Ghost Signs


October 6, 2015 Dick Sheaff


Signs on the walls of buildings are by definition ephemeral. Some may last but days, some may last decades, some may linger for a century or more, some from antiquity even remain readable after thousands of years. But eventually each and every one will succumb to the vicissitudes of time.

Old and fading advertising images painted on exterior building walls are known as "ghost signs". The only way to collect them—to document them—is with a camera, and there are those who do just that. A friend from my Arizona days (and also my ophthalmologist there, a collector of antique Native American pottery, and a passionate fan of the St, Louis Baseball Cardinals), Denny Cooper, is an exceptionally talented photographer. One of his photographic activities is shooting images which document ghost signs (most, but not all) in the St. Louis area. Here are a few of them . . .


Holsum Pharm Ghost sign in St. Louis uncovered a century later as adjacent home demolished -- photo by Denny Cooper May 2015 AMERICANA -- ST LOUIS BRICK WALL ADVERTISING -- photo by Denny Cooper April 2011 AMERICANA -- SALVAGE & BARGAINS GALORE ! -- photo by Denny Cooper April 2011, St Louis MO PRICE UTAH 3.07 photo by Denny Cooper AMERICANA -- MOUND CITY BUGGY COMPANY BRICK WALL SIGN, ST LOUIS -- photo by Denny Cooper 9.22.13 AMERICANA -- DOWNTOWN SEATTLE CHOP SUEY DANCING BRICK WALL SIGN, PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN Brains bldg. comes down St Louis late November 1983 photo by Dennis Cooper M.D.COLORADO SIGN #5 photo by Denny Cooper 10.07 COLORADO SIGN #3 photo by Denny Cooper 10.07 AMERICANA -- LOCKHART TEXAS GHOST SIGN -- photo by Denny Cooper February 2015


Denny also has come upon some interesting vintage tile advertising on a building exterior . . .

Old tile wall advertising in Soulard area, St. Louis -- photo by Denny Cooper Old tile wall advertising, Soulard area, St. Louis -- photo by Denny Cooper


. . . and Denny also takes shots of interesting modern urban graffiti, for example . . .

NYCWALLART OCTOBER 2008 -- photo by Denny Cooper


In the same folder I have been keeping a few other such ghost sign images, which I think are by others but, alas, I seem to have lost the proper attributions. Anyone interested can likely track them down (along with many other ghost signs) on the internet . . .


Screen shot 2012-06-17 at 3.41.22 PM OldPattisonWhiskeys Screen shot 2012-06-17 at 3.41.37 PM




Over the years I've captured a few of these myself (the first one, with its parking space name sign, is a bit of a pun ("rush hour", get it?) . . .

rushour150_med victoriatheatre150_med dupestencil150_med springswitch150_med millstore150_med warning150-2_med out150_med livery150_med telephone150_med packagestore150_med



This one shows a shared building wall on three interior levels, during razing of a seedy area to make way for some government building in Boston; the top floor wall—and perhaps one or two of the others—was part of a strip club . . .



I have long loved to find and capture related images, all to having having to do with the passage of time, the ephemeral nature of eroding cultural objects . . .

dodge150_med goldenwhistle150_med highvoltage150-2_med nonaked150_med plasmatics150_med womanswallface150_med carvedbeechtruck150_med mrjacks150_med LightWallDoor150end150_med







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