The sewers are, literally, the detritus of society. Up here, above the surface of the street, we can pretend to lead green, sustainable lifestyles. We can style ourselves as responsible citizens of the earth. Underneath the concrete, however, lies the truth, the ugly, ugly, flowing truth that contains everything we won’t admit to and willfully forget.
Those murky, stinking waters imbibe the worst of who we are — the results of unspeakable acts we all do, but would never admit to in public. Even beyond the obvious, there lies evidence of the kind of depravity we can only contemplate in our nightmares. The flip side of the coin is sheer weirdness. Bizarre rituals, ill-considered purchases — we can only guess what events led some truly strange items to end up in wastewater systems.
Join us on this journey of discovery into the weird, wonderful, terrifying, and often just plain disgusting things that turn up in the world’s sewers.
15. Newborn Baby
A newborn baby survived for five days in an Australian storm drain. The little boy was seven days old when he was found at the bottom of a 9-foot pipe that had been covered with a 440-pound concrete slab. The poor little guy was wrapped in a hospital blanket. His survival is pretty amazing, considering that temperatures in the area had hovered over 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the time. The baby was discovered when a man heard what he called strange noises while cycling by the storm drain. He quickly called police once he realized the sound was a baby crying. It took six men to move the concrete slab to get to the little boy, who was taken to hospital in serious condition. Police believe the baby had been pushed through a small opening in the drain. A woman was charged with attempted murder in the incident.
14. Puppies In The Sewer
We’re not sure how awful of a person you have to be to put puppies in the sewer, but we may be able to blame this one on overeager, overly curious pups. A police officer in Cocoa, Florida, heard a dog barking one day in 2015 when he was driving along his beat. He didn’t actually see any dogs, however, so he became curious. Following the sound, he ended up at a sewer drain where three pit bull pups were peeking out from under the sewer grate. The cop called animal services, but the fire department eventually had to get involved to move the sewer grate. Police speculate that the trio may have wandered into the sewer themselves, but no one came forward to claim the pups, who were eventually adopted from a shelter.
13. Mass Grave
Investigators in Dublin, Ireland made a sad and gruesome discovery in February 2017 when they dug into the sewer underneath a building that was once a Catholic orphanage. What they found was a mass grave strewn with the bodies of babies and young children. DNA evidence suggested that the bodies were buried largely during the 1950s, at a time when the government-run home for unwed mothers and their babies is said to have been severely overcrowded and the mortality rate for young children in Ireland high. It was a historian’s efforts to trace what had happened to nearly 800 unaccounted for remains of children who had died at the facility that sparked the government-ordered investigation. The recent efforts come after decades of rumors and suspicion directed at the orphanage.
12. Condom Clues Lead To Arrests
Police in Texas used an unusual sewer find to crack a case. After a real estate agent took over a property in the state capital of Austin, there was a sewer blockage — every new landlord’s nightmare. What was more surprising was the nature of the blockage, which consisted of hundreds of used condoms. The landlord naturally started questioning the building’s occupants and heard from tenants who believed the massage parlor on site was up to extracurricular shenanigans. The agent went to the police with the info. The clues led to a raid on the Jade Massage Therapy office several weeks later. Police found a woman and a naked man in the business and arrested both under prostitution charges. The woman was also found with $60,000 in cash, and she and her husband were arrested on additional counts of money laundering.
11. Gator In The Storm Drain
Stories about alligators in the sewers are generally urban legends. But, every once in awhile, reality matches the stories. (We’re pretty sure, however, that the New York City Sewer Gator stories are fictional.) In 2005, a trapper in Ormond Beach, Florida, reported seeing a number of young alligators using the sewer system to navigate around the city. Back in 2006, kids in Fort Bend County, Texas, were playing a game of Little League baseball when an 11-foot gator emerged from the bushes to sun itself in front of the bleachers. Frantic parents called police, who called a local alligator expert. As a mob converged on the reptile, it slid itself into a storm drain. The only problem was, once the 600-pound behemoth got in there, he couldn’t get out. The animal charged at the would-be rescuer and ended up shot in the head for its trouble.
10. Missing Cow Found
A cow went missing in Fujian province in eastern China in 2010, and its owner searched for it for days. Around the same time, people in the town started to hear strange mooing noises coming from underground. Eventually, the cow popped her head through an open manhole. People tried to keep the cow calm by feeding her grass while her owner put a rescue operation together that involved a DIY winch. Eventually, the cow was freed, and observers reported that she didn’t seem upset by her underground adventure. The cow apparently found the closest patch of grass and started grazing. No one knows how exactly the cow ended up in the sewer in the first place.
9. Flushed Bra
Don’t flush your lingerie, kids. In 2007, a flushed bra caused the collapse of a sewer in County Durham, in Northumbria, UK. As the bra and a couple of pairs of panties snagged and blocked the 9-inch pipe, heavy rains began. The increased water flow, along with the blobs of cooking grease and fat that routinely turn up in sewers, started building up, creating pressure that eventually burst the pipes. That, in turn, caused the road above it to collapse, and the surrounding area was flooded with wastewater. Authorities urged the public to think carefully about what they flush down the drain. As a representative of Northumbrian Water noted, “These pipes are not designed to carry bras and knickers.”
