Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ghost Signs: Part 1

All right! It's time to dust this little blog off and talk about one of my favorite things in the world of time fishing: ghost signs.

Location: Beebe

The first time I heard about ghost signs was when I encountered this book. I'm not actually sure where it came up, but somehow I was linked to it on Amazon and next I found it our local Hastings, beat up and evidently returned but still toting a hefty $20 price tag. For this reason I didn't leave the store with the book, but I did sit on the floor then and there and went through the book, cover to cover.

Being left-handed causes me to flip through books backwards, so I didn't actually do much reading that time. Mostly I just gaped at the pictures, looking for signs I might have seen before on my trips. I did, however, gather the idea behind ghost signs. They were large, painted advertisements created generally between 1900 and the 1950s (so at the same time most classy things were starting to disappear in America). In those old days, the signs were positively ubiquitous. They were painted on the highest buildings in town so everyone could see them.

Location: Bald Knob, Market Street, across from the MoPac depot

As the years went by and advertisers started turning elsewhere to cheaper options, the signs were left to fade. Sometimes, as in the above case, older signs become visible beneath the most recent ones as the paint erodes. The "war bonds" callout dates the sign easily, and the phrase "barber shop" affords an identity to this otherwise vacant and unmarked building. The structure's other side displays the text "White Way Cafe," revealing another persona.

Location: Batesville

Sometimes the signs are located in areas which don't really seem logical now. The above sign was on the back of a building on Main Street, advertising Optima Flour to predatory wasps and employees taking smoke breaks. But the positioning suggests that that area was once a high-traffic and high-priority zone. It also suggests that a product called "Optima Flour" existed at some point.

Location: Batesville

Here is an example of a ghost sign displayed at a tall vantage point. Anyone trotting down Batesville's Main Street in 1920 would see clearly that someone named "Hail" owned a Dry Goods shop in that building. It's the equivalent of seeing "McDonald's, Exit 92, 2 miles ahead on the right" on I-40, except this sign was beautifully hand-painted by a person instead of laser-printed and mass-produced by a corporation. Sorry, a little bitter.

Location: Batesville

For my last entry in our intro to ghost signs, we have one of my favorite types. Occasionally when a building is being renovated, or burns down, or is otherwise removed, one of these old signs is revealed, at least for a while. The Landers Theater, one of two beautiful old theaters in downtown Batesville, is currently being renovated and being made into the home of a Fellowship Bible Church (yeah, weird, but I guess it is Arkansas). When one of the walls was torn down, it revealed the massive sign seen above. Signs of this size rarely still exist on buildings, usually having been painted over or otherwise removed. This one is positively enormous, covering most of the side of the neighboring building, and is definitely advertising something which would cost a lot more than $3.50 these days. What that product is, I'm not sure.

So that's part one of our three-part discussion of ghost signs. I find these everywhere, and I always get really happy when I see them, so expect to hear a lot more. Next time: Wall Dogs!



Joanna said...

Luke, I flip through books backwards too. Now that I think about it, I guess I do generally hold the book in my left hand (because I usually have a pencil in my right hand even if I'm not going to write in the book).

Anyway, I'm reading this blog regularly and enjoying it. :)

Also, congratulations to you and Jenna!

Rook said...