The Seattle Gum Wall: A Sticky Situation
When you visit a city enough times, you learn some fantastic things about it. One of my best friends lives in Seattle, and it is an easy plane ride from Los Angeles. So, I have become a frequent visitor to the rainy city up north. As a 10-years-running SoCal resident, I can’t quite get used to all the gray skies and moisture, but Seattle still boasts many charms, including the famous underground (click here to read all about that).
On my latest visit this past April, my friend took me to another Seattle attraction that is um… well… not like something you would find in other cities. In a word, it’s gross. However, I mean that in the most amazing way possible.
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Seattle Gum Wall! Which, as you can see, is actually an entire alley way covered, from top to bottom, in sticky, germ-infested, multi-colored, disgusting wads of already chewed gum that smell like a stale candy store. From the minute I smelled it coming, I could tell I was in for a treat. And trust me, you definitely smell it before you see it. My friend and Seattle resident who took me there, Erin, warned me that I would – “that wall is two senses in direct contrast to each other,” she said. “Everything smells amazing, but I don’t want to touch anything!”
As we turned the corner, and my eyes caught up with my nose, I saw exactly what she meant. The place was an unending rainbow-bright wall of gum. It made my jaws hurt to look at it. I had an immediate instinct to shrivel inside myself, as if the gum would somehow leap off the walls and land in my hair.
Erin got a charge out of it, and she recalled her own first visit to the wall. “We definitely watched our steps to avoid any gum that had fallen down,” she said. Wise words, my friend. Because I ask you, is there anything worse than gum on your shoe? No, there isn’t. Except maybe gum in your hair, which luckily, no one in the party experienced… this time.
My visit to the gummy attraction left me with one hell of a question. Well, it left me with a lot of questions actually, but the biggest one was how in the world did this all start? You’ll be surprised to know that the explanation is pretty simple. Sometime in 1993, while waiting for shows to start at the adjacent movie theater, people smeared gum on the wall to pass the time. The tradition really stuck, you might say (we all love puns). Soon, Seattle-ites and their tourist counterparts came from all over to add their personal touch to the display.
The theater tried to clean the wall at first. At least twice, they got out their scrapers and did away with all the gum wads. However, they were just one theater against thousands of gum-chewers, and they eventually had to give up the fight. Months went by. Then years. The city abandoned all cleaning efforts once and for all in 1999, because if you can’t beat them, join them. The nearby Pike Place Market stopped fighting city hall, and they deemed the wall an official tourist attraction.
By then, a silly fad had become a sensation. Some spots in the alley had gum patches over two inches thick. Wedding parties began taking pictures there. In 2009, the wall earned a major distinction when it got a place on the top five germiest places in the world. It actually came in second, right behind the kiss-coated Blarney stone in Ireland. Maybe that’s what inspired Jennifer Anniston and her movie crew to film a scene from “Love Happens” there, also in 2009.
So much gum plastered the Seattle Gum Wall that the sugar began eroding the bricks beneath it (see? Sugar is bad for you!) In November of 2015, over a decade after the gum craze began, the Pike Place Market and Development Authority decided it was finally time to do something about it. Amid the cries and protests of people who loved their germy wall, the city went to work on twenty years’ worth of gum wads.
It was no small effort, and I can’t even imagine the equipment brought in for the job. It took a crew of cleaners over 130 hours to chisel and steam away about 2,350 pounds of gum. POUNDS, people. That is over one ton of already chewed gum! That’s about the size of two full grown male grizzly bears made entirely of gum. If you’re not grossed out by now, go conquer the world, because you are invincible.
It was a truly Herculean enterprise by the city of Seattle, and that very unfortunate cleaning crew, but in the end, it was a totally wasted effort. Because you can’t fight the people when they love gum that much. Seattle citizens and their friends stormed the familiar alley, and they had it re-coated in gum within days of the cleaning.
As for me, I hesitated to go when Erin told me about this peculiar attraction. Gum makes me anxious even in single-piece form. It’s such a choking hazard, for one. Also, what are you supposed to do when it runs out of taste? Which is precisely thirty seconds after you start chewing it? I guess you could put it on a wall, but we don’t all live in Seattle. Besides, what if it pulls my fillings out? What if it sticks to the roof of my mouth? Don’t get me started on my reaction when someone next to me pops their gum, blows bubbles, or strings it through their fingers.
Yes, I’ve always considered gum an enemy, so I wasn’t keen on traipsing through a whole alley of it. So, it surprised me when I found myself thoroughly enjoying this insane attraction. For one, you can’t deny it made for some very interesting photos. More people swarmed the place than I expected too, and their surprised faces, playful laughter, and pointing fingers were infectious. So much so that by some sheer act of bravery, my husband and I both left our own personal mark on the wall. I don’t know why we did it. I guess Erin probably summed it up best. “We couldn’t be Seattle tourists and not place our gum on the gum wall.” Don’t worry – we all washed our hands afterward. Multiple times.
