Locks, gum and band-aids, oh my: the sticky situation for historic sites

So it turns out that being a parent to twins is, let me find the word… exhilarating, entertaining, yes, but mostly exhausting.  And for that reason, I haven’t gotten out and done much trotting let alone building hugging.  My one trip to downtown Tucson so far was brief and it was a nice escape from the house until I found…


The incident got me thinking about Verona and the Casa di Giullietta again.  As with other sites in Europe, the Casa di Giullietta suffers from lochetti dell’amore.  However, that is the least egregious offense committed against the tourist attraction.  For some unfathomable reason, people began sticking their love letters to the wall of the courtyard with chewing gum.  Which has resulted in this:




In 2012, Verona city council prohibited the posting of love letters using chewing gum or Post-it notes, as well as food and drink, in the courtyard.  This is not the first decree.  The city council passed something similar in 2004.  This time around they included a 500 euro fine for those caught.  In an act of pragmatism, the city council stated “A sign will be put up telling tourists where they are allowed to post their messages — that is, on the removable panels that we have provided.”  These are heavily used, and band-aids have become quite popular as well.  However, gum is still found all over the courtyard so I can’t say the panels have been effective.

Weirdly, much like the lochetti phenomena, the gum wall is found in multiple tourist locations.  In November of 2015, the gum wall at Pike Place Market of Seattle was stripped after 20 years of accumulated stickiness.  The Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority (PDA) cited a fear that the chemicals in the gum might be doing damage to the historic brick.  They sadly accepted that this was not going to be the end of the gum.  It cost around $4,000 to remove the gum, by the way.

Many cities are finding themselves having to take a page from Verona’s book.  Even with hefty fines leveraged at tourists for these small acts of vandalism, often some sort of alternative place to place a lock or a stray piece of gum must be provided to protect historic fabric.  Tourists just can’t seem to let these unsightly, unhygienic and, as in the case of the Pont des Arts unsafe “traditions” go.

Which made me curious.  As I’ve covered, I know where the love lock tradition originated (see my post about Lucchetti dell’Amore).  But what about the chewing gum?  What inspired this gross display?  Turns out there isn’t nearly as clear an answer to this question but it led me down an interesting path.  Turns out I am not the only person seeing a connection between locks and gum.  In a blog entitled “Gum, Locks, and Lipstick: Invented Traditions in Tourism Economies,” Emily Ford points out that this type of participatory vandalism has been on the rise since the 1990s.  According to Ford-

“In the moment, it is easy to perceive each incident of tourist ‘tradition’ impact as isolated.  Yet the recurrence of this phenomenon in tourism-driven economies proves they do not occur in a vacuum.  Little research has been conducted that compares the similarities of such incidents from city to city, or the efficacy of treatment and prevention approaches.”

With a focus on increasing tourism to historic sites as a revenue stream for their preservation, it is important to also look at how to manage the wear and tear this increased traffic brings.  Participatory vandalism is a special kind of wear and tear that can be incredibly detrimental to historic fabric.  Time to find a way out of this sticky situation.