The strange saga of the secret Danny DeVito college bathroom shrine

Danny DeVito receives the Donostia Award at Kursaal terrace in San Sebastian, Spain, on Sept. 22, 2018. (Photo: Jimmy Olsen/MediaPunch)
Danny DeVito receives the Donostia Award at Kursaal terrace in San Sebastian, Spain, on Sept. 22, 2018. (Photo: Jimmy Olsen/MediaPunch)

A liberal arts college in upstate New York caused a sensation this week when students on social media exposed its secret: a shrine to actor Danny DeVito, hidden in one of the school’s bathrooms.

The tongue-in-cheek homage to the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star appeared mysteriously at SUNY Purchase earlier in the semester. This week, the bathroom shrine became an international news story, only to be sealed off by the school — just as the media exposed its creator. And even the star himself has spoken out about it.

Here’s the bizarre saga of how an art major’s prank took over the internet:

Our story begins in October, when a SUNY Purchase student tweeted a picture of the “secret room” to DeVito, urging him to come and visit.

In subsequent weeks, other students began discovering and posting about the shrine. Images revealed that the DeVito tribute could be accessed by pulling a broken paper towel dispenser out of a bathroom wall, exposing a secret space covered in graffiti. The shrine itself consisted of a cardboard cutout of the actor and a note reading “Leave an offering for our lord and savior Danny Devito, patron saint of trash men” — a reference to the wrestling persona invented by DeVito’s character in It’s Always Sunny. The cutout was surrounded by “offerings” of religious pamphlets, empty water bottles, and various forms of garbage, as well as notes to DeVito.

One student took a video exploring the shrine, which racked up hundreds of thousands of views.

On Tuesday, the shrine became an official Twitter Moment. Later that day, a friend of the creator posted the mystery teenager’s first name and a masked photo on Twitter.

Then Mashable posted a report that revealed the approximate location of the shrine. But by that time, students were tweeting that the secret room had been sealed shut.

SUNY Purchase posted that the shrine had been closed “for safety reasons” (which makes sense, seeing as it was located in a giant gaping hole in the wall).

Nevertheless, Fox News and other outlets continued to pick up the story. And on Friday, Vice posted an article revealing the identity of the shrine creator: sophomore Phillip Hosang, a visual artist who located the rumored “secret room” in a SUNY bathroom and decided to turn it into a shrine to DeVito. “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,’” said Hosang. The student expressed surprise that his work hadn’t been destroyed earlier — rather, it got bigger as students continued to bring offerings to the “trash man.”

Now the shrine is no more, but the spirit of DeVito continues to spread. In recent weeks, the actor’s face has shown up on social media at colleges, middle schools and high schools all around the nation.

Just not, apparently, in Arkansas.

A SUNY Purchase spokesperson told Vice that the college had kept the contents of the shrine and was working with the artist to install it elsewhere on campus … where DeVito is welcome to come see it.

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