American Ghosts : Ghost Signs of the United States

Extended to March 31, 2017!

Dr. Ken Jones

Walt Girdner Photo Studio & Gallery
27 S. El Molino, Pasadena, California

The gallery is next to the Pasadena Playhouse, so I’ll be at the gallery before performances.


Coca Cola / War Bonds and Stamps, Bald Knob, Arkansas

Painted by people who called themselves “Wall Dogs”, ghost signs, or painted brick ads, once covered almost every available brick wall in cities and towns across the United States. They advertised tobacco, soft drinks, alcohol, patent medicines, shoes – anything and everything.

Wood & Jones Printers / Campbell Seed Store, Pasadena, California

Starting in 2009, I have photographed nearly 8000 ghost signs in over 4000 cities and towns in 48 states. I photograph the signs in “high resolution” – mosaicking dozens to hundreds of individual images to produce as close to an archival version as possible. I have acquired and mosaicked almost half-a-million individual photos.

Walk-Ezy Foot Bath Tablets, Cripple Creek, Colorado

This exhibit includes a sampling of some of the more beautiful and entertaining ghost signs from around the United States, including Pasadena and Los Angeles. Most of these ghost signs were painted between 1895 and 1925. Besides the technical challenges, an additional challenge has been to create stand-alone photographs that capture the history and beauty of an overlooked, and rapidly disappearing, part of Americana. Many of the ghost signs in this exhibit have already been destroyed – painted over, demolished, covered by new construction, or “muralized.”

Altamaha Apiaries, Gardi, Georgia

I received a B.S from Caltech in 1969, and a Ph.D. from Brown University in 1974. I am a long time resident of Altadena, California. In the 1970‘s, I was a member of the Mars Viking Lander Imaging Flight Team at JPL. I was awarded the NASA Public Service award for his work on Viking Lander data. In 1979, I entered the motion picture industry working on a film for Roger Corman. Subsequently, I worked as a Visual Effects Supervisor around Hollywood with credits on films such as Titanic, The Parent Trap, Frida, and Contact.

Bowman Photographer / B. O. Kendall Company, Pasadena, California

I have worked with digital photography and image processing for decades. Combining technical and artistic skills developed in both aerospace and motion pictures, I have pioneered ways to photograph ghost signs in difficult situations. The challenges include removing pesky utility poles and wires that block the signs, and photographing signs in tight spaces, such as a three story high sign in a three foot wide alley. I have developed techniques to bring out the hidden ghost layers in signs, revealing the historical content of some of these signs for the first time in almost a century.

Mail Pouch Tobacco Barn, Stott, Ohio


Altadena Library Ghost Sign Talk

August 2016

I gave a talk on Ghost Signs at the Altadena Library in August 2016, and, due to popular demand, repeated it in January 2017.  Thanks to Dick Hodgman for these photos!

The talk was one-half about ghost signs, one-quarter about photographic methodology, and one-quarter stand-up comedy.  The gallery display included many ghost signs from Pasadena and Altadena.

Prior to the talk, I was interviewed by the Pasadena Weekly for an article about my ghost sign project.

Palace Theatre Light Capsules Show

February 25, 2017

I got together with Craig Winslow for his Light Capsules show at the Palace Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles.  The theater is at 633 S. Spring St.   This parking lot will soon be filled with new construction, so go see the original sign now. You can see more about his Light Capsules Project, sponsored by Adobe, on his website.

Craig Winslow / Ken Jones

Aligning the projected image with the real ghost sign.

Light Capsule Show w/ Craig Winslow

25 February 2017   Sunset to Late

I’m getting together with Craig Winslow – an Adobe Creative Resident – this Saturday, February 25,  for one of his Light Capsule shows, this one in Los Angeles. He is using one of my ghost signs, the one of the Palace Newsreel Theatre, to create a projectable  image onto the building that overlays the original image and creates a “restored” effect. This should be great fun.  He has an announcement on Facebook.

The ghost sign is located at 633 S. Spring St. in downtown LA.

Palace Newsreel Theatre, Los Angeles, California
Palace Newsreel Theatre, Los Angeles, California

Craig’s Light Capsule Trip

I’m also supplying Craig with an image of the Hubbell Trading Post in Winslow, Arizona.

Hubbell Trading Post, Winslow, Arizona
Hubbell Trading Post, Winslow, Arizona