So, who knew? Apparently, there is an odd type of beauty in tons of gum stuck to a brick wall. To me, the concept felt kind of heart-warming, even if a little gross. Because that’s the wonderful thing about humans. We have so much beauty inside us that we gravitate towards it, no matter what form it takes. We can even make art out of spit wads of gum. And that, my friends, is something to see.
Seattle Gum Wall Visit
Trip Savvy – “8 Weird Facts about the Seattle Gum Wall”
Atlas Obscura – “Gum Wall – Seattle, Washington”
And my Good Friend, Erin! Thanks for the adventure!
All photos by M.B. Henry. For more from Washington, click here.
Well-written post, M.B., on this unique and perplexing tourist attraction.
Thank you! It was definitely a quirky visit, and I did love the photo ops it presented 🙂
As always you showed stick-to-it-ive-ism on reporting another historical topic that is engrossing and gives us something to chew on. Sorry.
Well done, sir. Well done. 🙂
How long has this been going on. I was there for 2 days in 1985 and felt Seattle was the cleanest city I’d ever seen. No litter on streets , curbs and sidewalks and no gum on ground either. Miami is the absolute opposite. Trash and litter everywhere esp parks and beaches.
Ha! I can assure you the rest of Seattle is very clean! 🙂 They seem to keep it contained to just this one alley way haha. Maybe they just needed one place to get it out of their system.
I think they should rename the Seattle Mariners the Seattle Masticators. 🙂 But, seriously, MB, an eye-opening (mouth-opening?) post, written in a VERY enjoyable way.
Hahahaha yes maybe they should! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it!
Yikes! What’s happened to the city of my birth?! !! ??? Gum wall? !! 😯💕
Lol! 🙂 Just keep your hands and feet in careful check, and you can pass through that alley without disaster 🙂 And the rest of Seattle is still quite clean and organized! 🙂
How marvellously disgusting! Wonderfully camera fodder!
Yes – camera fodder is exactly how I felt about it haha 🙂
So cool! And so weird.
Yes, on both counts! 🙂
That is so crazy and funny! Never have been to Seattle and now there’s one more reason I should get there. 😁
Seattle is a very neat city, I think you would enjoy it. And I imagine you would take some very beautiful pictures!
It has been on my list of places I want to visit and i hope to get there some day. 😊
Eeeeeek!! Yuck!! You do put yourself in some sticky situations… great post though..
I sure do! 🙂 The things we do so we can write!
Rancid graffiti well described
Hahahaha thanks! 🙂
In an odd, abstract sort of way, it is pretty – but yucky at the same time! lol
That’s how my friend Erin put it too hahaha. So amazing but also disgusting. There’s a statement on human nature in it somewhere haha.
lol ….. oh jeez, I can just imagine what THAT statement is too!!
The possibilities are endless! Kind of like gum if you don’t spit it out hahaha. 🙂
This is disgusting! Yuck! Good post but, yuck!
Hahaha! Agreed, I’m surprised I even went there, but I’m also glad I did, if that makes sense 🙂
I am not keen on this wall at all.
Hahahaha! I’m glad I visited that once, but I don’t see myself going back 🙂
Well, this is a different post from the others. and , well, ew!
I can’t imagine wedding pictures taken in front of it. But yeah, I could definitely see myself leaving a mark too!
Yes! When I saw it I decided I had to write it up haha. I totally agree with you, I don’t think I would have ever done our wedding photos there, I would have been way too scared of gum ending up on the nice clothes. It was a fun in casual jeans and a sweater though! 🙂
Very different from anything I’ve ever read. Sounds to me like the city needs to admit defeat, put up a ticket booth, and sell tickets to see it.
Right? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! 🙂
I will resist the puns and say fact is indeed stranger than fiction and humans are indeed very strange. Nevertheless, thanks for a fascinating insight into the strangest human behaviour.I have seen for a long time.
Oh but the puns are so fun! 🙂 Lol. Yes, strange is a good way to put it! Glad you enjoyed reading about it.
Love this! We used to have a gum alley in my hometown’s centre, but a few years ago they successfully completely ended that tradition. Our gum alley wasn’t as cheerfully coloured as the Seattle one though and not nearly covered as much. Still, a weird tradition indeed! Thanks for the chuckles 🙂
They won the gum battle! That’s very impressive of your hometown. Glad you got some chuckles out of the post, that wall was certainly something to see!
