“Abby and Ethan, do you know what’s on that wall?”
Stepping closer, the kids say in unison: “It’s gum!” And they run up to it.
Mommy, panicked, shouts “Don’t touch that, it’s germy!”
This conversation and countless variations on it are repeated daily in grungy Post Alley, just below Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. The market has a huge sign over it that proclaims “Sanitary Market,” but the details of life around it are anything but sanitary, as the Great Gum Wall illustrates.
I first learned about the Great Gum Wall in a recent issue of National Geographic, where a two page photo spread showed the wall in all its 26 megapixel detail and glory. As a regional resident, I should have known about the wall earlier, but I’m usually out of the loop on Seattle pop culture, having just learned to appreciate Nirvana and Kurt Cobain nearly 20 years too late. Now I dress daily in Seattle grunge style which, come to think of it, also puts me nearly 20 years behind the times. But I’ll catch up; I’m considering a big nose ring, except during allergy season, and a fierce tatoo of a chickadee on the back of my shaved head!
Anyway, it seems that in the early 1990s, patrons of the Market Theatre in Post Alley started to stick their gum on the old brick wall while waiting in line to enter. The theatre first tried to clean it off, but gave up and the tradition stuck. To the wall. One gob led to another, and pretty soon tens of thousands of gum wads were deposited on the wall, spotting and dripping and smelling and reeking in all their wondrous glory. I mean, what more can you say about a wall of pre-chewed gum?
Actually, TripAdvisor recently named the Great Gum Wall as one of the world’s five top germiest attractions–second behind the Blarney Stone. For that reason alone it is worth jetting halfway around the world to see it; I recommend a stay at the nearby Four Seasons Seattle. Or, if you are on a budget, you can carry your sleeping bag over your shoulder and ask a photographer–as one young man, homeless in Seattle, recently asked me–”where can I take a nap?”
To answer the question starting to form in your mind, “Is Seattle still a yuppie Mecca?” Yup! The great gum wall is plastered with only the finest gum from the tooth-whitened mouths of sterling and sophisticated young men and women. Nothing but the best in this town, I say!
Personally, I have never chewed gum, so I don’t have a reason to visit the Great Gum Wall again, since I can’t add to the “art.” Aside from that, the sight and stench made me gag. But if you’ve got a strong stomach and are looking for something creative to do with the kids this weekend, they would love a visit to Seattle’s Great Gum Wall. Bring your antibacterial wipes …
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