Epic Ghost Sign Photo Post
Take a stroll through a downtown, and you might just find yourself transported to another era by the faded letters and graphics of a ghost sign. These vintage advertisements, often painted directly onto brick or stone buildings, and sometimes in more rural communities on barns, offer a glimpse into the commercial past of an area. While they may be weathered and worn, ghost signs still have the power to captivate.
Hunting and photographing ghost signs is a popular activity for lovers of vintage Americana. While traveling around the US they continue to delight me when I come across them. In addition to just appreciating them for what they are visually, the also inspire deep dives into uncovering the history of the places they reside and the brands they represent. My own particular penchant is for large regional or national brands like Mail Pouch Tobacco, Gold Medal Flour, Uneeda Biscuit, and Coca-Cola.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of ghosts during my journeys. Let’s take a walk down memory lane in this post featuring some of the brands I’ve come across. I hope you find these photos and blog post links interesting and that they inspire you to get out and explore yourself.
Thanks for reading!
7 UP Soda
Throughout the 10s of thousands of miles I’ve traveled over the years, I recall seeing only a single 7 UP soda ghost sign. This one was found in an alleyway in the town of Napoleon, Ohio on a trip to the midwest in 2015.
Interesting Facts: 7 UP was originally called “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda” and contained mood enhancing drugs. That sounds fun 🙂
Ballard’s Obelisk Flour
Ballard and Ballard was founded in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1880s and went on to produce Ballard’s Obelisk Flour. The Ballard’s Obelisk Flour brand was eventually phased out in the mid-20th century.
My one and only encounter with a sign for Ballard’s Obelisk Flour. This photo was snapped somewhere around Birmingham, Alabama in 2010.
Battle Ax Plug Tobacco
This ghost sign of the long defunct Battle Ax tobacco that I snapped in 2017 is a mystery to me. I have no recollection of where I saw this. The best information that I can put together is that I took this photo somewhere between Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Spencer, West Virginia. The photo in my camera roll is bookended by a picture of the Mothman statue and the Robey Theater.
I hate it when that happens. In the moment we can be so sure we’d never forget where something happened but, well, here we are. Another case for documenting life.[Update 04/23/23] Found it! It’s in Pomeroy, Ohio along the river.
Bloch Brothers Tobacco
Though Mail Pouch Tobacco was created by Bloch Brothers, it isn’t always common to see a reference to Bloch Brothers on the advertising.
Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco
Bull Durham smoking tobacco was a brand of loose-leaf tobacco that was first introduced by W.T. Blackwell and Company of Durham, North Carolina in this mid-to-late 1800’s.
The popular brand featured distinctive packaging with a bull on the label. You see his iconic image often alongside the phrase Genuine “Bull” Durham Smoking Tobacco and other taglines like Standard of the World or Best for Three Generations.
The Ceresota Brand was born in the late 1800’s from the vibrant flour milling industry in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Mississippi River below the St. Anthony falls had the perfect conditions for water powered flour mills. By the later part of 1870 there were nearly 30 different flour mills built on the banks of Mississippi river. Eventually these mills began to consolidate and produce flour as one company. One of these companies was the Northwest Consolidated Milling Company which comprised a total of six different mills all producing flour under the same label: Ceresota.heckersceresota.com
The company has a wonderful page on their website featuring historical advertising pieces that is worth a look.
Coca-Cola’s first outdoor painted wall ad went up in 1894 in the town of Cartersville, Georgia. In subsequent years, the familiar logo and signage went up on the sides of buildings across the country. Each time I spot one, it brings a smile to my face. Have a coke and a smile!
Even though Double Cola has been around since the 1930’s and is still for sale, I’ve never seen it in person. A quick look at their website shows that it’s apparently served at Cracker Barrel restaurants. Huh. Who knew?
Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey
A rather severe old lady ringing the bells for Dr. Bells Pine Tar Honey. This one spotted in Paducah, Kentucky in 2015.
This ghost sign for the early 20th century children’s laxative can be found in Hancock, NY.
Gold Medal Flour
Gold Medal Flour signs seem to still be fairly common out in the wild. Their outdoor advertising campaigns must have been widespread and long running!
Eventually. Why not now?
That tagline always reads strangely to me.
- Giant Chicken Army - Liberty, New York Edition
- Better Hurry - These Newburgh Ghost Signs Won't Last Forever!
Spotted in Lincoln, Illinois in 2015, this was my first and to date only experience seeing a Greenback Tobacco sign.
Mail Pouch Tobacco Ghost Signs
- Mail Pouch Tobacco: Uncovering the Secrets of the White Whale
- Mail Pouch Tobacco - Christ is Coming Soon Barn - McVeytown, Pennsylvania
- Mail Pouch Tobacco: Bloch Brothers Tobacco Works - Wheeling, West Virginia
- Pennsylvania: Double Mail Pouch Barn Goodness
- The Mail Pouch Tobacco Ad of Grafton, West Virginia
- Been Thinkin' 'bout the Lincoln
- Ride Snapshots: New Jersey in the Corner Pocket
- Life is All Mail Pouch Barns and Rainbows
- 2016 Rearview: A Few of My Favorite Things So Far
- The Uncovered Mail Pouch Ad of Carnegie, Pa.
- Road Tripping: The Dreaded Sting of Flatness
- Road Tripping: West Virginia Mail Pouch Barns
- Roadside Wish List: Mail Pouch Tobacco Mural - Pottsville, PA
- New Jersey Mail Pouch Tobacco Mural
- New Jersey Mail Pouch Barn Spotting
- 2010 Motorcycle Goals: West Virginia Mail Pouch Barn Ride
- 4 Mail Pouch Tobacco Ads from Pennsylvania
- A Saturday Ride: Two New York Mail Pouch Tobacco Barns
- Sights from the Road: The Layton Country Store and Mail Pouch Tobacco Sign
- Sights from the Road: Kentucky Mail Pouch Tobacco Barn
Maxwell House Coffee
Though Pepsi has enjoyed 100+ years of popularity, in my own experiences, seeing Pepsi ghost signs in the wild has been a bit elusive.
Selz was a footwear company that was founded in Chicago in the late 1800s. Selz was known for its high-quality shoes and innovative marketing techniques. One of Selz’s most notable marketing strategies was its use of painted wall signs.
Sam Caldwell & Co Inc. was apparently a local sign painting company in the Cincinnati area. While looking up information I came across a wonderful post on Cincinnati Magazine called Man of Letters by Dale Keiger. The article describes his wall dog father Chuck’s work for Sam Caldwell. This wall on E. 9th and Bowen… was his dad’s final surviving work.
Is someone cutting onions?
Here in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, the sight of a Uneeda Biscuit ghost signs seems fairly common, all things considered.
Uneeda Biscuit was a type of soda cracker produced by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) starting in the late 19th century and through the early 2000’s. One of their unique original features was that they were sold in a tightly-sealed, moisture-proof package made of wax paper and cardboard which kept the crackers fresh.
Wine of Cardui
After seeing this Wine of Cardui sign in Radford, Virginia I had to do a search to uncover exactly what that is. Or was. Reading the history was an interesting trip through snake oil times and cures for hysterical and crampy women.