Jonathan Howell had been hearing about Chicago’s hottest new tourist spot for weeks. On Jan. 19, he and his wife finally made the 10-minute drive from his place to check out the Chicago Rat Hole, a rodent-shaped imprint in the sidewalk on an unassuming residential street.
Except when they got there, there was no hole.
Howell, 49, quickly realized that someone had filled in the impression with a concrete-like substance that was still wet. At first, a wave of anger hit him. Then he decided to do something about it. After fetching an old license plate from his car, he scraped out the concrete.
“I love quirky Chicago things,” Howell said, adding, “It’s one of those Chicago gems that you want to keep around.”
That is not a universal sentiment. The unidentified would-be destroyer of the Rat Hole is not the only person who’s become frustrated with the critter-shaped curiosity of mysterious origin. Although charmed by the imprint and its new fans, some residents who live on the 1900 block of West Roscoe Street have grown irritated by the large crowds, the loud noise they bring and the trash they leave behind. Knowing the garbage could attract actual rats, they take turns each morning clearing ever-replenishing shrines of rat figurines, cheese, greeting cards and Chicago-made Malört liqueur, only to clean up the next batch of offerings 24 hours later.
“It’s a little bit crazy,” resident Cindy Nelson told The Washington Post.
At the start of Rat Hole mania, Nelson said she and her neighbors were celebrating their block’s sudden popularity, though they were a little surprised at the attention. And while most are still fond of the imprint, some have become disgruntled by the baggage that’s come with it.
No matter how big the crowds get, sightseers during the day are well behaved, waiting in line to snap a few photos near the imprint and then leaving, Nelson said, sharing a photo that showed an orderly line wrapped around the block Jan. 21. But those who come at night wreak havoc, she added. They bring alcohol, make noise and leave a slew of trash, including food, which residents fear will attract wildlife.
“It’s always the 2 percent who ruin it for the other 98,” she said.
Two weeks into the craze, artist Winslow Dumaine, the man whose tweet drew new attention to this decades-old local oddity, implored Rat Hole tourists to be considerate of the neighborhood they were visiting.
“I don’t want to ruin the fun, but if you’re going to visit the Rat Hole, please be respectful of the neighborhood. It’s right by an apartment building and I’m getting noise and obstruction complaints,” he wrote in a tweet. “Also, don’t put Malort in the ground where dogs can drink it!”
“There are ways that we can keep the shrine as what it is without blocking traffic for the residents,” he wrote in another post. “Let the people of Roscoe go about their business and you can pay your respects in peace.”
As the noise rose and the garbage mounted, residents posted laminated signs next to the imprint, nudging visitors to “be respectful of the rat’s neighbors and keep noise and clutter to a minimum.” They also asked them not to leave food near the shrine lest it attract live rats or anything that might be harmful to pets or children.
They signed off with the picture of a rat, a heart emblazoned with Chicago’s flag and the words “With love, Rat Neighbors.”
Scott Waguespack, the alderman who represents Roscoe Village, told WMAQ last week that he planned to talk with city transportation officials about the possibility of removing the slab with the imprint because of threats against residents who had complained about some visitors. He told WGN that it might be given away or raffled off.
“I’m more concerned about residents dealing with it,” he told WMAQ.
Waguespack did not respond to requests for comment from The Post.
When Jeff VanDam, who lives six doors down from the Rat Hole, told his daughters that it might be removed, they were dismayed, he told The Post. But that doesn’t mean it will be destroyed, he said. It could be moved to another place where crowds wouldn’t bother residents. When he asked his girls where it should go if that happens, his 10-year-old said the Chicago History Museum and his 6-year-old said Fellger Park, which is a few blocks away.
VanDam hopes the craze fades, the crowds ebb and the rat hole can stay. He pointed to Our Lady of the Underpass as a source of optimism. In 2005, crowds swarmed to the Kennedy Expressway underpass at West Fullerton Avenue to see a water-and-salt stain that devotees claimed looked like the Virgin Mary.
Eventually, the crowds left and the news stories abated. The stain, which had also been dubbed the Viaduct Virgin and Salt Stain Mary, remained.
VanDam said he thinks the Rat Hole resonates with people because it turns a stereotypical knock against the city on its head. Chicago is infamous for being infested with rats - in October, the pest control company Orkin declared Chicago the “rattiest” city in the country for the ninth year in a row - and the imprint morphs that criticism into a point of pride.
“It’s reversing the image of this gritty city - the rat - and turning it into an emblem,” he said, adding, “That’s something Chicago does really well.”
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Video: In January, one Chicago neighborhood has seen an influx of tourists hoping to snag a selfie with a decades-old rodent-shaped hole in the sidewalk.(c) 2024 , The Washington Post