Spend enough time in Chicago, you’re bound to lose something on the CTA. For some it’s a hat, others a set of keys or a backpack.
When the lost item is a $22,000 flute made of gold and silver — your livelihood as a musician and a testament to your deceased grandmother — the stakes are a bit higher.
Sunday afternoon, Donald Rabin, a 23-year-old Boston-based flutist and music graduate student, was in a quiet panic, banging out emails to media organizations, doing whatever he could to get the word out about his lost flute.
It’s “my joy, career, and sole passion in this world,” he wrote in an email.
By Thursday afternoon, all of that was back in his hands — and on his lips — presented to him by Chicago police at the Shakespeare District station in Logan Square.
“I just want to say thank you all so very much,” Rabin said to the assembled officers and detectives who helped retrieve the item, according to a video of his appearance. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster that I am so glad is over. Chicago is a great place, I’m so thankful the instrument has been found.”
The saga of Rabin’s missing flute began Friday night on a Forest Park-bound Blue Line from O’Hare International Airport. Rabin was returning to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, with a layover in Chicago to save money on airfare and to record material for a Ph.D. program application, he said in an interview Thursday.
Ironically, his swing through Chicago and taking the CTA was mostly an attempt to save money, he said.
Rabin had swapped seats for better social distancing and was working to charge his dying phone off his laptop when he realized he was at his station, Logan Square, and needed to get off fast before the doors closed.
He made it to the top of the stairs at the station before realizing he’d left the flute case in between the train wall and the seat.
Rabin says he rode the Blue Line for four hours, scouring the cars for his instrument and even implored a CTA employee to freeze the train line, but had no luck. He immediately reported the missing flute to the police and spent the weekend reaching out to media. Rabin hoped it would be in the CTA’s lost and found when it opened Monday, but it wasn’t.
Crestfallen, he felt forced to give up and return to Boston on Tuesday.
But just before his plane left Chicago, a CNN reporter he was speaking to alerted him to a comment on his Facebook page. An apparently homeless couple had found the flute and pawned it for $550 — about 2.5% of the instrument’s actual monetary value.
Rabin said he worked with Chicago police to recover it from the shop. Detectives were able to verify how he lost it, and who found it, from surveillance footage. He said he made a donation to a GoFundMe for the couple and shared it on social media as a gesture of thanks.
Rabin flew back Thursday morning to Chicago to collect his Haynes Co. flute (and a 14th District Chicago Police Department ball cap) during an afternoon news conference. He ran through “Over the Rainbow” and a Mario Bros. video game jingle during a performance at the front desk of the station. He later took the show to the Logan Square station where the instrument was originally lost.
Professional-quality flutes can run between $10,000 and $150,000, Rabin said. But beyond the high cost, Rabin said the instrument has huge sentimental value to him. His grandmother left him money to buy it when she died in 2016, and Rabin says he feels connected to her when he plays it.
“Even though there’s a high price tag on this item, as a musician it means so much more than that. … For some reason, I knew in my heart and soul it would be found,” Rabin said Thursday. “I knew my grandmother would never leave me.”