Category: Sights from the Road

Epic Ghost Sign Photo Post

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

ghost sign - Gold Medal Flour and 7up soda in Napolen, Ohio - 2015
7-up / Gold Medal – Napoleon, Ohio

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.

Birmingham, Alabama

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.

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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.

Fort Edward, NY
Honesdale, PA
Carnegie, PA
Buckhannon, WV – 2017
Paducah, Kentucky – 2015

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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.

Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco wall ad in collinsville, illinois
bull durham uneeda biscuit double ghost sign fade in birmingham, alabama
Bull Durham / Uneeda Biscuit – Birmingham, Alabama
Waverly, New York
Effingham, Illinois – 2015
Buena Vista, Virginia – 2017
Owego, New York

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Ceresota Flour

The Ceresota Brand was born in the late 1800โ€™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.

The company has a wonderful page on their website featuring historical advertising pieces that is worth a look.

near Coopersburg, PA
Riegelsville, PA

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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!

York , Pennsylvania
Middletown, NY
Richmond, VA
Coca-Cola / Bull Durham – NJ
Winchester, VA
Culpeper, WV – 2018
Chelsea, Oklahoma – 2016
Orange, Virginia

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Cubanola Cigars

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Double Cola

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?

Double Cola – Birmingham, Alabama

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.

Paducah, Kentucky – 2015

Fletcher’s Castoria

This ghost sign for the early 20th century children’s laxative can be found in Hancock, NY.

Hancock, NY – 2016

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.

Middletown, NY
Girardville, PA
Gold Medal Flour / Mil Pouch Tobacco – Hollidaysburg, PA

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Greenback Tobacco

Spotted in Lincoln, Illinois in 2015, this was my first and to date only experience seeing a Greenback Tobacco sign.

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Ivory Soap

Waverly, NY
Mt Carmel, PA

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Mail Pouch Tobacco Ghost Signs

Grafton , WV
Beacon, NY
Renovo, PA
Pottsville, PA – 2013
Wheeling, WV

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Maxwell House Coffee

maxwell house / gold medal flour – newburgh, ny

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Pepsi Cola

Though Pepsi has enjoyed 100+ years of popularity, in my own experiences, seeing Pepsi ghost signs in the wild has been a bit elusive.

Danbury, CT
Pepsi Cola – Birmingham, Alabama
Richmond, Virginia – 2018
Galena, Kansas – 2016

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Selz Shoes

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.

Chenoa, Illinois – Route 66
Location unsure – Somewhere near Galena, Kansas

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Sam Caldwell

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?

Cincinnati, OH – 2022

Uneeda Biscuit

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.

uneeda biscuit ghost sign newburgh, new york
New Haven, CT
Uneeda Biscuit / Liberty Tobacco – NY

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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.

wine of cardui ghost sign, cubanola cigar, radford, virginia

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Warner’s Macaroni Barn Advertising – New York

Warner’s Macaroni Barn Advertising – New York

What was Warner’s Macaroni?

While researching this weathered old advertising barn I’d seen, I inadvertently fell down a macaroni shaped rabbit hole. It’s funny how that happens when you try to find out more about the things you see while out exploring.

Warner's Macaroni barn advertising ghost sign - warners macaroni

Warner’s Macaroni was a brand of dry pasta produced by Joseph Warner in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At the time, pasta was not as common as it is today in the United States. Warner saw an opportunity and he began producing macaroni and other types of pasta.

Warner's Macaroni barn advertising ghost sign- new york state - warners macaroni

Warner’s Macaroni quickly became a popular brand. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the company ran numerous print advertisements in newspapers and magazines to promote its products. They also used barn advertising in more rural areas.

warner's macaroni barn advertising - warners macaroni

Warner’s Macaroni – An OG in the Macaroni Game

Despite its early success, the Warner’s Macaroni company faced stiff competition from other pasta makers in the early 20th century.

[take a deep breath] Okay… Based on what I found ~ Warner’s Macaroni eventually merged with another New York pasta company and became The Hotaling-Warner Macaroni Company. That company was then acquired by the American Macaroni Manufacturing Company from Brooklyn in the mid-1920’s. Then in the 1940’s that company was bought by Nabisco, who ultimately merged with Kraft Foods in 2000. So this ole barn is like – the gran’pappy of Kraft Mac. Go figure!

