Seattle’s Gum Wall: In Vivid Color

Seattle's Gum Wall

Seattle’s “Gum Wall,” in an alley beneath the city’s iconic Pike Place Market, is almost as popular with tourists as the market itself. The colorful (and germy) display is my entry for this week’s WordPress photo challenge (WPC), “Vivid.”

(WordPress weekly photo challenge, Vivid)

Hang out — if you can stomach it — at Seattle’s popular “Gum Wall” for awhile during tourist season and you’ll hear one word more than any other when people see this colorful and germy spectacle for the first time.

jimmy fallon ewww

“Ewww!” Nearly everyone who rounds the corner into this alley beneath the city’s iconic Pike Place Market says it.

Hands cover mouths, noses wrinkle, mouths grimace. They take a step back like they’re going to leave, or they grab onto the people they came with, like they’re going to protect them. And then, they get sucked in.

Who can resist it? It may be gross, but it’s gross art. It’s colorful, it gets people talking, it sparks a reaction.

People chew. They take pictures of each other adding their own gum. They sculpt their names, their loved ones’ names and create saliva-filled waterfalls.

Mmmm, sugary goodness. Warning for parents: don’t take your eyes off your young kids here. I’ve heard some like to snatch a piece when no one is looking. Talk about “eww.” In 2009, the editors at Trip Advisor named Seattle’s Gum Wall the second-most germiest tourist spot in the entire world, right behind the lip-smacking Blarney Stone in Ireland.

Seattle’s Gum Wall was started in the early 90s by theater patrons waiting in line for tickets to the Market Theater. I don’t know why “they” (mostly college kids, I’ve read) started depositing their gum where it didn’t belong, but when efforts to scrape the gum off repeatedly failed, the theater gave up and a new tourist attraction was born. Along with Pike Place Fish, where fish mongers toss fish to entertain customers, and the original Starbucks, the Gum Wall has grown to become one of the most popular photo ops in the Pike Place Market.

It’s grown in size, too. At least 15 feet high and 50 feet wide, gum now covers both walls of the alley and it keeps stretching beyond where it’s supposed to end (at the theater box office window), despite efforts to reign it in. When it grows too large, the excess gets scraped and washed. The last I heard, it was washed and scraped in the summer of 2013, but when we were there last Sunday, a worker was at it again.

Sticky business.

A Seattle man washes excess gum off the walls of a building at the Pike Place Market. The

A Seattle man washes excess gum off the walls of a building at the Pike Place Market. The “official” Seattle Gum Wall is supposed to end just to the right of this picture.

To get to the Gum Wall, look for and follow the signs to the Market Theater under the famous neon Pike Place Market sign and clock. The Gum Wall is to the left (and downstairs) of the famous fish-throwing mongers, and market mascot Rachel the Pig, a life-sized bronze piggy bank that stands at the main entrance.

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