do not smell the stench.”

Karnani marvels that other travel companies are offering “guided tours of a favela in Rio de Janeiro … a visit to the township of Soweto, [a chance to] see scavengers living off garbage dumps in Mazatlan, or observe street children live in and around Delhi’s main railway station.”

But at least one organization claims to be doing this for the right reasons. The Salaam Balak Trust charity leads tours “of the street life of Delhi” as a “salute to the spirit of survival.” According to the trust’s web site, “Nobody knows Delhi’s streets better than the young people who are fully trained as guides. These spirited youngsters will take you on a tour while sharing with you the journey of their lives…. It’s a unique way of engaging people in the lives of children in distress. The walk also provides an opportunity for the young people to improve their communication and speaking skills. All proceeds go directly to the trust to enable more opportunities to be made for street children… The walk is not a slum tour because we do not go into a slum at any time and photos are not allowed.”

A Day Scavenging with the Authors of The Scavengers’ Manifesto

March 27, 2009 at 7:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s it like to go out scavenging with the authors of The Scavengers’ Manifesto? A few days ago we took a stroll (we almost always scavenge on foot, because you can find more stuff that way) through the tree-lined streets of Albany and Berkeley, California. It was a typical scavenging excursion for us, except this time we brought a camera to immortalize our “treasure hunt” — a treasure hunt with no goal, in which we didn’t know what we were seeking until we found it. That’s the true spirit of scavenging, always: the magic of the random.

Would that hint of rain in the air hinder our adventure? Let’s see….

First stop: a garage sale. On most Saturday mornings before leaving the house, we survey garage-sale listings at Craigslist, marking the location of each sale on a map. Then we chart a route through town. (At the height of the garage-sale season, which in our area is May — right before school ends and summer starts — our typical Saturday route winds through neighboring towns as well.) Hmm, what’s in that box? We rummaged through it with no luck, though the sale-giver (on the right) tried to tempt us by drastically lowering prices, since she didn’t want to lug any of her stuff back into the garage.

We love it when folks place stuff on curbs bearing “FREE” signs. That makes things so welcoming and clear, and as a fellow scavenger once told us eagerly: “Free is the best price.” Wooden pallets, though. Traveling on foot, we couldn’t exactly carry them. And even if we could, what would we do with them? A reporter who interviewed us recently said that pallets are her favorite things to scavenge — that whenever and wherever she finds pallets, she pulls her car over and collects them. We left the pallets for the next scavenger. Hopefully, someone like that reporter happened along after we did and found them.

Why not scavenge entertainment, too? At the branch library, we borrowed some DVDs. Of course, you can’t go in with a preconceived notion of what you’ll end up watching, because the choice depends on what happens to be on the shelf when you get there. But the magic of the random expands your entertainment spectrum when you see films you might never have imagined seeing otherwise — and end up liking them. This time we lucked out with Knocked Up.

The first and foremost scavenging skill is vigilance. Keep your eyes open at all times because the more you see, the more you get. And the most important place to look is down. That’s how we spotted this extremely well-camouflaged dime on the sidewalk.

This vintage 78 rpm record turned up at another yard sale. On the label, its genre is listed as “Hillbilly.” You don’t see that un-PC term very often these days!

We passed another scavenger who was busy Dumpster-diving, but the Dumpsters did look very tempting so we decided not to join him.

This banner, a 1960s souvenir from a now-defunct Southern California amusement park, was pinned to a wall at an estate sale. The park’s mascots, “Oto Moto” and “Izzy Moto” looked like cavemen — another bizarre un-PC relic from a different cultural era.

A familiar copper glimmer caught our eyes in the dirt at the base of a streetside tree. As a rule, we always pick up pennies — because who in their right mind would just walk past perfectly good money just because it’s on the ground? Every cent adds up. On closer inspection, our find was a penny. But it had been processed into a souvenir of Alcatraz, the prison island in San Francisco Bay.

