Back in 1991, some people visiting the theater at the Pike Place Market in Seattle thought it would be a great idea to start securing pennies to the wall using slimy, well-chewed gum — or just skipping the charitable donation and using the wall as an open-air anti-gravity trash can. More than 20 years later, the tradition — and a few decades’ worth of gum and human DNA — remains.
That’s around 1 million pieces of gum, all of which took a detour in someone’s mouth before being blessed and becoming a tourist attraction. Years of accumulation turned the wall into a sugar-coated shrine to spit, Seattle, and, later down the road, selfies.
Dozens of colors and flavors are carefully catalogued on the wall, which has slowly begun amassing territory at the market. On hot summer days, locals say the air sometimes smelled like Juicy Fruit.
A guy who owns a newspaper stand near the man-made world wonder — who sells a lot of gum and hand sanitizer to the many tourists who visit the famous/infamous gum wall — mentioned to the New York Times that he tells “people it’s the second-most disgusting tourist attraction in the world.” A woman who owns a local ghost-tour business told KOUW, “There are people that eat the gum. Late at night, it does happen. There are people that leave the bars at 2 a.m. and place bets with each other of who will eat it.” This revelation was published in a story titled “Secrets Of The Gum Wall: Drunk People Eat It!”
On Tuesday, workers began cleaning the wall. Pike Place Market thought it was finally time for an intervention. The cleaning crew, contractors who were briefly deputized into being wall dentists for a few days, first had to melt the conglomerate of ancient mint goo using steam cleaners.
The glop is then raked up and put into buckets. The market is going to weigh the gum once the wall is finally sparkly and fresh, its bricks allowed to breathe for the first time in years.
In the weeks before the gum wall was scheduled to be un-bedazzled, many locals rushed there to add gum and say good-bye in an extended citywide, Trident-scented, selfie-fueled wake. One “70-year-old local” wrote a letter to the Seattle Times, saying that the “reasons cited” for removing the wall “are not serious or compelling. Corrosion of the bricks? Give me a break.” Another mother took her kids out of school early so they could see the wall before it came down. She told the Los Angeles Times, as her kids, dressed in Seahawks gear, stood around her, “I only do this for important events, like the Seahawks [Super Bowl championship] parade and the Gum Wall. … If you miss it, you’ll never get to see it again. It’s gross, but it’s also so colorful that it’s kind of beautiful.”
The whole cleaning process is expected to take three days — although the wall has already lost some of its Jackson Pollock tendencies.
Officials acknowledge that the wall may not stay clean for long. Leonard Garfield, executive director of Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, told the Los Angeles Times, “It went up. It’s coming down. It will go up again. If it doesn’t go up again, we can truly say Seattle has moved on to another phase of its history. I would be surprised if that happens.”