We Found the Teen Behind That Secret, Viral Shrine to Danny DeVito
"Because of all the trash—if you know 'Always Sunny,' you know that Danny DeVito is known as like the trash man—I was like, 'This is just the perfect person to go with.'"
Earlier this week, the world turned its collective attention to, of all places, a school bathroom at a small college in upstate New York. But this was no ordinary bathroom. Inside was a paper towel dispenser that, when pulled, revealed itself to be a secret door; and behind this secret door was a dark, cavernous room; and inside of this dark, cavernous room, tucked away in the corner, was a goddamn shrine to Danny DeVito.
There, on the ground, beneath a poster of Frank Reynolds from Always Sunny tacked to the wall, was a miniature cardboard cutout of DeVito, accompanied by a handwritten note: "Leave an offering for our lord and savior Danny DeVito, patron saint of trash men." Students at SUNY Purchase who managed to find the shrine did just that, laying empty bottles, candy wrappers, scraps of paper, rolls of tape, condoms, tampons, Juul pods, cigarette butts, and all manner of other fringe-ass tributes at DeVito's feet.
Naturally, people had questions. Where the hell is this room? Why does it exist? Who discovered it? What's that stuff all over the floor? Why did it get closed down? But above all else, I wanted to know this: What kind of weird genius walked in there and thought, You know what this place needs? A shrine to Danny DeVito.
Now, after no small amount of internet sleuthing, I have an answer.
The shrine is the work of SUNY Purchase sophomore Phillip Hosang, who, like a lot of students at the school, had long heard rumors about a secret room in a men's bathroom somewhere in the visual arts building. A few months ago, the 19-year-old finally managed to track it down, finding himself in a bizarre hovel with graffiti-covered walls and paper towels all over the floor.
"I walked in there, and I thought that this would be just a really great place to put some weird thing that people could find. And from there I was just trying to figure out what I should do with it," Hosang told VICE. "Because of all the trash—if you know Always Sunny, you know that Danny DeVito is known as like the trash man—I was like, 'This is just the perfect person to go with. He’s just weird enough that people would accept that this was a thing.'"
At first, Hosang said, the idea of erecting a shrine to DeVito was just a joke between him and a few friends, until he found a tiny cardboard cutout of DeVito on Amazon. Once he'd bought that, he said, "it was happening. I couldn't go back."
So it was that one night in late September, Hosang crept into the hidden room, hung a poster of DeVito on the wall, set up the cutout, placed a note on the altar, and snuck out before anyone could catch him.
Hosang said he figured it would probably be gone within a few weeks, squirreled off to someone's dorm room or stomped on by some drunk college kid. But when he went back to see if it was still there, he found that people had actually started making offerings to the thing.
"I checked on it every couple weeks just to see how much it grew," he said. "Every time I walked down there, I was just more and more surprised. I never expected it to become as much of a thing as it did."
As the months rolled by, the pile of tributes continued to swell. Along with a whole heap of trash, people left handwritten notes to DeVito, and added a few tiny cutouts of their own.
Unfortunately, after the shrine went viral this week, Purchase got wind of it, found the secret room, and sealed it off for good. Betsy Aldredge, a spokeswoman for the school, told me they had to shut the thing down "for safety reasons," which, you know, makes sense. Thankfully, they held onto all the photos of DeVito and the notes folks wrote to him. They're planning to work with Hosang to reinstall the shrine somewhere else on campus, which he said he's open to. They've also asked DeVito to swing by Purchase so he can check it out himself, which, ostensibly, would involve some face time with the man who brought him there in the first place.
"That would be the highlight of my life," Hosang said. "It’s only downhill from there."
Update (11/16): Danny loves the shrine.