New Jersey Transit Spitting Mad Over Gum Wall “Mural”

Maplewood's Gum Wall. Photo: Tom S., via foursquare.

The pathway below a New Jersey Transit overpass in Maplewood, New Jersey, has become the latest entry in the ongoing “art or vandalism” debate, thanks to the local predilection for sticking chewed gum to the wall, creating colorful patterns, shapes, and letters. It’s an unconventional form of graffiti, but nevertheless, anyone adding their gum to the multicolored array risks arrest by local police for intentionally damaging property.

The gum wall has persisted for at least a decade, claims CBS (the New York Times made note of the phenomenon back in 2005). It is particularly popular among schoolchildren, for whom adding gum to the mural can serve as a right of passage. Some maintain that the gum is gross, while others ponder, could it be art? “It must have a purpose because the gum’s got all different colors, so like blue, red—it probably stands for something,” one passerby told CBS.

Maplewood's Gum Wall. Photo: video still, CBS.

Maplewood’s Gum Wall. Photo: video still, CBS.

A year-old post on the West Orange NJ message board about a notice threatening gum stickers with $1,000 fines and disorderly persons convictions met with a mixed response. “If you or whoever else thinks its art, you can volunteer your residence as an ‘art’ wall,” wrote one. “It’s only considered art by some when its not on their property.” For the record, the wall belongs to New Jersey Transit, who scraped off all gum a few years ago, to no avail.

While one commenter admitted to finding the gum “skeevy,” another was all for adding more, to create the Bubblegum Alley of the East Coast. As another pointed out, a real mural would obviously be preferable, but “given the general lack of aesthetic beauty of the train trestle underpasses, it’s hardly the worst offense.”

Art or not, the gum wall is part of the town’s local flavor, with one proponent of the sticky display calling its prospective removal the beginning of the the “‘Disneyfication’ of Maplewood.”

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