Seattle, WA

Can You Get COVID From the Seattle Gum Wall?

Ash Jurberg
Photo of author's son at Seattle Gum wallPhoto taken and supplied by author

Before COVID took over the world, I managed to take a family vacation to Seattle. We did the usual Seattle tourist stops, Pike Place Market, Starbucks, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Starbucks, the Hiram.M.Chittenden locks, and of course Starbucks.

But the one place my young children wanted to see the most out of any Seattle site was the Seattle Gum Wall. Of course, everyone in Seattle knows the Market Theater Gum Wall- the brick wall covered in used chewing gum located in an alleyway in Post Alley.

And being twelve years old, my sons had to look at a wall covered in gum.

A brief history

The tradition of sticking gum to the wall commenced in 1993 when patrons of Unexpected Productions' Seattle Theatreports stuck gum on the wall and placed coins in the slots. Twice workers removed all the gum, but it was always replaced, and so they gave up. In 1999 it was deemed an official tourist attraction. The colorful wall of gum is piled several inches thick, spanning an area 15 feet high and 50 feet wide.

Some people create artwork with the gum, some will write words, and some will use it to adhere business cards or notes to the wall.

It was cleaned fully in November 2015. It took 130 hours to complete, with over 2,350 pounds (1,070 kg) of gum removed and disposed of.

Germs, germs, germs

In 2009 it was deemed the second most germiest tourist attraction in the world, only behind the Blarney Stone in Ireland. That may have seemed gross but still OK back then, but now in the midst of a global pandemic, is it a risk to visit 'germy' tourist attractions.

There haven't been many health studies yet that have looked at this, but there is an assumption that serious illness could result from visiting the Seattle Gum Wall. But can visitors still touch the gum? Or even (he shudders as he writes this), kiss the gum as often happens?

The Gum Wall has stayed open since the onset of the pandemic, and travelers have slowly returned to the site. A look through Instagram will show people posing for photos and placing fresh gum on the wall. It isn't expected that COVID will have any long-term impact on visitation to the wall.

For the most part, you’re not touching anything, so I think, moving forward, people are still going to go see it. Travelers still want to live out that fantasy.” Colin Perceful, owner and CEO of Totally Seattle tours

A virtual gum wall was created during lockdown so people around the world could get their gum fix.

So it's safe?
Seattle Gum WallPhoto taken and supplied by author

When I return to Seattle for my next family vacation, my children will once again ask to visit the Gum Wall, and I will have no hesitation in visiting. Together we will chew gum and adhere it to the wall. I won't let them lick or touch anyone else's gum - but I didn't let them do that before.

And after we will sanitize our hands and head to Starbucks.

I am sure there will be more videos of drunk tourists or college kids on a dare licking the wall or chewing old pieces of gum- COVID or not, there never is a stop on stupidity!

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San Antonio, TX

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