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A rat-shaped hole on a Chicago sidewalk is attracting tourists and locals

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Is it a squirrel, or is it a splat of a rat? Either way, a rodent-shaped impression on a Chicago sidewalk is getting a lot of attention after a photo of it went viral on social media. Tourists and locals alike are flocking to the so-called rat hole, and a naming contest is underway. Anna Savchenko with member station WBEZ also paid the hole a visit.

ANNA SAVCHENKO, BYLINE: I just got off the Brown Line train in Addison on Chicago's North Side, and just a brisk walk away from the L stop. I am here by the rat hole. There's been a shrine set up for it.

Are you here to visit the rat hole?

BRENDAN O'NEILL: Well, yes.

SAVCHENKO: That's Brendan O'Neill, whom I meet by the hole.

O'NEILL: So I've lived in Chicago for about 20 years or so, and this just seems like the type of Chicago thing that I need to see before it goes away or becomes commercialized.

SAVCHENKO: And what do you see?

O'NEILL: Well, it's interesting here because you have the hole on the ground. And yeah, it's in the shape of a rat, but it's also surrounded with coins, cards. There appears to be some shredded cheese. And then in the snow closer to the street, you have some trinkets that were left behind, including some York peppermint patties, a little rubber ducky, some cones, candles, and some condoms for whatever reason.

SAVCHENKO: Do you think it's the splat of a rat or a squirrel?

O'NEILL: I think it's a squirrel.

SAVCHENKO: You know, I spoke to a zoologist yesterday that agrees with you.

O'NEILL: Nice.

(LAUGHTER)

SAVCHENKO: His name is Seth Magle, and he's the director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

SETH MAGLE: If you think about why an animal would drop from the sky and splat onto concrete, squirrels spend a lot of times up in tree branches, right? Rats don't.

SAVCHENKO: I ask Magle why he thinks people are obsessing over the rat hole, which has been here ever since the concrete was poured years ago.

MAGLE: You know, these urban wildlife species are kind of invisible to us until they do something crazy, like splat out of the sky onto concrete. But the reality is, they're around us all the time, and it's just always amazes me how deep these connections that we have to the natural world and to wildlife are.

SAVCHENKO: So much so the Lakeview-Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce started a competition to name the rat hole. Some of the top candidates thus far are Little Stucky, Roscoe the Road-dent and Splatatouille, though the Chamber of Commerce may want to reconsider that last one If it's really the splat of a squirrel and not of a rat.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Savchenko in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anna Savchenko