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Ghost Signs of Central Illinois

Updated on October 26, 2016

Ghost signs are old advertising signs-- neglected or hidden for many years—that are defunct or no longer relevant. There are examples of ghost signs all over the world, but they’re very common in the United States, especially from the “golden era” of advertising from the 1890s to the 1950s—when brick or wooden building sides were often painted by accomplished artists and sign painters in long-lasting lead paint. Many of these signs were subsequently hidden by buildings constructed adjacent to the advertising signs, thus protecting and preserving the signs from the fading effects of sun and weather. A broader definition of ghost signs includes signs in metal, terra cotta, stone or other forms.

Ghost signs are very common in older, densely populated cities with a great deal of brick construction. When adjacent buildings are torn down, their destruction often reveals long-hidden advertising signs. Because they’re fleeting remnants of a bygone era, chronicling ghost signs through photography has become a fascinating hobby for hundreds of people around the world. Because of its location on historic Route 66 and the age and construction of local buildings, there are several good examples of ghost signs in Central Illinois.

An old warehouse building in Bloomington, Illinois has signs advertising multitude of defunct products and services.
An old warehouse building in Bloomington, Illinois has signs advertising multitude of defunct products and services. | Source
Sign for William Turpin, Contractor in the Bloomington, Illinois warehouse district.
Sign for William Turpin, Contractor in the Bloomington, Illinois warehouse district. | Source
Capodice & Sons, bought out in 1995, in Bloomington's warehouse district.
Capodice & Sons, bought out in 1995, in Bloomington's warehouse district. | Source
Bloomington Cemetary (now Evergreen Cemetary) vault, used for storing bodies for burial during frozen ground months.
Bloomington Cemetary (now Evergreen Cemetary) vault, used for storing bodies for burial during frozen ground months. | Source
Fading advertising touting furniture and stoves on a building in Downtown Bloomington.
Fading advertising touting furniture and stoves on a building in Downtown Bloomington. | Source
Probably faux (or repainted) ghost sign for Selz Royal Blue Shoes in Chenoa, Illinois.
Probably faux (or repainted) ghost sign for Selz Royal Blue Shoes in Chenoa, Illinois. | Source
A restored 1930s sign on a barnside in Cuyuga, Illinois touts Meramec Caverns, a Route 66 attraction in Missouri.
A restored 1930s sign on a barnside in Cuyuga, Illinois touts Meramec Caverns, a Route 66 attraction in Missouri. | Source
At the Northwest corner of Allin and Washington in Bloomington, Illinois.
At the Northwest corner of Allin and Washington in Bloomington, Illinois. | Source
At the Southeast corner of Allin and Washington in Bloomington, Illinois.
At the Southeast corner of Allin and Washington in Bloomington, Illinois. | Source
Chewing tobacco ghost sign at Southeast corner of Madison and Jefferson in Bloomington, Illinois
Chewing tobacco ghost sign at Southeast corner of Madison and Jefferson in Bloomington, Illinois | Source
Another view of chewing tobacco sign, showing a better view of where another building covered up the sign for generations.
Another view of chewing tobacco sign, showing a better view of where another building covered up the sign for generations. | Source
Pantagraph Printing and Stationery sign at 217 West Jefferson in Bloomington. The building from the late 19th Century still houses Pantagraph Printing, but the Stationery business no longer exists.
Pantagraph Printing and Stationery sign at 217 West Jefferson in Bloomington. The building from the late 19th Century still houses Pantagraph Printing, but the Stationery business no longer exists. | Source

The photo sharing site Flickr has a group devoted to ghost sign photographs that includes more than 20,000 examples.

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    Bruce 4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

    e-five

    Nice – your hub caught my eye right away. I have always been intrigued by “ghost” signs. There are many in Chicago and when I see one, I always find myself checking it out. When I first came to city, over 20 years ago, there and many were right in the loop, especially in the State Street area. Now some of those buildings are gone and many that remain have the view of the old signs blocked by a newer building. Still, I see a lot in neighborhoods around the city especially old industrial buildings that usually advertise what their function was (one – time function, I should say). One I like is for a barrel factory and another made harps – both in the Ogden Avenue area just south west of the loop.