At Cape Elizabeth Swap Shop, weird is in the eye of the beholder

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Nestled among books, a variety of children’s toys, and random appliances, strange and unusual items can be found at the town Swap Shop.

For Bruce Wellington, an item that seemed normal, a small piece of jewelry, turned out to be something rather bizarre.

“I thought it was a Pandora’s Box thing for a bracelet,” Wellington said Wednesday. “But it was a little urn.”

Wellington decided to keep the trinket urn, or cremation jewelry as it’s also called, but didn’t want to hold onto the ashes inside.

“I was out in my boat the other night and I thought that was a good place, so I dumped it,” he said.

Linda Surabian, one of the volunteers who runs the shop at the town’s Recycling Center on Dennison Drive, said ashes may be the strangest thing ever found there. The shop, which opened in 1996, has well over 1,000 items in it at any given time, she said.

Recently, a fake casket was brought in and someone took it the same day. Surabian didn’t see the coffin, but said it was a Halloween decoration. She said there are often holiday decorations at the shop, and that there’s always a fake Christmas tree available.

Surabian said many personal items are left at the shop, but mostly by accident.

“Some people bring in boxes full of their financial records and it’s like, really?” she said.

Surabian said a girl once left her diary at the shop when dropping off other things, but it was quickly returned to her. There was also an incident where a family accidentally dropped off a photo album with graphic photos of their child’s birth.

“It was picture-by-picture, the birth of their child,” Surabian said. “It was intense.”

The album was returned to the family.

There are often family photos left at the Swap Shop, although sometimes not by accident. Residents at the Swap Shop on Wednesday said they’re not sure why someone would want to get rid of photos of their children, or why they think someone else would want them.

The same was said about Rolodexes left at the shop, which were full of random names and phone numbers. Surabian said things that look useless, though, may not be.

“You never know what people will reuse and what they’ll do with things,” she said.

One item brought in on Wednesday was a mystery to some people.

A woman dropped off two wooden planks with three holes in each one. Carpet was nailed to each board, prompting some people to guess that it was a ring-toss game, or a cat’s toy or scratching post.

“It’s a ring toss in one household, it’s a cat toy in the next,” Surabian said.

Some unseemly items have been found at the Swap Shop, too

“I’ve seen an arm cast before,” one resident said. “The inside was all grody.”

Surabian said items brought into the shop should be clean and must be in working condition.

“The weirdest thing I ever found was a bag full of doll heads,” Lee Kimball said. “There were about 50.”

Kimball said he’s also found long blond wigs, in mint condition. He said his greatest find was $100 stuck in with some other items.

Surabian said with so many different generations living in Cape Elizabeth, many things come into the shop that are eccentric to some people and completely normal to others. She said there’s something for everyone.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in Cape Elizabeth who doesn’t have stuff from here,” she said. “I know many people whose entire houses are made up from stuff here.”

Surabian said each trip to the Swap Shop can bring about some sort of surprise.

“You just don’t know what you’ll find in here,” she said. “Ever.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Most of the 1,000 or so things in the Cape Elizabeth Swap Shop, seen here on Wednesday, Sept. 2, are normal household items. But sometimes strange or unusual items are dropped off.

Cape Elizabeth resident Bruce Wellington recently found this small silver trinket urn containing ashes at the town Swap Shop.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.