Chicago Rat Hole Spurs a Plethora of Artistic Interventions

In less than two whole weeks, the internet has turned a mildly interesting pavement impression on a residential sidewalk slab in Chicago into a viral local tourism site and a wellspring of artistic inspiration. The Chicago Rat Hole is exactly what it’s named — an imprint of a rat (or perhaps a squirrel) that fell with some force on a sidewalk panel that hadn’t fully dried yet. Some locals say it’s been there for over 20 years, but all it took was one post on X to turn the Rat Hole into something just short of a national landmark.

Since artist and comedian Winslow Dumaine tweeted about his pilgrimage to the Rat Hole on January 6, hundreds of people have flocked to the city’s Roscoe Village neighborhood to pay tribute to the unidentified rodent and its signature. What began as an innocent meme crept slowly into a small monument as people started leaving loose change and cigarettes and pouring one out over the hole, and then spiraled into something major. Offerings went from coins and smokes to flowers, cards, jewelry, hats, trinkets, toys, posters, and personalized artwork as the site drew more attention on TikTok and X.

But it didn’t stop there. People built a community around the Rat Hole. Some groups have congregated and started drinking and partying together at the site, one couple got engaged in front of it, and another held a gay wedding there, complete with a balloon arch and everything. But the best way to honor this cultural reset that 2024 needed is to support the artists who are memorializing it in creative ways through their craft.

Chicago-based artist and Etsy seller Margot la Rue was quick to cement the Rat Hole into the city’s iconography by replacing the stars of the official flag with silhouettes of the imprint and adding it to the label of the locally famous Jeppson’s Malört liquor bottle motif for iron-on patches. La Rue told Hyperallergic that she visited the Hole and chatted with a neighbor who was sitting on her porch at the time.

“She said over the weekend there was a line down the block to see the rat hole,” La Rue recounted. “The people who were there when I was seemed to fall into two groups: people from other parts of the city who came to see it, and people who lived in the neighborhood.”

“It is very Chicago,” the artist continued. “The city is simultaneously shiny and gritty — turning a rat shape in a sidewalk into a cultural landmark is very on brand. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and each one has a very distinct character. All 77 neighborhoods have a vibrant history that has shaped their character.”

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Iconic work from Chicago-based design firm Harebrained (image courtesy Anthony Hall/Harebrained)

Anthony Hall, one half of the Chicago-based design duo Harebrained, shared that people can get their very own Rat Hole t-shirt now. It’s authentic, too, as Hall told Hyperallergic that he lived near the Rat Hole over 14 years ago and paid his respects to it.

“I would make a point to walk my dog past it every day,” Hall said. “She’d stop to smell it every. single. time. You can always count on Chicago to find something silly and pedestrian and celebrate it until it reaches sainthood!”

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Flash options by Nick (screenshot Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic via Instagram)

Nick, a tattoo artist who goes by Inked Skunk on social media, recently moved to Chicago from New England and was really excited by the buzz around the Rat Hole. Enamored by the culture, Nick is offering Rat Hole-inspired tattoos for anyone and everyone who wants to commemorate the community.

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The immortalization of the Chicago Rat Hole from concrete imprint to tattoo (courtesy Nick @inkedskunk)

“I actually haven’t visited the hole yet,” they admitted. “Since moving here, I’ve picked up such a different energy from the people and the area itself. There is so much whimsy in going about your daily life here! That’s what I love about the Rat Hole the most — it’s just a silly reminder that life doesn’t have to be so serious.”

Nick told Hyperallergic that eight people have booked appointments to get Rat Hole tattoos so far, but they’ve since inked the outline of the impression on themselves during their downtime. That’s one way to integrate into the city if we’ve ever seen one!

A less permanent option for Rat Hole fans who happen to be baddies is local nail technician Jena’s (@nailswithonen) artistic nail set tribute to the landmark. Jena also underscored its cultural importance with odes to Malört and the city’s flag as well!

It’s like I’m there … (image courtesy @nailswithonen via Instagram)

Perhaps the most impressive ode to the Rat Hole is its commemorative plaque commissioned by Riot Fest, Chicago’s annual punk rock music festival. The festival organizers did not immediately respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, but the plaque has been converted into a t-shirt as well with all proceeds directed toward benefiting the city’s Douglass Park neighborhood and surrounding community via the Riot Fest Foundation. Now that’s what community is all about!

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Punk rock 🤝 Rat Hole (screenshot Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic via X)

But considering that the Rat Hole sits on a residential street, the loitering, littering, and loud noises have become a nuisance for the locals. One neighbor even took to Reddit to bullet-point out how the Rat Hole frenzy has impacted their life, pleading with the public to stop honking, performing “weird-ass rituals,” partying, and leaving empty liquor bottles behind. (The Reddit post was updated to say that the local Alderman was working to have the Rat Hole slab removed following threats of violence on social media, but the Ward 32 Office could not immediately confirm this with Hyperallergic.)

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A notice from neighbors around the Rat Hole asking visitors to refrain from leaving harmful or perishable offerings to keep vermin away and protect residents (image courtesy Margot la Rue)

To anyone looking to make a pilgrimage to the Rat Hole as its future remains unclear, remember to be respectful of the neighborhood and keep the area clean. Should the Rat Hole come to an end due to other people being unable to control themselves, there’s at least plenty of art to go around that immortalizes the impression and its essence of Chicago-ness.

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