A Field Guide to New York City Manhole Covers

Blank (Monkey Wrench)

Fredrick Douglas Memorial

cover image

Underground Railroad Manhole Cover

The Frederick Douglass Memorial at the north-west corner of Central Park, includes a number of design motifs that refer back to the Underground Railroad, the network of abolitionists offering safe passage for people escaping from slavery in the South to freedom in Canada. Legend has it that householders would "air" quilts on their front porches with specific designs to indicate safe-houses, or warnings of dangerous conditions ahead. The memorial circle includes six, apparently working, manhole covers, with this quilt square pattern.


The quilt square design is referred to as 'Monkey Wrench' because of the distinctive angled jaws of the adjustable wrench, widely used in the 19th century for wagon repairs. The design is thought to be a call to gather your tools together and be prepared for an escape possibility.
This manhole cover is in the small group of covers that can be traced back to an individual designer, in this case the designer of the entire memorial, Algernon Miller.


There is no indication on the covers as to there function, but the memorial has an intricate water fountain and lighting.


The covers around the memorial are unique to this site.

Related Images Follow

Don Burmeister -- Photographs