Adventuring Stateside: Ghost Signs

One thing I love about cities is that they rebuild themselves over and over again. Go back a hundred years and the city you know so well would be almost unrecognizable . Though it is sad to lose pieces of the past, its a necessary evil; most cities can’t grow horizontally, and in the case of Boston for example, there are limited vertical opportunities as well. Which is why I love walking through cities looking for glimpses of what they used to be.

Boston is a mix of new and old

This brings us to Ghost Signs, those old faded hand painted advertisements on the sides of buildings. They fascinate me for a number of reasons, nostalgic appeal aside. These signs give us a glimpse of the products and business that ruled their day, the values that society held and words and images that were persuasive to consumers at the time.

A well preserved sign in Lowell, Ma

You can find these signs just about anywhere, and once you start looking for them you’ll see them all the time. I found a few on a recent trip north of Boston (you can see a few more here). But no matter what city you are in, if you keep your eyes open, you’re more than likely to find a few of your own.

This building, in Medford, Ma, looks like it was once home to a few signs

Advertising has changed a bit over time (hello television!), so these painted signs have become something of a lost art. Fortunately many remain, and are still being discovered. As cities continue to evolve, and structures are torn down to make way for something modern, there is always a chance that a well preserved sign is waiting to see the light of day again.

A hometown sign: Saint Louis’ International Shoe Company is long gone, but the sign remains


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