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 I have still found a lot of charming things about Seattle, 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.

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Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Seattle Gum Wall! Which, as you can see, is actually an entire alley way that is 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. Although, I couldn’t quite believe it! The place was indeed an unending rainbow-bright wall of gum. It made my jaws hurt to look at it. My first instinct was 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.

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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. It was a tradition that 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. All cleaning efforts were abandoned once and for all in 1999, because the city decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. The nearby Pike Place Market made the wall into an official tourist attraction.

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By then, a silly fad had become a sensation. Some places in the alley were well over two-inches thick in gum. Wedding parties began taking pictures there. In 2009, the wall earned a major distinction when it was given a place on the top five germiest places in the world to visit. 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.

There was so much gum on the Seattle Gum Wall that the sugar began to erode 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 city hall 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.

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As for me, I was hesitant to go when Erin told me about it. 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, gum is something I am very suspicious of, so I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for me to see a whole alley full. However, I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this truly insane attraction. I mean, you can’t deny that it made for some very interesting photos. There were more people there 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 from deep inside our bones, my husband and I both participated in the long-held tradition to leave a 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. Thoroughly.

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My hubby being so brave!

So, who knew? Apparently, there is an odd type of beauty in tons of gum stuck to a brick wall. To me, the concept alone was kind of heart-warming, even if it is a little gross. Because that’s the wonderful thing about humans. We have so much beauty and art inside of 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.

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SOURCES

Seattle Gum Wall Visit

Wikipedia

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.

108 Comments on “The Seattle Gum Wall – A Sticky Situation

    • Thank you! It was definitely a quirky visit, and I did love the photo ops it presented 🙂

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

    • 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! 🙂

    • Yes – camera fodder is exactly how I felt about it haha 🙂

  4. 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. 😊

    • 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.

      • The possibilities are endless! Kind of like gum if you don’t spit it out hahaha. 🙂

    • Hahaha! Agreed, I’m surprised I even went there, but I’m also glad I did, if that makes sense 🙂

    • Hahahaha! I’m glad I visited that once, but I don’t see myself going back 🙂

  5. 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! 🙂

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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… 😝

  11. 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.

    • 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!

    • Exactly – how can it be so gross and so colorful? 🙂 Glad you liked it!

      • 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. 🙂

    • I’m glad I went for sure! 🙂 Just keep careful eye on where you step and where your hair is hahaha 🙂

    • Right? It is disgusting but it’s also so hard to look away! Glad you enjoyed it

    • It is very gross! But at least it’s super colorful! 🙂

  12. I have nominated you for The Sunshine Blogger Award. Please check out my latest post for details.

  13. 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!!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. Thanks for your introduction to this weirdness. I can appreciate it in terms of its colors and shapes but the gross-out factor remains.

  19. This is gross and awesome at the same time! If I ever visit there I will leave my contribution!

  20. 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!

  21. Wow, speechless, lol. That is something haha and I am truly lost for words. Hey it’s pretty colorful to say the least. 🙂

  22. 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!

  23. 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!

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