Metal candies spill from a crumpled bag on a boulder in a Cambridge park. They look like a pile of coins, though looking closely reveals tiny hearts nearly hidden within the mix.
The sculpture is a nod to the United States’ oldest running candy company, the New England Confectionery Company. Their factory once stood near the park where the sculpture lies.
Necco wafers, the company’s core product, have been testing America’s palate since 1847. Union soldiers chomped on the wafers during the Civil War. Because the candies don’t melt and are said not to spoil, during World War II, the U.S. government ordered the company to ramp up its production and ship the treats to troops overseas. The company’s conversation hearts, which are basically the wafers transformed into hearts bearing love notes, have been an iconic Valentine’s Day staple since the early 1900s.
Despite their centuries-long history and constant presence on store shelves, few people seem to genuinely like eating the candies. Popping one of the pale-colored, slightly flavored sweets into your mouth is like chewing on a chalky, sugary disk. But their unpopularity hasn’t stopped them from remaining a classic American candy. When news spread in spring of 2018 that the company was in financial trouble and at risk of shutting down, people with a taste for nostalgia rushed to stock up on the bland, gritty confectionary.
The Necco Wafer Memorial Sculpture was conceived and created by artist Ross Miller. It was installed as part of the construction of University Park at MIT in 1998. At that time, it’s said visitors could still smell the intense, almost nose-searing essences of peppermint and chocolate wafting from the Necco factory adjacent to the site. That factory, built in 1927, was at the time of construction the largest facility in the world devoted to making candy.
The easily overlooked artwork makes up for its size by arousing childhood memories for anyone who grew up unwrapping the wax paper roll and sorting through the candies for just the right color and flavor.
Know Before You Go
It's a short walking distance from Central Square subway stop. The Memorial is mounted on a boulder in the NE corner of the landscape of University Park at MIT.