A few blocks further along, someone was giving away free paint, the leftovers from a home-improvement project. Because it’s usually illegal to throw away or dump paint (and other such chemicals), giving it to others who can use it is a great idea.

At yet another yard sale, the sellers set out a dish of “conversation hearts,” left over from Valentine’s Day. Time to scavenge a minty-sweet snack!

Many yard sales have a “free box” in the corner or on the curb. In this yard sale’s free box, we found a vintage Haitian record. It was free because it was cracked. But it’s still interesting and rare, so we took it.

At the next yard sale, we found an old Christmas card with this disturbing message written inside. “At the moment, I have a headache,” the writer begins. That’s perfectly reasonable, but a bit odd for a holiday greeting. “It’s only temporary,” the writer offers, then adds the slightly ominous “I hope.” The tone darkens farther with: “Don’t mind admitting I’m worried.” Eeek! Did the writer have a history of devastating headaches? Did headaches, for this writer, portend some devastating medical condition? Did that particular headache lead to … something worse? We’ll never know. Scavenging is an endless parade of history, sometimes very personal history, which keeps us learning and wondering.

It was a day of dimes!

Found on the ground, this bauble looked intriguing at first. But when we realized that it was just a zipper pull, we put it back — but placed it where it could be clearly spotted by some later scavengers, perhaps a homesick Chicagoan.

As evening fell, we made our way to this reception for an art exhibition in a university building. Its listing in online event calendars, which we had surveyed while planning our day, had specified that the reception was open to the public and that free refreshments would be served.

We piled our plates with free edibles. When you scavenge food, it’s ALWAYS “pot luck.” This time, we were lucky to find fresh fruit, even high-antioxidant blueberries. Those red things in the front that look like disembodied organs were actually delicious little wraps.

Home at last, we photographed a few more of the day’s yard- and estate-sale gleanings, including this 1920s sheet music. The language of romance has changed a bit since back then.

This sheet music is even older, evoking the sad but spirited ethos of World War I.

And this example was produced during the next world war, World War II. Our dads were soldiers during that war, so this find felt personal for us.

Art is one of our favorite things to scavenge. It’s such a matter of taste that what’s worthless to the seller or the discarder might look like a masterpiece to the scavenger. And who knows — one of these pieces might actually BE a masterpiece.

Well, that was a lovely round of scavenging. At a cost of $2 over the course of an entire day, we enriched our world with music, art, food, entertainment, intriguing historical ponderings, and more. We also saw a lot of things that we didn’t take — which our fellow scavengers hopefully found and enjoyed.

Strange Find in Ohio

March 23, 2009 at 8:41 am | Posted in Finds, News | Leave a comment

trailsA man’s mysterious find has launched a “buried-treasure rush”  in Ohio. According to the Ashtabula Star-Beacon, “Darren Tackett discovered a piece of history yesterday.” In Indian Trails Park (pictured at left) on the Ashtabula Gulf, Tackett found a “metal wheel with 12 wooden spokes around a metal hub. The wheel is 30 inches in diameter and, although much of the metal is rusted away, has a lip suggestive of a railroad car wheel.

“News of the finding seems to have sparked a buried treasure ‘gold rush’ to the gulf. Mike Wayman, Ashtabula Township Park Commission, said he saw a man heading down the steps to the Gulf off South Main Friday morning with shovel in hand. Wayman said the Park Commission asks that any artifacts dug up on the park property in the Gulf be donated to the commission for display. A finders/keepers concept may not apply to property retrieved from the park land….

“Tackett found the artifact buried in mud and shale on the west side of the river, upstream from the South Main railroad trestle. Although he walks the area almost every day, this was the first time he had seen the wheel, about 8 inches of which were sticking out of the mud.”

It took an hour and a half to dig out, and weighs around 100 pounds: “Tackett wondered if the wheel was off the Lake Shore & Michigan Souther Railroad train that plunged into the Gulf on Dec. 29, 1876. However, the site of that disaster was farther downstream from South Main. Further, the intense fires from that event would have burned out the spokes.”

Interesting, but remember: Another of our scavenging commandments is: Don’t remove historical or archaeological artifacts from areas where they are protected.

Ruining It for the Rest of Us

March 21, 2009 at 6:49 am | Posted in Philosophy | 1 Comment

tagTrue story. Yesterday I went to my local Salvation Army, which was having its monthly half-off-clothing sale. (These are always worth finding out about.) Thinking to perhaps alter my wardrobe a bit, I looked for dresses along the east wall of the store, where on all my many previous visits I had seen rack upon rack of every kind of dress a dress-wearer could want. But this time … none. The east wall was now occupied by … bookshelves.

Approaching a cashier, I asked where they had moved the dresses. Another customer was at the counter wondering the exact same thing. 

“We don’t sell dresses anymore,” the cashier said.

“What?” the other customer spluttered. “How can you not sell a basic thing like that?”

“We had to stop selling dresses,” the cashier said flatly, “because too many people were stealing them.”

The other customer looked perplexed. Having been a crime reporter (and still writing a book-review column every few months for Crime Magazine), I figured out the M.O. at once. Mind you, I never steal, have never stolen, and despise anything that even resembles theft. But I could picture this: Thief enters store wearing form-fitting top and pants or shorts. Thief removes dress from rack. Thief brings dress into fitting room, removes price tag, slips dress over head. The dress-over-pants look is everywhere these days. It’s not a good look, as the folks at GoFugYourself wisely point out. But it’s ubiquitous enough that thieves could casually walk into stores not wearing dresses over their pants and then walk out of those stores wearing dresses over their pants without arousing notice. I mean, if they weren’t being watched. And thrift shops aren’t big on surveillance or store security.

So yeah. Thieves have ruined it for decent law-abiding shoppers in at least one Salvation Army store. Because they stole dresses, none of us can shop for dresses anymore. It hurts the store as well. While that Salvation Army used to price its dresses at around $7 each, now it gets none of those sales and its east wall is occupied by books, which are priced at $1 each and, more importantly, are very slow sellers. 

Rule #1 of our Scavenging Code of Ethics is: Don’t steal. Which is part of Rule #12: Don’t bring shame upon fellow scavengers. Stealing from thrift shops is pathetic. Plus it makes us all look bad. Prices are so low at Salvation Army. Pay them.

(Later, when trying on items in the fitting room, I glanced at the floor. It was littered with torn-off price tags. Grrrrrrrr.)

Dining on $1 a Day

March 20, 2009 at 7:52 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

dollarAfter reading in an article that it wasn’t possible to eat well on a dollar a day, North Carolina computer consultant Rebecca Currie set out to see whether she could. As detailed in her blog Less Is Enough, Currie comparison-shopped to determine the cheapest options at her local stores, then spent a month eating cornmeal mush, millet, steel-cut oats, chicken soup, eggs, rice, tortillas and more. Her portions were small, and she lost weight. But Currie considers the project a success. Her goal wasn’t to convince us all to dine on a dollar a day, but rather to consider eating well for less. (The project ended last week — at which point she bought salmon and avocados.) 

I learned about Currie and her project in a scavenged (but current) issue of People magazine which someone left behind on a bus.

Free Stuff in Florida

March 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Posted in Deals | Leave a comment

freeNow this is a great idea. Today’s St. Petersburg Times has a feature on free stuff available in and around Tampa, Florida, from free meals for kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Josephine’s Authentic Soul Food Restaurant to free computer repairs at the Temple Terrace Public Library to free classes in sewing, tap-dancing and more.  

All papers should have these things!

Beachcombing Soldier Brings Joy

March 19, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Finds, News | 1 Comment

seashoreUsing a metal detector to find his own lost engagement ring, an Iraq War vet found much more — so now he’s a hero in more ways than one.

