Hanover Storm Drain: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
In celebration of the Ledyard Canoe Club re-opening next week, I thought I’d explore the one area that every Dartmouth kayaker has seen but never thought to go inside — the Hanover runoff pipeline seen above. By exploring what is literally the deepest, darkest corner of Hanover, I came across a whole secret world of graffiti made by people for an audience of themselves — and
stupid enterprising Dartbeat journalists. I expected to see a wall of penis graffiti with a detail and quantity that would rival that of a middle school boy’s textbook. Instead I found a secret world that displayed the full spectrum of human behavior. First, a warning — the second half of this article contains disturbing content.
I. RIVER ENTRANCE
Upon entering the runoff drain, one of the first things I saw was a penis — because of course. Upon further examination, it was clear that graffiti artists here were goofballs. Some people wrote their names, others drew the middle finger, some couples wrote their initials. Why these couples chose a sketchy tunnel to immortalize their love is beyond me, but props to innovative minds that thought to add a sewer tunnel to the Dartmouth Seven.
As I ventured futher into the tunnel, I came into an atrium of sorts, also covered in graffiti. To my surprise, it was clear this graffiti had some forethought to it. There were affirmations and art that actually had a point. The walls were brimming with color and positivity. It may have been the lack of oxygen in the tunnel, but the sight was truly breathtaking. My favorite parts of this atrium are the cogent thoughts. One wall read, “simply let the soft animal of your soul love what it loves,” which is a reference to a Mary Oliver poem called "Wild Geese."
Another read, “and rain will make the make the flowers grow,” a reference to Eponine’s dying words in the musical “Les Miserables” and a reminder that the bad things in life eventually pave the way for better things in the future. While in the atrium, I forgot what this was a reference too, but reading the words induced an almost Pavlovian need to get misty eyed.
I also found a bag of Co-op Chinese food that seemed to have been purchased within the last week. I really hope that a couple went on a date in this tunnel and not that some single guy decided to eat alone here.
After looking at the beauty of the atrium, it was clear that someone was using this remote area as a creative outlet work through some issues. Much like the idea that the saddest people are the ones who do their best to make other people happy, these graffiti affirmations almost definitely come from someone who was in need of affirmations him/herself. This fact became ever clearer the deeper I went in.
III. FURTHER INTO THE TUNNELS
Venturing farther, there was zero sunlight. I felt like I was in a gritty, horror reboot of a Mario game,. As I walked, though, the graffiti seemed to devolve to a bunch of random squiggles. It’s possible that these squiggles were even more secret society symbols, but it was hard to gain any meaning from them. The biggest highlight in this area was the phrase, “I have lived a happy life, thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all – Chris McCandless.” Some of you may recognize this quote from the book “Into the Wild” as Chris McCandless’s last journal entry before he starved to death trying to live in solitude in Alaska.
Reading this quote made me think two things. First, I have no cell phone reception right now. Second, these tunnels are where a lot of people find their own solitude, get away from the stresses of life, exercise their creativity and just be alone. I definitely could see someone using these tunnels as their own personal Zen garden. Then I saw someone had scrawled the word penis and the whole moment was ruined.
The tunnels are actually cut off by a sketchy pond, so to continue I would have to enter them at the other end. Fortunately, entering the other end is far easier and did not involve me falling in the Connecticut River. Unfortunately, what I found coming through the other side of the tunnels were a grim reminder of the depravity and closed-mindedness of some people.
IV. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TUNNELS
Warning: the images below are disturbing.
As disturbing as these graffito shown in this section are, my editor and I have left out some of the images of particularly inflammatory material, including misogynist, racist and white supremacist symbols and messages. The graffiti on this side of the tunnel seemed to be work of one particularly disturbed person. Publishing it on the internet would make this hateful language even more permanent. Contrasting this sections’ graffito to the beautiful graffito I had seen earlier was a grim reminder of the downsides that come with anonymity.
As I left the tunnel, ripping my shorts and bruising my knee in the process, I realized that walking through these tunnels was like walking through a lonely person’s mind. Nobody goes out of their way to graffiti a storm drain because they are happy with their lives. They do so to externalize their issues. Yes, some of the “art” — the cartoon penis cascade — is dumb, but a good amount seemed to be produced with thought and care for an audience of only a few to help out those who thought to seek solace in a dark and lonely tunnel.
Walking back to campus, I thought about how crazy it was that what most of us thought of as just a storm sewer turned out to be roughly 400 feet of love, horror, beauty and phalluses. As I went home and took the longest shower I've taken in a while, I had a thought that excited and terrified me — what if there are more tunnels out there like this one? Maybe everyone has their own set of tunnels, in one form or another. What would you write?