Josh Shaffer

Vote the Sewer Monster for Raleigh mascot in absentia

A still frame from a 2009 video posted on YouTube of a "mystery life form" in a sewer near Cameron Village.
A still frame from a 2009 video posted on YouTube of a "mystery life form" in a sewer near Cameron Village. 2009 News & Observer file photo

Six years ago, the city trembled at news of a gelatinous blob pulsating in the pipes below city streets — a hunk of living meat that seemed to glare through a single, angry eye: the Sewer Monster.

Footage of the creature drew 2 million viewers on YouTube, bringing horrified cries of “The darkness is chasing you,” and “Kill it! Kill it with fire!”

Scientists urged calm, explaining that the wriggling thing caught on camera below Cameron Village was only a colony of tubifex worms, a clump of filter-feeding “moss animals” that thrive in cold murk.

But our imaginations turned this ordinary organism into a malevolent ooze. And the nickname stuck.

Internet phenomena grab the dimmest and most short-lived spotlights, so Raleigh quickly forgot about its underground bugbear. As a city, we moved on to the Barrel Monster.

Then last week, Raleigh’s lurking sludge cluster attracted a new flash of attention, and this time from the British Broadcasting Corporation, largest broadcaster in the world.

A crew from the BBC arrived this week, hoping to feature the beast on a program about oddities of the natural world. They spun through Raleigh on Thursday on their way to Tennessee, and I told them with nostalgia about the furor the Sewer Monster created. I compared it to Godzilla, which they appreciated, being the sort of story that more or less requires hyperbole.

Raleigh has the reputation for being a tad, well, um ... I’ll just say it. Dull.

Government jobs. Beige buildings. Absence of notable topography. You’ve heard the joke: “Raleigh’s a great place to raise kids, which means it’s a #$@ place to be an adult.” You haven’t heard that joke? Well, don’t get mad. I didn’t write it. Look, I live here, too.

Anyway, I’m just saying we might have let our gaze stray the Sewer Monster too soon. As a bit of weird news, it’s clearly capable of grabbing worldwide attention. Why not capitalize on its notoriety, as did Roswell, N.M., with the aliens or Scotland with Nessie? What’s the harm of slapping the monster’s moist tentacles on T-shirts and bumper stickers?

As far as I know, Raleigh lacks a mascot. It just needs a name. Sewery? Sue Ellen? Sue?

The Brits were quite taken with the beast. But they had to aim their camera down a storm drain on Hargett Street because Cameron Village wouldn’t let them on the property, being uninterested in the story. In all likelihood, the monster has disappeared. The old sewer line got replaced, being the only reason Sue got filmed in the first place.

I asked Ed Buchan, environmental coordinator with the Public Utilities department, and he hadn’t any information on the pipe-thing’s whereabouts. “Roaches, rats and snakes we see 24-7,” he said. “That one was a pretty rare find.”

But I don’t believe it’s gone. I think it slithered off somewhere, still throbbing as it crawls the Earth, getting into adventures, gaining wisdom and experience, growing larger in our pipes and our hearts.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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