Can this trip be saved? They lost my great-grandmother’s luggage, and I want it back

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By Christopher Elliott

Adelle Gloger’s luggage claim may be the strangest case that’s crossed my desk. Ever.

Not only does it involve a railroad (I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a lost-luggage complaint from Amtrak). This one is also more than a century old.

That’s right. One hundred years.

The victim: her great-grandmother, Ida Strakofsky.

Grandma’s trunk misadventure

Grandma Strakofsky immigrated from Latvia to America in June, 1907, arriving at the port of Philadelphia. Then she boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad train to Cleveland.

Upon arrival she went to claim her baggage — all of her worldly possessions — and was told that it had not arrived.

She was asked to leave her ticket (I assume it was a claim ticket), and that she would be notified when her trunk arrived.

Several attempts were made to claim the baggage. Finally, the agent presented her with a trunk, but it was not hers.

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A newspaper article describes what happened next.

Here’s a text version of the story, just in case you’re having some trouble reading it:

TROUSERS! O, SHOCKING!

Waiting for Lingerie, Woman Receives Trunkful of Men’s Clothes.

It is bad enough after you have waited for the railroad company to deliver your trunk and then when the trunk comes to find that it isn’t your’s. But the case is aggravated when you are a woman and the trunk you get is full of garments worn by the sterner sex.

This is the opinion of Ida Strakovsky, Woodland-av., S. E., and E. 38th-st., who yesterday filed a suit against the Pennsylvania railroad.

The petition sets forth that Miss Strakovsky came to this country two years ago and brought with her all her earthly possessions, among which were a number of rare pieces of silverware.

The trunk was slow in arriving in Cleveland and when at last she was told that it had arrived she found that it was not her baggage.

She asks in her petition that the railroad company either give her the trunk or damages to the amount of $500.

That’s right, two years later, the Pennsylvania Railroad delivered the wrong trunk. So Strakovsky sued for $500, which is $11,547 in today’s money.

Seeking justice a century later

Sadly, the suit did not end well. After Strakovsky amended the complaint to add the American Steamship Company, and upped the claim to $1,083 ($25,011 in today’s dollars) “for emotional turmoil she had been put through,” a court reached a disappointing verdict, says her great-granddaughter.

Not only did the court find in favor of the defendants, but my great grandmother received no recovery and had to pay all court costs. How’s that for adding insult to injury!

I’m sure that this was not the first case of an elderly immigrant being “railroaded.”

Gloger’s great-grandmother passed away two years later.

Why wait a century to make a luggage claim on behalf of a long-dead relative? She explains that she picked up the trail after the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s archives came online recently, and she found the 1911 article. That led her to the Cuyahoga County Archives to find the court case. (Related: What should I do if an airline loses my checked luggage?)

Gloger sent a letter to the lawfirm representing what’s left of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. It hasn’t responded. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

You may be wondering: Is she serious?

Yes, she is.

Here’s how she ended her letter to the firm:

This is now the 100th anniversary of my great grandmother learning about American justice or injustice firsthand. Did the “big guys” feel justified in denying this old immigrant woman her due?

Not only did they deny her her due, she had to pay all that is involved in fees and court costs in 1911. She died in 1913 never having recovered any of her worldly possessions that she brought from Europe in 1907!

I am here to find justice in her stead. Many of the items in the trunk she never received were items that her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have inherited. Many were for religious observance that can never be replaced. Others were items of value that families pass on from one generation to the next.

I wish to be compensated at the current rate of exchange allowing for inflation. Let’s see— $500 in 1911 would be worth how much today?

By now you are either chuckling or asking yourself “is this lady serious or what!” Absolutely! I, and her descendants, will not be cheated out of my/our inheritance. I expect you big guys to man-up and do the right thing.

Interesting case. Very interesting. (Here’s our guide to finding your lost luggage.)

Look, lost luggage is lost luggage — whether it happened a century ago or a day ago. But it seems a court already ruled on this issue, and even if I disagree with the verdict (which I do) I’m not sure if there’s anything my advocacy team and I can do to help.

If nothing else, this is a fascinating historical document that suggests travel companies have a long tradition of mistreating customers. That said, I’m open to helping Gloger find justice for her great-grandmother.

But how?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in São Paulo.

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