Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Former tourists bid farewell as the city prepares to remove 1 million pieces of gum from its popular attraction.
There’s a lot to see in Seattle, including the Space Needle, Chinatown, and—earning its spot as the second-germiest tourist attraction in the world—the Market Theater Gum Wall. (You win, “copiously kissed” Blarney Stone in Ireland.) But if you haven’t already gotten your hands dirty with a visit to the wall, which has over 20 years worth of gum packed on by tourists and locals, you’ve got about a week before the city scrubs it down with an “industrial steam machine.”
The wall usually gets washed every other month, but on November 10, it will be completely cleaned for the first time, according to the Seattle Times. The cleansing process will take three to four days and 280-degree steam to melt the estimated 1 million wads of gum. Then a two- to three-person crew equipped with five-gallon buckets will be ready to collect them all. The job will cost roughly $4,000. (As The Atlantic previously reported, gum cleaning costs cities and business owners millions of dollars).
What began in the 1990s as a place for theater-goers to stick their gum while waiting in line has become a participatory attraction over time. It’s where tourists from around the world visit to contribute their own pieces of chewed-up gum, some going as far as using the gum to make their own artwork. Some simply come for to take a photo, but more daring types challenge themselves to see how close they can get with their tongues sticking out.
Clearly, the Gum Wall was not meant for germaphobes.
But officials say that over the past 20 years the enthusiasm and sugary stickiness has started to taken a toll on the brick surface. In some areas, the buildup of gum has reached six inches thick. And the more people who stop by, the further the gum has spread—a gum-wall sprawl, if you will.
“People don’t actually want to touch or get near the gum wall. They’re looking for empty surfaces,” Emily Crawford, a spokeswoman for Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority, told the Seattle Times.
For those who can’t make it to Seattle before November 10, try coming back in a little bit. Market officials expect the Gum Wall to eventually make a comeback not long after it gets cleaned. After all, they’ve tried cleaning it three times, and each time people have come right back, armed with pieces of freshly chewed gum. If you need your Gum Wall fix now, here are some photos from Instagrammers bidding farewell to their beloved wall.
*Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the flag of Hawaii. We regret the error.