Ghost Sign Harvest #4 – Illinois, Ohio, New York

As I continue across the country, I am photographing signs I already know about, and some that were unknown to me.  Frequently, the ones unknown to me are the best.

Revisiting Champaign, IL, I found some signs I knew about, and some I did not.  The Lee Work Clothes has been exposed by a tear down and is in great shape.

Also, in Champaign, IL, is this nice Owl Cigar / Coca Cola sign.

I went to Chenoa, IL (along the old US 66) to photograph this Selz Shoe sign, even though I suspected, correctly, that it is a muralized sign.  The newer paint is peeling off faster than the original paint.

However, also in Chenoa, IL, I found this wonderful multi-layer sign, unknown to me beforehand, that will require enhancement to decipher its contents.  This sign is a true example of a “ghost sign”.

Another sign unknown to me before i arrived is this America’s Cup Coffee sign in La Salle, IL.

This complex sign is also in La Salle, IL.  I don’t have the time to properly decipher it while driving across the US

I returned to Princeton, IL, to photograph this great sign for Carriages and Harness. For years, it has been partially covered by a banner. When i saw on Google Street View, photographed late last year, that the banner had been removed, this sign was high on my must-revisit list.

Springtime, in Wilmington, IL, provides nice flowers in front of a sign that I wanted to photograph. I was able to scoot around behind the various branches to get complete coverage.

I found this Ivory Soap sign in Brockport, NY, on Google Street View a couple of years ago just after I had driven by.  I was able to photograph it last night as the sun moved around the corner of this south facing sign.

Another sign, unknown to me, is this sign for Battle Ax tobacco and Gold Medal Flour – perfectly balanced “ghosts”.  I had to use my pole rig to photograph the sign over the edge of the adjoining building. It is located in West Unity, Ohio.

Ghost Sign Harvest #3

I’m so busy driving, photographing, and downloading photos that I don’t have much time to devote to posting.  Here are several from Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois.

I had been to Muskogee OK before, but, as usual, there were plenty of more signs to photograph.


There is a very nice sign on the wall, I think for tobacco, in this alley in Joplin, MO. I had photographed it last October, but there were bad shadows.  I was hoping for overcast, but it cleared up before i got there.  Since this is a south facing wall, and since it is past spring equinox, by waiting for the sun to “move” slightly north of the E-W orientation of the wall, I was able to photograph it in complete shade.  I wasn’t the only photographer out there.

There is a sign for Mail Pouch Tobacco in St. Elmo, Illinois, that appears to have been partially repainted.


One of the main ghost signs I wanted to photograph on this trip is this recently exposed sign for America’s Cup Coffee in Mattoon, IL.  I had been to Mattoon before, but it was still covered. I found it on Google Street View.

I shot close to one hundred individual images using my telephoto to stitch together and “preserve” this sign

I had photographed this other sign in Mattoon on a previous visit, but the lighting was better on this visit.

Ghost Sign Harvest #2 – Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma

I’m picking up some ghost signs that I had missed before, and doing a couple of reshoots.  Here is a beautiful ghost sign, in Nash, OK, for Kirkendall Shoes, including E-Z Walker brand.  I originally found it using Google Street View.  I had photographed this sign last October, but I needed to reshoot it with a nice overcast sky, so yesterday I got just that.  It required photographing it over a fence from both sides.

I really like the colors on this sign.  I also had to shoot around the metal shed.  I’ll assemble all of the images when I get home and make a single straight-on version.

There are plenty of other less attractive but still interesting signs, like this one for Chrysler-De Soto.

One of the main crops in the Texas Panhandle is cotton.  Here is an active Cotton Gin mill in Bula, TX.

And, of course, every town has its own Grain Elevator, like this one in Hitchcock, TX.

I drove over a rise at 75mph (the speed limit!) and almost had pork cutlets for dinner.  A mom Peccary with four piglets were right in the middle of the highway.  Fortunately, I was able to stop, and knew that there was no one behind me for miles. Mom finally got them to scramble off the road, so all ended well.

Another day of dark skies and severe storms illustrated by this aviation Vortac against the farmlands in the Panhandle.

Spring Ghost Sign Harvesting has Begun

Now that the Spring Equinox has past and the days are getting longer, I have begun a Ghost Sign Harvesting trip across the US.  I am planning to arrive in Providence RI in time for the April 20th show opening that includes one of my photos.  I left my wife and her visiting cousins at home while I go on a mad dash across the country.

One of the primary ghost signs I was hoping to get, and photographed yesterday, is this one in El Paso, TX.  It was exposed over a year ago.  “Buy your Winter Coal Now – We answer your burning questions.”  I was able to lift my camera over the protective fence and get the entire sign in very high resolution. I had been to El Paso before, but as usual, I was able to find even more signs on this visit.

