This section of water main has to rank up there in the most weird category of things I've come across on eBay, says the seller of this section of wood pipe, dating to pre-1845; I have to agree with him.
The vintage Chicago water main is essentially a piece of a tree with center hollowed out, given to Jim Shimek, an Engineer. According to the listing, this is part of the real Sewer Main excavated at Wacker and Madison.
Of course, as long-time readers will no doubt recall, I'm an ex-pat Chicagoan, so an item of this ilk is dear to my heart. I've actually given some thought to the Chicago sewer system. In fact, I wrote the following unpublished poem ("Steam") about it, which was inspired by an article I read about sewer systems. It's one of the few poems you're likely to read with footnotes:
Gregory stokes the boiler of his heart's desire.
The steam it produces settles like a film over all this revealing everything.
There are only ghosts in the firmament of his mind—
Nothing else matters but her, his Helen, gone like a dream he once had.
He made her vanish by waking up.
Marked like a first-day cover ready for the Philatelist's dusty vault.
Gregory is older now, older than all of this.
He waves his hands around when he talks of her
bragging that she even exists as though that matters somehow.
Every year, 30 billion pounds of steam flow beneath the streets of Chicago
from Edgewater to Hyde Park, a silent river of vapor traveling beneath. 1
Steam they say burns the worst—
it enters every pore like liquid fire—and leaves a mark.
Gregory burns some off in the gym
adding his essence to the ephemeral river that flows below all this.
Steam is an easier concept to grasp than, say, fiber optics.
But producing it on a scale such as this is nowhere near as simple as turning on a kettle. 2
The steam coursing underneath is not to be confused with
that eerie, popular, and unnatural exhaust that rises from city manholes
making it appear as if the whole town is ready to blow.
It's not the same. Don't be confused. It doesn't penetrate the way her eyes do.
Steam in pipes like blood in veins is invisible.
The so-called steam wafting up from the streets is vapor produced when underground water hits hot steel and escapes—a prisoner to roam these cold streets forever. 3
Some of the real steam winds up at St. Vincent's on 12th Street,
the forceps in the operating room are sterilized with it.
The intensity of the heat kills any pathogen. 4
Gregory's heart is open on the table and waiting for the knife.
He bleeds. And waits for Helen's Shakespearean kiss in a dreamless sleep.
1 Carl Bevelhymer, "Steam," Gotham City Gazette 10 November 2003 <http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/issueoftheweek/20031110/200/674>.