Unfortunately what I cannot find is the location of the barn on Google Maps. It was one of those serendipitous discoveries and I don’t have a pin for it. The best I can tell from the photo timing on my camera roll is that the barn is somewhere within a half an hour of the Colliersville, NY post office and the Cherry Valley Bookstore. I passed it on my way to The Tepee in Cherry Valley, NY.

[edit – 02/22/23]

A big thanks to Skip for the coordinates on the barn!

Happy Exploring!

Mail Pouch Tobacco – Christ is Coming Soon Barn – McVeytown, Pennsylvania

Mail Pouch Tobacco – Christ is Coming Soon Barn – McVeytown, Pennsylvania

Mail Pouch Tobacco barns and ghost signs stay firmly in my top 10 must-see or favorite sights while I’m out bumming around.

Because part of their enduring appeal is directly correlated to familiarity and the use of the same imagery or logo, you might be inclined to think if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. In the most simplified terms, there is truth in that sentiment.

However what I’ve found over time is that though I love the olde tyme advertising simply for what it is – big uniform block yellow and white letters – the ads have a way of transcending their simple existence. The barns and wall ads are a punctuation mark on the line of journey. In some ways my photos of them become a touchstone of a moment in time, a spotlight on their surroundings, or a phantom feeling made visible.

This barn has been hanging around as a star pinned to my Google Map for years. You can find it on US 522 in McVeytown, Pennsylvania. It carries an interesting mix of messages on it’s north and south ends.

Mail pouch tobacco barn - christ is coming soon are you ready barn - pennsylvania
South end:
Top: Christ is Coming Soon! are you ready?
Bottom: Mail Pouch Tobacco, severely fade and disintegrating.

Though I’m not a a religious person, I do find certain iconography, images, messaging, ideas and the beliefs of other fascinating. I admire spiritual faith and am not ashamed to say that It is a concept that continues to elude me.

Some of the last precious words my dad said to me before dying were, “say a prayer for me.” A decade now since his passing, they still haunt me. Facing the end of his road he believed he was going to meet his heavenly father. I have often found myself strangely envious of his unwavering faith. I hope he’s where he knew he’d be.

at the end of the road i will neet god barn - pennsylvania
North end:
At the end of the road I will meet God.
Ivory Soap Cubanola Cigar Double Ghost Sign – Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania

Ivory Soap Cubanola Cigar Double Ghost Sign – Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania

Traveling through central Pennsylvania towns, I felt a sense of anemoia wash over me. Anemoia, a term coined by John Koenig in his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, is defined as “a pang of nostalgia for times you’ve never experienced.” And that’s exactly how I felt standing in the gray mist looking at a weathered Ivory Soap ghost sign doubled with the long defunct Cubanola Cigars on the side of this building in Mount Carmel.

ivory soap cubanola cigar ghost sign mount carmel pennsylvania
Ivory soap. It floats. A clean soap. It washes clean.
Cubanola Cigar 5ยข

The ghost sign, a faded and peeling advertisement for the now-iconic soap brand, was a thread to be pulled from a bygone era. Though Ivory is a remembrance from my own childhood in the 70’s and 80’s, it’s history reaches much further back. Back to a time when life was simpler, when the world moved at a slower pace, the universe didn’t exist in the palm of your hand, and people could appreciate their lives with a different scope and scale than we tend to these days.

Standing there, gazing up at the layered one-two punch of the Cubanola Cigars and Ivory Soap ghost sign, I felt a sense of longing for a time and this place that I never knew. I imagined the people who had lived there going about their daily lives. Men wearing hats unironically, ladies in full skirts and wearing gloves walking past this sign every day. I wondered what their lives were really like. How could I possibly feel a sense of “missing” something I never knew? And yet…

But despite the strange phenomenon of anemoia there was also a sense of beauty and nostalgia. It was a reminder that, even as time marches on and things change, there are still pieces of the past that linger on, waiting to be appreciated in the lives we are living today.

I continue to feel grateful for these types of unexpected encounters with slices of history. They offer a gentle reminder to slow down, to breathe in the beauty of the world around us.