One can estimate the age by the telephone numbers – 586 and 587.

Most ghost signs are not quite as impressive, like this sign for Phillips 66 gas in Malaga NM.  I ran into some impressive storms.  I was going to get a sign in Artesia NM but there was a severe weather warning for extreme flooding, high winds, and expected severe hail damage for vehicles.  I went a different route.  The images on the news later showed cars in Artesia half deep in flood waters, and there were impressive smashed windshields.  I chose wisely.

I thought I would include some other photos from along the way. I don’t remember seeing warning signs for scorpions, like this sign in Arizona, for rest areas back East. The ones back east should have warnings for ticks.

Leaving Los Angeles, there was some new snow up on Mt. San Jacinto from a storm we had a couple of days ago.  The vertical rise from where I am to the top of the peak is over two miles.

Ads for Roadside Attractions continue to exist in the best tradition of the good old days of road travel.

I found this misspelled bit of Nazi SS propaganda in El Paso.  Interesting, the bridge crossing across the Rio Grande River to Ciudad Juárez was very busy in both directions.  I almost got diverted by road construction into crossing the river.

Ghost Signs on Model Railroad Buildings

Now for something completely different.

I was contacted by a member of a large group of model railroaders about using one of my photographs as a graphic to be added to a model railroad building.   Although I have never built a train layout, I have enjoyed them since I was a kid, so of course I agreed.

Here is my original photograph, from Clarksville, TN.

Nice patch job (digital, of course) on the upper right section by Bill Gill. Here is the building mostly completed, by Bob Santos.  Here is a link to their site and forum :

Here are a couple of other of my ghost signs incorporated into model buildings, models by Ted Dimone.

Just to illustrate my extensive personal model railroading background (not), here I am in 1954.  These setups are not exactly what model railroaders consider to be a serious layout, but they were fun when I was seven.

Me with my girlfriend at the time, Janice Gay Davis, in 1955.

New Canon ifp8400 Printer

I just set up my new Canon Printer that I got at a bargain price. It is the ImagePROGRAF iPF8400 model which is the workhorse in many professional print shops. It will print up to 44″ wide media.  The printer was sitting down at the Canon Distribution center in Costa Mesa. It was open box, the previous model, sort of an orphan printer, and not something Canon could ever sell. It still had the orange packing tape on it. I got it for the price of a set of inks (which it came with) so I basically got the printer for free. Best of all, Canon donated the money to Charity.  It is new with a full warranty.  I can’t wait to start making prints!

My Epson 7880 still works great, but the deal on the Canon was too good to pass up.

Getting it home was an adventure.  It is just over 6′ long and weights over 200 pounds.  I was able to slide it out of the van, but needed four workers to lift it off the platform and onto its base.

The printer came with a roll around stand which is convenient.

It came with a full set of twelve 330ml ink cartridges.  It can also take 750ml cartridges.

Twelve different inks, including Red, Green, and Blue for vivid colors.

It is in the studio where I do framing.  The room used to feel large, but it has shrunk with the printer added in.

Upcoming Show – Unseen, Photography Beyond the Visible

April 20 – May 13, 2017 –  One of my photographs has been accepted in an upcoming show at the Providence Center for Photographic Arts in Providence, Rhode Island.    It is a before/after enhancement of a ghost sign in Baltimore,  Maryland.  The sign is nearly impossible to read in person.  It is more legible in the digital image.  I used my image enhancement method to reveal the wonderful images of women wearing their sunburst plaited skirts. Here is a link to the show’s website :  Unseen

Simon's Plaiting Establishment, Baltimore, Maryland
Simon’s Plaiting Establishment, Baltimore, Maryland

“Simon’s Plaiting Establishment, Sunburst Plaited Skirts, Dress Platings, Pinking, Buttons Covered, 123 W. Saratoga St. – Just Around the Corner”


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


“Muralizing” Ghost Signs

There seems to be a movement underway to restore ghost signs by doing what I call “muralizing” – repainting the most visible layer of a ghost sign with modern brilliant color paint.  While these restoration efforts may have good intentions , they are frequently done by people who have not researched the proper colors of the signs, or what hidden information may be contained in the fainter layers.

Here are a few examples of ghost signs that I have photographed that are now gone. I present my version and a few Google Street Views to show the changes.

Approximately 200 ghost signs that I have photographed are now gone.

Owl Cigar / Knights of Pythias Hall / Barber Shop, Socorro, New Mexico. It was probably the best ghost sign in the state, but has now been muralized.  Look at the rendition of the Owl sitting on the cigar.

Owl Cigar / Knights of Pythias Hall, