whole blog around photos of "ghost signs," yet another sign (no pun intended) that I obsess over the oddest things. In truth, collecting photos of ghost signs may be one of the saner things I do, considering that the shots are easy to get and generally tell their own story.
In a New York Times article on ghost signs, Kathleen Hulser of the New York Historical Society, said, "[The signs] evoke the exuberant period of American capitalism. Consumer cultures were really getting going and there weren't many rules yet, no landmarks preservation commission or organized community saying: 'Isn't this awful? There's a picture of a man chewing tobacco on the corner of my street.'"
So, once again we see how things once seen as crass or tacky become warm, nostalgic reminders of a past that may not have ever existed, at least as we remember it. I'm reminded of this every time I read the history of an old inn that claims to have once hosted a brothel or speakeasy -- with the passage of time even these illicit activities become charming reminders of a bygone era.
Coca Cola and cigarettes (sometimes offering free baseball cards) were the big users of brick advertising in the day, just as Coke nowadays will pay for your business or high school sign in exchange for some dominant space on the same billboard. In some particularly advanced segments of our civilization, communities keep these fading signs repainted, which keeps them fresh but somehow takes some of the magic from the experience. A certain amount of fading is required to create the "ghost" part of the sign.
I've been collecting ghost signs now for a couple of years, and here are my five favorites so far:
1. My favorite is this billboard for suspenders on the side of a defunct cleaners in Mackay, Idaho. Not only does it advertise a long-lost product with a great name (Spring-O-All suspenders) but it mentions a now-defunct department store, the Mormon-owned ZCMI (Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution). Plus, it contains great artwork and is remarkably preserved.