Scottsboro, Alabama: Unclaimed Baggage Center


You’d probably never guess that people from around the southeast, and even around the globe make Scottsboro, Alabama a destination.  It’s a typical Alabama small town, with one unusual business: the Unclaimed Baggage Center.  This is the place where all the stuff that gets left on airplanes ends up, along with all the suitcases that end up in Newark instead of Dallas.  If the airlines can’t figure out who owns it, they send it here.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is famous.  It’s been featured on TV talk shows (even Oprah) and news programs around the world.  Even though it’s well-known, I hadn’t heard about it until I flipped through a tourist brochure I picked up at my motel the previous night.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center adds about 7,000 items every day — and a crowd of shoppers anxiously snatch them all up.  The store is housed in two buildings: the larger one (in front) is filled with clothing, electronics, and of course, suitcases — all of which comes from lost luggage.  A smaller structure (“the annex”, off to the side, across a parking lot) has household items that come from unclaimed cargo.  These items are often brand-new.

I spent about a half hour wandering around both stores.  To be honest, I didn’t find the Unclaimed Baggage Center to be any more thrilling than a Goodwill store.  I’m not crazy about wearing someone else’s clothes, and some of the prices I checked seemed surprisingly high.  If you caught a good sale at J.C. Penney’s, you could probably save just as much money.

The one part of the Unclaimed Baggage Center that I did enjoy was the electronics area.  I think this is where the best bargains are — especially on iPod’s.  They had a display case full of them, starting at about $60.  Even though they’re used, you could be fairly certain they all work, because who would be carrying a broken iPod on a plane?

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is located on Willow Street, just a few blocks from downtown, on the northwest side.  If you’re coming from Huntsville on US 72, exit onto Broad Street, then turn left on Willow.  There will be signs to help guide the way.

The rest of downtown Scottsboro is worth a brief stop.  There are a few businesses that are still in business around the Jackson County Courthouse.

There’s an odd-looking statue of Andrew Jackson (for whom the county is named) in front of the courthouse.  There’s also a historical marker explaining the case of the Scottsboro Boys, which is now considered to be a tragic case of racial injustice, which played out in the courthouse in 1931.

The Scottsboro Boys were nine black boys and men, ranging from 12 to 20 years old, accused of raping two white women aboard a train.  They weren’t from Scottsboro — the train just happened to stop nearby, and the women reported the supposed crime to local authorities.  The nine accused rapists were quickly tried and convicted by all-white juries.  The appeals ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court twice — and while the Justices made two landmark rulings, they did not reverse the convictions.  They still served between 6 and 19 years for crimes that probably didn’t happen.

I also found a few nice old ghost signs around town, before hitting the road again, headed towards DeSoto Falls, and DeSoto State Park.

From Scottsboro, take Route 35 east, across Guntersville Lake (the Tennessee River).  You can continue to follow Route 35 to DeSoto Falls, but Route 40 and 117 is a more scenic route, and allows you more time atop Lookout Mountain.  Route 40 begins at the east end of the bridge.  Make a left and follow it all the way to I-59 and beyond.  When Route 40 ends, follow Route 117 to Scenic Highway, then head south.

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