Art can be found in many places: on the walls at home, in museums and galleries. We walk through New York City and cities around the world looking at buildings, parks and street life, rarely looking down. But there is also art underfoot! Take a look at manhole covers. Manhole covers have intricate designs and other uses. Manhole covers may be a lost forgotten art.
Manhole covers protect people from falling down below, but manholes serve as a vital passageway to subterranean conduits for water pipes, telephone communications, electrical power and other utilities.
Manholes are made of cast iron with intricate designs and color. Manhole covers often have historical facts attached. When one looks at a manhole cover the details can be very informative. Some list the company's name, date and address of the foundry, and type of utility. Today's manhole covers have the name of the company, like Verizon or Con Ed. Next time take a look and spy the difference.
DWS Cover by ManHole.ca, on FlickrDesigns Underfoot: The Art of Manhole Covers in New York City by Diana Stuart is a great source of valuable information. The author indicates that there are approximately 600,000 manhole covers in New York City and some can reach below as deeply as 800 feet. Diana Stuart has cataloged a large amount of manhole covers with so much information that one may never look at a manhole cover the same way again.
Next time you step on a manhole cover, try to decipher what type of service is provided down below.
If you see the initial "DWS" or "WSNY" with straight lines (sometimes the lines may look like a square), this designates Department of Water Supply and the sewer system.
Con Edison Co by xiaming, on FlickrManhole covers with circles indicates electrical conduits; these are mostly used by Con Edison (Consolidated Edison, Inc.).
A symbol of hexagons refers to telephone communications.
ECS Co Ltd by Nick Sherman, on FlickrNote the initials on some manhole covers: "ECS Co., Ltd" means Empire City Subway Co., Ltd, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.
Who knew that walking the streets of NYC or anywhere for that matter, one would encounter intricately designed art in the form of cast iron manholes and not take a second glance at what is below one's feet.
Perhaps with a new set of eyes, we can all appreciate the artistic beauty and functionality that lies underfoot.
Seattle Manhole Cover. Photo by fekaylius, via Flickr.
Manhole Cover in Hesse, Germany. Photo by 4028mdk09, via Wikimedia Commons.
Saitama Manhole Cover, Japan. Photo by Stefano Costanzo.
Buy a NYC Manhole Cover Trivet souvenir from the Library Shop!
More art (and literature) underfoot on Library Way.