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16 Unusual Items For Sale on the Government’s Version of eBay

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GSAAuctions.gov

There’s a place on the Internet that sells real estate, office furniture, biomedical equipment, scrap metal, airplanes, slide projectors, and more to the highest bidder. It's not eBay, but GSA Auctions, or the government’s version of an online auction market. The U.S. General Services Administration (which declares its mission to be providing “the best value in real estate, acquisition and technology services to the government and the American people” in order to make a better, faster, more sustainable government) runs the site as a means of selling off surplus or forfeited federal assets to the general public. These might include the contents of an office in the process of relocation, or dozens of wedding gowns seized in relation to a drug trafficking case.

Due to the nature of their origins, the range of items available on the site at any given time can range from practical to downright strange. Here are but a few examples.

1. 152-PASSENGER BOAT.

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New Yorkers looking to invest in aquatic transportation might consider skipping the boat shows and instead go bargain-hunting among the government’s gently (well, maybe not quite) used vehicles, paying particular attention to the fine passenger vessel docked at Ellis Island by the National Parks Service. The 75-foot, Coast Guard-inspected boat has both a passenger cabin and outdoor seating on its upper deck, a standalone pilot house, and crew quarters below the deck—which is all together enough space to transport 149 passengers and three crew members. Despite some rust on the hull, its interior still looks clean and hospitable.

With a starting bid of $5000, it sounds like a great deal for a seaworthy vessel, so what’s the catch? There are a few: main engines with a tendency to overheat and coolant that leaks; non-functioning heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; substandard steering; broken generator; incomplete safety equipment; and oh, that Coast Guard certification expired a while ago. It’s a fixer-upper, to say the least. On the bright side, there are no known asbestos materials on board.

2. BROKEN AIRPLANE.

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Many of the items listed for auction on the site come in various states of disrepair, marked “scrap” in their titles and descriptions. This Fairchild C119C fixed wing aircraft, the bidding for which started at $1000, has “major components missing,” “is not in operating condition,” and “is unstable to tow”—and yet someone, somewhere has placed a bid on it for $1100. After all, one man’s trash…

3. USED DENTAL CHAIR.

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Someone’s got to have some use for it.

4. MISCELLANEOUS GEMSTONE.

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It seems reasonable enough to try to make some money back for the government from a loose diamond, 3.9 millimeters in size with a weight of 0.23 carats in a round brilliant cut. However, bundled with it is an 8 mm “round foil backed, colorless imitation ‘gemstone,’” which seems like an odd freebie to throw in there.

5. TYPEWRITER AND DVD PLAYER.

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Somewhere in Columbia, Missouri, a state government agency finally cleaned out its attic and is trying to get rid of some clutter.

6. GAS CHROMATOGRAPH.

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It’s tough to get research grants, especially for expensive lab equipment, so there’s no shame in scientists shopping around for the best prices on everything from Erlenmeyer flasks to gas chromatographs. This Hewlett Packard model on the GSA Auctions site needs a few parts replaced, but at under $4000, it boasts a huge discount off the same model being sold for around $16,000 on eBay.

7. GUCCI WATCH.

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GSA Auctions offers a tab dedicated to Jewelry & Exotic Collectibles. It’s a category less populated than Industrial Materials or even Construction Materials, but a savvy bidder might come across a potential treasure once in a while. At the moment, the only active listing in the category is a stainless steel, rectangular-faced Gucci wristwatch with white analog clock markings and an unknown provenance. Why does the federal government have a secondhand designer wristwatch for sale? The buyer might never really know.

8. CARPET SQUARES, EST. 12 BOXES.

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Looking to cheaply redecorate your home or office? Look no further. This lot is described as an estimated 12 boxes of blue/gray carpet squares measuring 24 inches by 24 inches, and…that’s it. That’s all the information provided.

9. 3130 POUNDS OF SCRAP CABLE WIRE.

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NASA’s Johnson Space Center has a lot of scrap cable wire to get rid of, but any prospective buyers will have to jump through a few more hurdles than they would with most sellers. The lot is only available for sale to U.S. citizens, who will have to provide a notarized declaration of their citizenship in order to make an appointment for pickup, as well as showing a U.S. passport or two forms of acceptable federal identification upon arriving at the property.

10. STEP AEROBICS SYSTEM.

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A month after the customary new year fitness resolutions, it looks like even government agencies are giving up on their commitment to exercise, or at least their commitment to a mixed lot of dusty step aerobics equipment that probably dates all the way back to the ‘90s. The listing consists of 104 pieces in all—more than enough to start a fitness class in 1992 (leotards not included).

11. POLYGRAPH CHAIR.

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Among the dozens of listings peddling miscellaneous sets of office furniture—purple upholstered lounge chairs, wooden desks, five-shelf bookcases, etc.—one stands out as a bit less likely to be repurposed in a doctor’s or lawyer’s office. With wide plastic armrests designed to keep the seated party’s arms in place while hooked up to a polygraph machine, perhaps the chair, with its flat surfaces on either side, could find new life as a place to keep snacks and drinks close at hand while watching TV.

12. FIVE ACRES OF CALIFORNIA MOUNTAIN LAND.

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There’s a small parcel of “unimproved” land in Tehachapi, California that the government isn’t doing anything with at the moment, and it’s available to any prospective bidders at a starting price of just a quarter million dollars. The pictures may not provide a comprehensive impression of the area, but the listing points out that the land off Barstow Bakersfield Highway is vacant and thus “can be viewed by the public at any time.” Always try before you buy.

13. AN ENTIRE NORTH CAROLINA APARTMENT COMMUNITY.

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More ambitious investors with a few million dollars to spare might be interested in the Coastal Park area of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, all of which is for sale. The property consists of 82 housing units, several basketball courts, a tennis court, a playground, a gazebo, “and plenty of space for a number of recreational activities.” However, the whole place is covered in lead-based paint, so that might be a minor concern.

14. 2280 SCREWDRIVERS.

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Every good toolbox needs at least one screwdriver with interchangeable tips, and even the most barebones hardware store should keep a selection in stock. However, if the nearest Home Depot doesn’t happen to have 2280 screwdrivers in their inventory, the GSA Auctions site just might be able to provide. All 2280 even come stored in a single, enormous wooden crate for easy(?) pickup.

15. 2011 FORD ESCAPE.

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Amidst the listings for various wrecked vehicles, GSA Auctions has for sale some perfectly road-worthy cars. With just over 10,000 miles and “no known deficiencies,” the 2011 Ford being sold by a USDA office in Kentucky seems like at least as good an option as leasing.

16. 46 FIRE EXTINGUISHERS.

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Buying in bulk is usually a great way to save money, but when it comes to safety equipment, a warning that fire extinguishers “appear new” but “some parts may be broken or missing, repairs may be required, sold as is” should probably cause the buyer to pause and think whether it’s really worth skimping on that part of the budget.

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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)
getty images (March and Beery)/ istock (oscar)

Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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