Some Thoughts On Ghost Signs

SOME PEOPLE REFER TO ALMOST ANY AGING WALL SIGN AS A “GHOST.” IN MY WORLD THERE ARE WALL SIGNS AND THEN THERE ARE GHOST SIGNS.

GHOST SIGNS ARE SHROUDED WITH INTRIGUE. FADED TO THE POINT OF ILLEGIBILITY, THEY LINGER ON OLD BUILDINGS, ECHOING THE ROBUST COMMERCE OF TIMES PAST. GHOST SIGNS MAY BECOME HIGHLIGHTED UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS SUCH AS THE ROSY GLOW OF A SUNRISE OR SUNSET, OR IN THE FIRST MINUTES OF A RAIN. GHOST SIGNS ARE THE WHISPERS OF A ONCE-RESOUNDING BROADCAST.

ONLY A FRACTION OF THE SIGNS PICTURED IN THIS WEBSITE ARE BONA FIDE GHOST SIGNS. HOWEVER, GIVEN THE  PASSING OF TIME, ALL EXTANT WALL SIGNS WILL EVENTUALLY FADE INTO APPARITIONS. THE DEGREE OF FADING THAT WALL SIGN UNDERGOES DEPENDS ON THREE VARIABLES: THE PAINT FORMULA USED, THE DIRECTION IN WHICH THE SIGN FACES, AND THE CLIMATE.

THE SIGNS PICTURED HERE AND ELSEWHERE IN THIS VENUE WERE DONE WITH LEAD-BASED PAINT. AND WITH THE VERY OLD ONES, THOSE IN THE GHOSTLY PHASE OF THEIR EXISTENCE, NOT ONE RESIDUAL LETTER, NOT ONE WHISPER OF A BRUSH STROKE WOULD BE VISIBLE TODAY WERE IT NOT FOR THIS PAINT. THE OTHER TWO VARIABLES, WEATHER AND FACING DIRECTION, ARE CLOSELY RELATED. IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE, NORTH-FACING WALLS GET THE LEAST VOLUME OF SUNLIGHT, WHICH, THEORETICALLY, MEANS LESS FADING. IN THE MIDWEST WEST-FACING WALLS TAKE THE BRUNT OF THE ELEMENTS—DRIVING RAIN, SNOW AND ICE—AND CONSEQUENTLY SIGNS ON THESE WALLS OFTEN HAVE SHORTER LIFE EXPECTANCIES. IN GENERAL, MODERATE CLIMES ARE BETTER FOR WALL SIGNS; LESS EXPANSION AND CONTRACTION OF THE PAINTED SURFACE.

BECAUSE OF THEIR ELUSIVENESS, GHOST SIGNS OFFER A REAL CHALLENGE. SOME LURK IN SHADOWY GANGWAYS BETWEEN BUILDINGS, WHILE OTHERS ARE PASSED OVER BECAUSE OF THEIR INDISTINCTNESS. ONCE FOUND, THEIR MESSAGES MAY BE INCOMPLETE, REQUIRING A FILL-IN-THE-BLANKS KIND OF DECIPHERING. AND WHEN DECIPHERED, THE CONTENT OF THESE RELICS CAN BE WONDERFULLY ANACHRONISTIC, THEIR PROMOTIONS OF A CERTAIN STOVE POLISH OR MEN’S GOLF GARTERS PROMPTING AMAZEMENT, IF NOT AMUSEMENT. THOSE WHO SEEK OUT THESE ARCANE SIGNS WILL BE REWARDED.

 

PARIS GARTERS                                                                           

OLIVE AND SPRING – MIDTOWN 1980

A TRUE GHOST SIGN, THIS EARLY 20TH CENTURY RENDERING WAS FOUND ON THE EAST WALL OF A CRUMBLING BRICK BUILDING IN MIDTOWN, NEAR THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT WHERE I WORKED. I BELIEVE THIS SIGN HAD BEEN THERE FOR 60 OR 70 YEARS WHEN I CAME UPON IT IN 1980, BY THEN ITS LETTERS BARELY VISIBLE.  IT WAS SO OBSCURE THAT I DROVE PAST IT FOR A YEAR BEFORE NOTICING IT—AND I LOOK FOR SUCH THINGS.

 

 

CHEW WHITE’S YUCATAN GUM                                                           

TAYLOR AND MAFFITT – NORTH ST. LOUIS 2012

ANOTHER RELIC THAT I MUST HAVE DRIVEN PAST MANY TIMES WITHOUT NOTICING, UNTIL JUST RECENTLY. WHITE’S YUCATAN GUM WAS CREATED IN 1880 BY WILLIAM J. WHITE WHO COMBINED CORN SYRUP WITH CHICLE AND FLAVORED IT WITH PEPPERMINT. THEIR SLOGAN: “TO THE TASTE.” IN 1962, THE COMPANY WAS ACQUIRED BY WARNER-LAMBERT, A DIVERSIFIED CONCERN THAT MANUFACTURED BOTH PHARMACEUTICALS AND CANDY. WARNER-LAMBERT, IN TURN, WAS ACQUIRED BY PFIZER IN 2000. WHITE’S YUCATAN GUM WAS LOST IN THE SHUFFLE.

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