Welcome to Manhole Madness Month. I’ve been collecting images, links and stories to share with you every day in October. Lots of real covers, some art, + some other fun finds and a giveaway later in the month. I have something planned for each day and will add to it if you find something you want to share on the topic.
Background: I’ve been interested in manhole covers for exactly 34 years. How do I know that? I clearly recall the circumstance that directed my attention to these remarkable often-overlooked objects of heavy metal. September 1982, my first month of college at the University of Minnesota, I met a girl names Kari. She said she arrived from Neenah, Wisconsin. I am familiar with a lot of places in that state but not her hometown.
ME: “Where is Neenah? I’ve never heard of it.”
Kari: “Yes you have. Come here.” She walks me to the corner. There on the storm grate was the hard-to-miss impression: NEENAH FOUNDRY.
Then she walks me into the street. On the manhole cover was a similar large and proud NEENAH, WI stamped around the perimeter. (photo by Nick Sherman)
As I walked the streets and sidewalks of campus I observed many more claims from Neenah. Hopping on a bus to visit downtown Minneapolis, first step off was onto a street drain, Neenah. I’d never know how many grates and covers I had stepped over without ever noticing their significance much less their signature. The encounter with Kari left me permanently impacted and I’ve been a keen observer of what’s underfoot since then. (Be sure to come back as I will talking about commissioned art covers of Minneapolis).
Fast forward to 2016: I haven’t been too diligent about keeping track of manhole sighting with photos, but in the last year I’ve been on a deliberate mission to document manhole covers in NJ and NY. Each chance I have to visit a new town I search for intersections on quiet streets to see what they have to offer. It's actually been painful to drive over a cover that I know I don't have on record but there are so many in locations you cannot photograph safely. Admittedly, I’m a bit bummed that I haven’t come across any from Neenah on the east coast, but I have seen many Made in USA, some from PA, but most surprising, I found some that are marked Made in India. I get it that we’ve become a country of outsourcing, but do we need to have manhole covers made beyond our shores when there are many floundering foundries here? Ok, off my soapbox.
I hope that you’ll continue to visit here this month while I celebrate my fascination with manhole covers. I’ve started a Pinterest board on the subject, and finally fired up my Instagram where I’m learning the art of the hashtag – can’t believe how many users I’ve found who are fellow enthusiasts. It's a daily thrill to see the generous postings and to continue browsing sites where there are so many treasures to see. I’d love it if you want to share your own photos here – send me an email and I’ll add them to my posts, or present a link to your own collection. They can be anything from the humble cover on your street to the fancier ones you’ve spied while traveling. This is going to be fun!
Many thanks to Nick Sherman who provided the photo of the Neenah manhole cover. He is not only generous, he's a prolific collector and has an amazing photo album with over 800 covers. I really appreciate his permission to access his Neenah cover, and nearly fainted when he pointed me to his handsome flickr album - go see! HERE More from Nick this month.
EDIT (8:38pm): I am so excited! My lovely friend Erika Mock has shared a Neenah photo. She said it's from the shore of Lake Superior. She also said she used pass near the foundry on her way to work several moons ago. How cool is that? Visit her site for amazing textile art you can wear. I have two of her creations!! ErikaMock.com + her ETSY.
Have a manhole story or want to share your enthusiasm? Chime in below.
See you tomorrow!