Steve Brown thought his grandfather’s wedding ring was gone forever, lost to the underworld of Philadelphia’s sewer system.
While walking near 12th and Market streets Friday night, Steve pulled his hand out of his pocket and his ring — a family heirloom engraved with his grandparents’ initials and 1951 wedding date — flew off and rolled through a dirty, Center City grate. It was dark, and he leaned over and tried to rip off the grate himself. No luck.
The 32-year-old said he had “zero optimism” he’d find the ring, which belonged to his maternal grandfather who died in 2008. Steve and his wife, Erin (who had since tweeted all about the ordeal), figured nothing could be done until Monday morning when City Hall reopened.
Thanks to a village of passersby, plus a Philadelphia police officer and a valiant Peco technician, they didn’t have to wait that long.
After Steve and Erin, who have been married for about a year and a half, went to their Plymouth Meeting home Friday night, the couple decided they’d return to the city Saturday and try to retrieve the ring before it rained (at that point, they thought it was a storm drain). Saturday morning, the pair picked up dowel rods and clothes hangers from Home Depot to fashion with duct tape a makeshift fishing pole to dip into the grate, estimated by Erin to be about 12 feet deep — with a layer of items they weren’t interested in catching, such as cigarette butts, needles, trash and condom wrappers.
He was told that nothing could be done until Monday when City Hall reopened, so we headed to Home Depot and created a makeshift fishing pole out of dowel rods and a clothes hanger. We headed back to 12th and Market to get what was ours. pic.twitter.com/I6XOoMzYTV
— Erin B. (@ErinJanune) June 4, 2018
By the afternoon, fishing pole in hand, they were back at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown hotel. Then, the torrential downpour started. Soaked to the bone, they persisted.
“Never did I think I was going to have my face up against a grate on a Philadelphia sidewalk before,” Erin said.
After just a few minutes, they spotted a ring. They fished it out. But it wasn’t his ring. Still, it gave them the resolve they needed to keep going — which would be for several hours.
As the couple lay on the Philadelphia sidewalk, peering through the grate (which they later were told is used to release air from SEPTA tunnels below) and fishing in the muck, strangers from a cabdriver to tourists from Chicago to a bachelor party stopped by to help. Some even lay down next to them to search.
Then, a Philadelphia police officer walked by. The officer helped them brainstorm about what to do next — call Peco, try the Fire Department. The officer’s initial calls weren’t returned, and Steve and Erin were getting antsy.
“We both actually stopped,” she said. “We were just sitting on the ledge next to the Marriott kind of waiting like, ‘What’s our next plan?'”
Several hours passed before Peco technician Brian Naughton arrived. He popped open the grate and climbed in, flashlight-in-hand, while the couple stayed on top to assist.
“After what felt like an eternity,” Erin said, magic: They spotted something shiny.
Something gold, something reflecting the light.
He donned protective clothing, used his tools to open the grate and meticulously combed the area using a flashlight. We laid on the grate above, helping him search. After what felt like an eternity, the flashlight hit a spot. Gold. Shiny. Reflecting the light. pic.twitter.com/9YdSa50BdT
— Erin B. (@ErinJanune) June 4, 2018
Like a superhero, Naughton emerged from the grate, ring-in-hand. Cabdrivers, tourists, the Philly police officer, and everyone else standing nearby cheered.
“They were shaking my hand,” Erin said of the cabdrivers, “as if I’d just won the lottery.”
She said she’s not quite sure why the ring flew off her husband’s hand. Maybe it’s that Steve’s weight fluctuates because he’s a runner, though she joked the real reason for a bit of weight loss is that he’s doing less “celebrating” now that the Eagles season is over.
Steve said the ring, which his mother gave to him before his 2016 wedding, has always been a little bit loose. He said this weekend served as a lesson “very well learned” — he nearly lost something that served not only as a wedding ring.
“It was a daily reminder of my relationship with my grandparents,” he said.
The ring is being resized today. And, the couple say they’ve fallen in love anew with Philadelphia.
“We both kind of went home,” Erin said, “with this renewed faith in humanity.”