Luke Carter’s fiancée gave him the ring before he began his tour of duty. Having lost the ring somewhere on Australia’s Golden Beach, he recruited an “expert metal-detector operator” to undergo a “massive search,” according to the Sunshine Coast Daily. When this search was first covered in the Daily, the story mentioned that along with his own ring, Carter had found a few other “bits and bobs” in the sand that day. Reading that report, “Camille Wysling’s parents Trish and Neil wondered if their daughter’s Sweet 16 ring was among” those bits and bobs. The Brisbane college student was distraught, having lost the beloved ring her parents had given her but which had vanished one fateful day, months before, in the waves.

“After Cyclone Hamish, Camille resigned herself to the possibility her treasure was lost forever. Until Luke Carter came along.”

The Wyslings telephoned Carter, “described the ring with its three little stones” and asked if he had found anything like it.

He had. Camille will collect it this weekend.

Her family is “over the moon” because “it was such a long shot.”

Cemetery Flea Market? No Respect for the Dead

March 18, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment

woj_maz_mapaMichael Schudrich, an American, has served as the Chief Rabbi of Poland since 2004 and the official rabbi of the cities of Warsaw and Lodz since 2000. In an Institute for Global Jewish Affairs bulletin, he says: “When I came to Poland for the first time in an official capacity eighteen years ago, the question was ‘Why are you going there? There are no Jews.'” Actually, there are: “As a Jewish historian I think that rationally the Jewish people should have disappeared in 586 BCE or certainly later. There is nothing logical about how Jewish communities function and survive. As long as there is a community, I feel, being a rabbi, an obligation and honor to be there to help people connect to their Jewish identity.” 

Part of that job means maintaining respect for the dead. So when Schudrich found that a weekly flea market was being held atop Jewish graves, he had to raise serious questions.

Poland is home to 1,300 unattended Jewish cemeteries, Schudrich points out. “We cannot save all of them. My first priority is that we will not permit their further desecration. If there are neglected, forsaken, and overgrown cemeteries, this is painful. Yet taking care of them cannot be a priority in our present situation…. At the end of last year I went to Ostrów Mazowiecki, a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Warsaw. They have a flea market every Monday morning in a location of which one-third is on the old Jewish cemetery. The mayor told me that if I said this was wrong according to Jewish laws, he would move the market.”

Good — the market gets out of the graveyard, the mayor learns a lesson about not desecrating graves. AND now we know that if we’re ever in Ostrów Mazowiecki, we can go to a flea market!

Economy Collapses; See Geysers Cheaply

March 16, 2009 at 7:34 am | Posted in Deals, News | Leave a comment

iceland-excursions01Make the most of the global economic crisis by scavenging half-price trips to Europe, advises Ed Hewitt at Long known as one of the continent’s priciest destinations and thus avoided by budget travelers, beautiful and geothermally interesting Iceland is experiencing “complete economic collapse.” The whole country’s bankrupt. A year ago, a taxi ride from the airport into Reykjavik cost the equivalent of $120. Now it’s half that. Hotel prices are slashed too. Checking Reykjavik hotels on Expedia, Hewitt found “a host of four-star establishments in the $77 – $116 range, including the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica at $108 dollars a night. Try finding that rate back when international bankers zoomed around the streets in SUV’s attending talks by celebrity investors and former presidents.” Hmmm. Herring, anyone? “Another region facing similar problems is Central and Eastern Europe. While these countries aren’t in such dire straits as Iceland, you can still stretch your travel dollars in places like Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Ukraine.”