8. Dead Bodies
The sewer, as it turns out, is a favourite place for murderers to stash bodies. It’s not something we would have thought of. It seems like it would be awkward, although we’re guessing the water and what’s in it may also be a way of concealing evidence since it seems to speed the decomposition process. At any rate, a mere sampling of bodies discovered in the sewers in late 2016 and early 2017 includes the remains of a man found in a Phoenix suburb when residents complained of water backing up. It was unknown for months whether it was a man or woman. In Delhi, India, in November 2016, authorities discovered the headless body of a woman wrapped in black plastic in the sewer after residents of an apartment complex complained of a terrible smell. In the UK in November 2016, workmen at a rural college were unnerved to discover a body in the sewers underneath the college.
7. Medical Waste
When workers cleared a blocked sewer in the emergency area of a hospital in Chandigarh, India in May 2017, they found that an alarming cache of medical waste had been dumped. Items found included used syringes and other medical paraphernalia. An investigation found that hospital staff had been dumping these in the sewer instead of taking the hospital garbage to a proper facility to be incinerated. About a month earlier, officials in Pennsylvania found a ton of medical waste blocking the sewers, including syringes, catheters, and rubber gloves. It seems like the high costs of disposing of the kind of biohazard waste that hospitals and medical centers produce have resulted in some shady practices.
6. Dinosaur Bones
Construction workers near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, were digging out a sewer system extension for a new sub-development in 2013 when they came across something unexpected: a dinosaur skeleton. The bones were found about 18 feet below the surface of the ground, and experts say the skeleton belongs to a species of duck-billed dinosaur called a Hypacrosaurus. The species dates from the late Cretaceous period, between 99 and 65 million years ago. Work on the storm sewer was halted for a day and a half while a special crew from the Royal Tyrell Museum, a nearby center for palaeontological research, came to examine the bones. The near-complete skeleton was unearthed by a cooperative effort between the museum and the construction crew and joined the museum’s collections for study.
5. London Fatberg
In TMNT, the sewers are a little dark and dank, but it looks like somewhere you could walk around in and maybe even discover a super cool abandoned room where you and your rat ninja master could live… In reality, however, the water is often less water than it is a disgusting mess of congealed fat. In 2015, workers removed what sewer workers called a massive “fatberg” that weighed about 11 tons from a sewer in southwest London. The ginormous lump of toxic congealed fat mixed with household waste measured more than 130 feet long and broke the 75-year-old sewer that it had gathered in. It’s estimated that London, with its high concentration of restaurants and other food-related businesses, produces about 10 million gallons of cooking oil on a yearly basis. The increasing use of wet wipes — often billed as toilet friendly but is anything but — was cited as a contributing factor.
4. 200 Ravers
Two hundred ravers converged on a stinky sewer in Newcastle, England, in March 2017 near the mouth of the River Ouseburn. Police said that the party had been arranged on Facebook. Partiers met at a local bar, then made their way to the river, where they entered a series of tunnels. Wading through a few feet of brackish water, they got to an open area under the bridges over the River Ouseburn where a sound and lighting system had been set up. Around 4 a.m., apparently, some of the ravers were getting concerned about safety, so they ratted out and called the cops. The party was broken up, and everyone emerged safely. Police were investigating and said they believed university students were involved.
3. There’s Gold In That Sludge
In 2009, workers at a sewage treatment facility north of Tokyo reported an unusual find: gold. The precious metal had been extracted from sewage sludge to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds per year. It turns out that when sludge is burned into ash, there is more than 1,890 grammes of gold per tonne of ash. Officials attribute the unusually high concentration of gold in the sewage to the presence of several manufacturers of electronic equipment that use the metal in the area. The valuable find is ironic in that it came at a time when Japan was experiencing an economic recession. Silver, lead, zinc, and copper are among the other metals routinely found in sewage sludge as well as the refuse in many garbage dumps, due mostly to their use in high-tech equipment.
2. Hideous Sewer Worms
You can check out sewer monsters on YouTube. A video taken by a remote control sewer cam showing icky, pulsating fleshy creatures in the sewers underneath Raleigh, North Carolina went viral in 2009. Viewers speculated on the nature of the “sewer monsters,” which experts believe to be colonies or clumps of what are known as annelid worms or tubifex worms. The video shows the slimy creatures clinging together in the water and contracting in a coordinated motion that looks like pulses. As repulsive as they look, however, we should be thankful for the worms since they eat bacteria and organic impurities in wastewater.
1. Sewer Bling
A sewer contractor in Essex, UK was flushing a roadside drain when he saw something unexpected — the gleam of a Rolex watch. The 18-carat gold Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph was valued at about $27,100. After the man turned the watch over to the police, he garnered local publicity. In an ironic twist, a film crew accompanied the man back to the drain for a video interview, and as he demonstrated how he had found it, he discovered three more watches. Unfortunately, those three turned out to be fakes. However, once the story hit the newspapers, the real Rolex owner came forward to claim it. The watch hadn’t even been reported as stolen, and the owner was so grateful that he gave the man a reward. It really does pay to be the good guy, at least sometimes.