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Ghost Signs

By Richard 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 everyone 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 that document ghost signs (most, but not all) in the St. Louis area.

Ephemera Ghost Signs

Here are a few of them . . .

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

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

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 . . .

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?) . . .

Ghost Signs - Ephemera Society of America
Ephemera - Ghost Signs
Ghost Sign - Ephemera Society of America - Signs on Buildings
Ephemera Society of America

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 . . .

Ephemera Society of America - A Ghost Sign on A Buildings
Ephemera Society of America – Sign on Buildings

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

Ephemera Society of America - Ghost Signs on Buildings
Ephemera Ghost Signs
Ephemera Society of America - Sign on Buildings
Ephemera - Signs on Buildings
Ghost signs on buildings
Ephemera Ghost Signs