Cookbook Author Seeks Czar’s Buried Treasure

March 14, 2009 at 9:51 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

2008638523The Romanovs’ treasure is buried in Mongolia, according to an eighty-year-old American socialite who now wants to find it and dig it up. According to many sources including, Patte Barham claims that her stepfather, Prince George Meskhi-Gleboff, buried the jewels in Mongolia in 1917: “Meskhi-Gleboff was an assistant to the Russian czar’s treasurer and told [Barham] that Czar Nikolas II’s wife, Empress Aleksandra, instructed him to flee with the jewels ahead of the Russian Bolsheviks. The jewels reportedly include the imperial Russian crowns and tiaras, Faberge eggs and opera-length strands of pearls, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. While fleeing through Mongolia, Meskhi-Gleboff is believed to have buried the jewels in the Gobi Desert.” Barham — who is the author of several books, including Marilyn: The Last Take, Rasputin: The Man Behind the Myth, and Peasant to Palace: Rasputin’s Cookbook — claims that her stepfather owned a map showing the treasure’s location. She says the map vanished after his death, but that “she knows the exact location of where the treasure was buried.” 

Dig, dig, dig!

War Medal Bought at Yard Sale Is Returned to Next-of-Kin

March 14, 2009 at 9:02 am | Posted in Finds, News | 23 Comments

dead-mans-pennyA medal issued to the widow of a Canadian World War I soldier who died at at the Battle of the Somme was lost soon after she received it — and turned up at a yard sale decades later. Now the medal has finally made its way back to the soldier’s closest living relative.

According to the Norwich Advertiser, Walter Thomas Baker died in France during the 1916 battle — which, with 1.5 million casualties, was one of the bloodiest and most devastating in modern military history. A saucer-sized gunmetal commemorative medal of the type familiarly known as a “Dead Man’s Penny” — bearing the soldier’s name and the motto “He died for freedom and honour” — was sent to his widow. But she quickly lost track of it. Baker’s Dead Man’s Penny “was not seen again until the 1970s when it was bought at a yard sale,” according to the Advertiser. And that’s how it came to be stored in the attic of Ottawa homemaker Della Hill. It lay there half-forgotten for decades — until Hill saw a picture of another Dead Man’s Penny in a magazine article last August and realized the sentimental and historical value of that yard-sale find. Hill then devoted herself to finding Baker’s next-of-kin and returning the relic. She put out notices in Canadian newspapers, according to the Advertiser:

“Researchers from family history website then got in touch with Mrs Hill and started trawling through their historic military records to trace the rightful owner…. The experts soon found Mr Baker’s military service file from his time with the Canada Overseas 76th regiment, his marriage certificate and attestation papers, allowing them to trace his family tree to locate his great-great-grandniece Vanessa Rider, of Lowestoft” on Great Britain’s east coast.

Rider , “who had no idea that her distant relative had been a war hero … was reunited with the medal at Lowestoft Record Office. She was also presented with an historical record from Mr Baker’s regiment and a letter from Mrs Hill explaining how the medal had been found. Ms Rider said: ‘I could not believe it when I heard that one of my ancestors had been honoured in this way, and that I would be receiving this Penny. I never imagined something like this would happen to me.’ Military records show that Mr Baker emigrated to Canada from London with his wife just weeks before enlisting in the army and heading off the war, sailing into Liverpool in April 1916 and later being sent to the Somme.”

This confirms yet again the fact that every scavenged item has a history.

Thrift-Shop Garb Gets a Makeover in Missoula

March 13, 2009 at 8:36 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

08designsThe Project Selvedge Challenge, a scavenger-chic version of TV’s Project Runway, happens every year on Missoula, Montana’s “Hip Strip.” Leah Morrow, owner of the Selvedge Studio fabric boutique, conceived the idea three years ago. Last Friday night, techno music resounded as models wearing altered thrift-shop garb strode a homemade catwalk during the first night of the month-long challenge, in which seven designers vie to create inspiring clothes on what Morrow calls “a recession budget.”

When the challenge began, “each designer headed to Secret Seconds, a thrift store on Broadway, for what Morrow deemed the ‘reconstruction challenge,'” reports the University of Montana newspaper. “They had one week and $25 store credit apiece to purchase and use whatever clothing and accessories they could find,” which they would then adapt to their liking. 