I bet it was! A fun post to read! 🙂
Glad you liked it 🙂
That is so much worse than having a tree roach move in. Nothing would make me participate in the gum adding – gah!!! People from the Pacific North West are weird…
Lol! 🙂 Fear is about overcoming! Unless it is a tree roach. In which case, the only way to overcome is to scream and run away. Which is exactly what I would do. 🙂
This is an intriguing story, M.B., but I share most of your reservations. I am not sure I would have been as brave as you and your husband… 😝
Ha! 🙂 I’m still not sure how we managed to do that haha. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about it at least 🙂
…I am glad you washed your hands-thoroughly!!! 😊
And took a bath in hand sanitizer!
What an amazing piece of concept art, makes one think. I gave up gum many years ago and we have so little of it on sale over here now it is less of a problem in public spaces.
Well that’s good! I found it amazing in Seattle that people really seem to save it for the gum wall haha. There’s very few other places with unwanted gum sticking around.
🙂 and there sticking to it 🙂
Nice!! 🙂 This article is just such fertile ground for puns!! 🙂
Lol, sure is. 🙂
Wow! I’ve never heard of it! Gum wall! For sure it is a creativity idea.
Right? Who knew you could make such art out of gum!
We thought it was so gross / interesting that we visited twice when we were there at the start of our trip last year!! Great to read your blog and jolt our memories 😊
You almost have to visit more than once to make sense of it! Hahahaha 🙂 So glad the piece could stir some fond and sticky memories for you!
what a hoot, gross but beautiful all at the same time … thanks for sharing!
Exactly – how can it be so gross and so colorful? 🙂 Glad you liked it!
Was a surprising new concept, I can’t imagine the smell!
It actually smelled kind of fantastic! Another surprise hahahaha
an assault on many senses … wonder if I should try to start one here … but I have a similar repulsion to gum as you!
Haha oh no! Although I’m at least glad to know I don’t suffer alone. 🙂
Nice job! I would love to see this wall!
I’m glad I went for sure! 🙂 Just keep careful eye on where you step and where your hair is hahaha 🙂
The word ‘Yuck’ doesn’t even come close… Pass me the bucket… 😀
As long as the bucket is filled with sanitizer! Am I right? 🙂
It might be filled with something… 😀
very interesting post and stunning pictures
Thank you! 🙂
This is gross but very interesting! 😃
Right? It is disgusting but it’s also so hard to look away! Glad you enjoyed it
I used to live in Seattle, and didn’t hear of this wall until after I moved.
Just too gross for me.
It is very gross! But at least it’s super colorful! 🙂
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Well, you certainly didn’t sell me on it. I would have never thought of the stench, so thanks for sharing that part. I have never met anyone who dislikes gum as much as you, but you’re right; the flavor dissipates in seconds. I confess I did pop a piece of mint in my mouth this morning on the way to an eye exam, so that my mouth would be minty fresh for the doctor, in a way that Tic Tacs and Listerine strips cannot match. It sounds as though enough people broke the rules and defaced property, until the city accepted it. And the rulemaker in me shudders at that thought. Especially the sugar affecting the bricks. Yikes! I bet 23 & Me could have a field day with all the saliva. Guh-ross, as you said. Ew. But pretty colors.
Yes, the pretty colors do give it at least a little redemption. This comment also made me laugh the whole way through! 🙂 I totally understand the minty gum for the eye doctor. I use Altoids, myself, but only because I’m afraid of choking. 🙂 Yes, the sugar dissolving the bricks made me cringe. Just imagine what it can do to our teeth! Yikes!!
I’ve seen photos of that wall before and, although the backstory is interesting, it’s one tourist site I think I’d skip! 😝
Lol! 🙂 I wouldn’t blame you – I’m surprised I survived it myself!
Holy Bananas! I have seen gum trees but never a gum wall. This is crazy! And so gross. And somehow I love it that all the people in Seattle protested the removal of their gum wall and would not stand for it. That sounds like Seattle. Loved this post, M.B. Great job.
Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It is definitely crazy and gross and neat and so many other things wrapped in one big gum wrapper!
Ha! You’re a funny Girl :).
You managed to remain so positive! I’m afraid I can’t share in even your grudging enthusiasm for this slice of Americana. I’ve seen it. I have not added to it. It did make me gag a little. But I suppose it is colorful.
Lol 🙂 Yes the colors do give it at least one positive spin, don’t they? Hahaha.
Well, I’m feeling a little ripped off because I’ve been to Seattle twice, and didn’t even know about the gum wall! However, I was able to live vicariously through your experience. Thanks for sharing this unique piece of Seattle. 🙂
Haha! Must be one of those underground things! Not sure how I would have heard of it without our friends there to tell us. There’s always next time 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the sneak preview anyway!
Oh My Goodness! What a mess!! Must have been quite an experience!
