Chicago is teeming with tourist attractions – the Bean at Millennium Park, Navy Pier, the Riverwalk, Wrigley Field – the list could go on and on. But this week a new spectacle has been drawing sightseers to a tree-lined sidewalk in a residential neighbourhood miles and miles from the Loop.

They come to see the Chicago Rat Hole.

An imprint in the concrete of what appears to be a rodent has been a curiosity on West Roscoe Street for decades, but it became a destination attraction this week after a Chicago artist posted a photo of it on social media. The post on X, formerly known as Twitter, has since been viewed more than 5 million times and has drawn hundreds of people a day to ooh and aah, giggle and take photos at a decades-old splat mark.

“It’s like a very viscerally silly thing to see,” Winslow Dumaine, who posted the photo, told The Washington Post.

Dumaine, who moved to Chicago in 2017, first heard of the rat hole last week. On Saturday, he was heading to the Roscoe Village neighbourhood to visit a shop that sells his artwork. His friend Hayley Hudson told him that, since he was in the area, he should keep an eye out for the Chicago Rat Hole.

“I didn’t know what she was talking about,” he said.

Dumaine made the trek, nevertheless, and upon seeing what his friend had been talking about, he burst into laughter.

“It’s just this perfect example of visual storytelling. You see it, and you can tell exactly what happened. It’s this thing that extends across language barriers,” he said, adding: “You could show this to someone 500 years ago, they would know exactly what happened.”

Dumaine took a photo and posted it on X. Within an hour, it was well on its way to going viral, which wasn’t exactly a surprise to Dumaine. He suspected it might be a hit. It was funny, physical and animal related.

“Everybody just thinks it’s fun. It’s incredibly hard to find things like that – pure, funny, silly things.”

Cindy Nelson said that the imprint has been there ever since she and her husband moved to the neighbourhood in 1997, and that a neighbour who has lived there since the early ’90s told her it was there then, too. Residents who live on the block are tightknit, communicate often through group chat and are celebrating, if a little surprised at, the sudden popularity of their neighbourhood marvel.

“We’re fond of the little critter,” Nelson said. “We never thought people would think it’s this exciting.”

As Nelson and her husband raised three kids across the street from the splat mark, they noticed a pattern. Someone would be walking by the imprint, notice it, look more closely at it and laugh. Then they would look up to figure out what had caused it.

Years ago, there was a “huge, old, beautiful” oak tree above the imprint, Nelson said, adding that she believes it was actually a squirrel that fell out of the tree and plunged into fresh cement, making what would become known as a rat hole. That tree eventually got sick and was cut down, and so passersby looking up at nothing but sky in recent years grew visibly confused about how the imprint was made.

Nelson and Dumaine said the Chicago Rat Hole embodies the city it’s named after. For Nelson, the cheeky, decades-old imperfection captures the way Chicagoans can laugh at themselves. Dumaine said that Chicago can have a harsh climate, citing that in 2019, it was colder than the South Pole. But Chicagoans are gritty, a quality shared by the cement-covered rodent memorialised decades later on a random sidewalk.

“That rat fell in that cement, brushed himself off and went to work,” he added.

Dumaine said he posted a photo of the rat hole so others could share the joy it gave him. Although his art is admittedly “really grim, dark and morbid,” Dumaine said he’s an optimistic person who savours moments of joy whenever possible. When he saw the now famous Chicago Rat Hole, he saw an opportunity for others to join in.

“It is a very, very small thing – it’s just a picture of a splat mark – but it’s also part of a greater philosophy of just like, let’s make as many people smile as we can.”

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