Entrants included a macramé bikini crafted of shredded fabric; designer Rachel Woodward tore her thrift-shop purchases into thin strips, which became her macramé “string.” Weaving the swimsuit took Woodward 24 hours. “Other creations included a rubber-stamped shirt by Gretchen Svee, a striped skirt designed by Chanel Tobin, a karate-inspired number by Ingrid Lovitt, an orange dress by Alison Moon, and a bag by Kathryn Walters.” The challenge continues until April 3.

Winners will receive $500 in fabric from Selvedge Studio, $125 gift certificate to Betty’s Divine boutique, and an oil change.


Scavenged Couch Comes With Surprise Stowaway

March 13, 2009 at 8:24 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A woman in Spokane, Washington went to the Value Village thrift store, bought a used couch for $27, and brought it home. She lived with the couch for several days before discovering…that a cat was living inside it:

Callie, the accidentally scavenged cat.

Callie, the scavenged cat.

The mysterious mewing in Vickie Mendenhall’s home started about the time she bought a used couch for $27. After days of searching for the source of the noise, she found a very hungry calico cat living in her sofa.

Her boyfriend, Chris Lund, was watching TV on Tuesday night and felt something move inside the couch. He pulled it away from the wall, lifted it up and there was the cat, which apparently crawled through a small hole on the underside.

Mendenhall contacted Value Village, where she bought the couch, but the store had no information on who donated it. So she took the cat to SpokAnimal CARE, the animal shelter where she works, so it could recover, and contacted media outlets in hopes of finding the owner.

Sure enough, Bob Killion of Spokane showed up to claim the cat on Thursday after an acquaintance alerted him to a TV story about it. Killion had donated a couch on Feb. 19, and his 9-year-old cat, Callie, disappeared at about the same time.

Scavenging often turns up unexpected treasures, but rarely are they alive.

More details, along with a video of the scavenged cat, at The Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Meteorite Lands at Rummage Sale

March 12, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Posted in Finds, News | 1 Comment

meteor_crater_arizonaHaving bought what he thought was just a hunk of melted-looking metal at a Milwaukee rummage sale, a Wisconsin man has learned that it is not only an extremely valuable meteorite but an extremely valuable stolen meteorite. Tom Lynch paid $10 at the sale for the vaguely basket-shaped fifty-pound hunk, which he believed was copper or bronze. A 62-year-old car enthusiast with little interest in metallurgy, Lynch planned to sell it for salvage — until he happened to see a TV documentary about meteorites on the Travel Channel and realized that what he actually had was an approximately-4.6 million-year-old relic from outer space.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Lynch rushed his find to Chicago’s Field Museum, where scientists told him that the hunk was indeed a meteorite. Putting it up for sale, he had received an offer for $10,000 and was hoping that the price might rise by magnitudes of ten — until he was contacted by a minerals expert who recognized the relic as having been swiped in 1968 from the visitor center accompanying Meteor Crater, a tourist attraction (and big hole) near Flagstaff, Arizona. Now Lynch is preparing to drive the meteorite to Arizona and deliver it personally.

Originally, it was found by a rancher three miles from the Arizona crater and permanently lent to the visitor center, which opened in 1942. “On Aug. 12, 1968, someone walked away with the meteorite,” the Journal-Sentinel tells us. “At the time, the value was placed at $5,000, and the Coconino County sheriff issued a nationwide bulletin for its return.” About five years ago, the center’s director got a call from a man claiming to be a lawyer representing a family that was in possession of the meteorite. The family was requesting a reward in exchange for its return. The center’s director told the alleged lawyer that thieves don’t deserve rewards. The “lawyer” never called back.

Tom Lynch is being given a $1,000 reward, and a tribute to this good-hearted rummage saler will be posted alongside the meteorite when it goes back on display.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.