It sure was! I think I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it 🙂
Hard to imagine what it must have been like! I wonder who thought of it??
Right? Who was the first person that did that? Lol! The things people do when they’re bored and waiting in line!
Thanks for your introduction to this weirdness. I can appreciate it in terms of its colors and shapes but the gross-out factor remains.
This is gross and awesome at the same time! If I ever visit there I will leave my contribution!
Well get in line. Everyone does! Lol.
That is cool and gross at the same time. 🙂
My thoughts exactly! 🙂
What a funny story! Makes sense that it got started during the height of Seattle’s grunge period, too. 🍬 🍬
🙂 I didn’t even think of that part! That really does make sense haha. So glad you enjoyed it, thanks for stopping!
Wow, speechless, lol. That is something haha and I am truly lost for words. Hey it’s pretty colorful to say the least. 🙂
Right? Pretty colors save the day!
Haha better than dreary days 🙂
I think it’s visually beautiful and you photographed it so well – particularly the dripping bits. But I’ve never been a fan of gum and your excellent writing captures my gumphobia perfectly.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Yes – gum is the WORST. Lol 🙂 Glad I’m not the only one!
The idea’s pretty gross, but maybe if I chew on it a while…
Well done, sir! 🙂
It does look pretty. It looks like a colorful mosaic from the photos 🙃 But gives me the icky just thinking about what the art is made of.
A very interesting post from you, as usual.
Sounds like your feelings are quite similar to what mine were. Pretty colors – but no touching! 🙂 Glad you stopped by!
Thank you for this exploration of a tourist attraction made to explode on the internet. Your text does it justice. Well done, M.B.
Thank you! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it!
I am late to this one but glad I came. I have been struggling to come up with a Wrigley pun but have failed misererably. I wonder if anyone in Virginia or the Carolinas has done something similar with tobacco. I hope not. A wall covered by chewed tobacco would be way worse.
A wall covered by chewed tobacco would be something out of all of our terrible nightmares come to life! 🙂
I like this. Are there insects or any ants feastings? Anyhow I would like to stick a chewed piece on that wall. Interesting. 👍🎭
Not that I saw, which surprised me! Maybe it’s because there’s so many people running around there. I bet they all come out at night 🙂 We were happy to participate, but we were also very happy to wash our hands afterwards hahahaha 🙂
So gross, yet so fun looking. I can just picture an army of people coming, chewing their gum, ready to leave their mark and laugh at the city officials faces as they stick it all right back on the wall. Now a gum wall is on my bucket list, thank you.
It was a pretty interesting experience! Even if you don’t like gum, it’s totally worth a visit. I approve the adding to the bucket list 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post!
Gross indeed but a great post! We got to see it last summer and I’m such a germaphob I couldn’t get that close. We loved Seattle overall though. Can’t wait to go back!
I’m with you there, on both the germaphobe and the love of Seattle. What a great city! I have friends up there so I try to make it at least once a year. So glad you liked the post!
Gummy good fun !
Hahahaha absolutely! 🙂
I went there. Felt compelled to walk right down the middle of the alley.
Haha! Yeah it’s sure bizarre, isn’t it? My eyes screamed “pretty colors” but my brain screamed “oh God DON’T TOUCH.”
What a cool story! I’ve been to Seattle many times. Maybe someday I will visit the gum wall! 🙂
I hope you enjoy it if you do! 🙂
Wait, is your hubby actually touching the gum wall?? Or do I need my glasses??? Yep, this is disgusting and hilarious all in the same breath! Haha.
Yes -I’m afraid we both added some gum to the wall. Then we took a bath in sanitzer! 🙂 What an attraction! So glad you enjoyed the post
Lived here for 45 years and never even heard of this wall. How amazing. I guess I better be a better tourist in my own home area, so I can be a better tour guide. I’d love to shock and amaze out-of-town guests with a surprise like this!!
And just for YOU, I recently went to see an old local folk musician perform (Brian Bowers, now 80). Used to sing in Pioneer Square. He has this great song he’s done for many years with the following verse…(He’s talking about traveling as a musician 30 or 40 years ago)
“Out on the road, we tell all the Turkeys,
‘Yes, it’s always raining and the sun never shines.’
But all the natives know when the Mountain lifts her skirts, (Rainier)
The view from home will flat out melt your mind!”
Great Post. Makes me want to read your others. Thanks.
One of these days I have to visit Mt. Rainier. So many times I’ve been to Seattle but never managed to go into the park yet. It’s a shame! And yes, the wall will definitely shock and amaze out-of-town guests. Just wash your hands after! 🙂 So glad you enjoyed the post, and if you do read any of my others, I hope you enjoy those too! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.
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Woooohhh!!! That looks like an art….
Yep! Just don’t touch it! 🙂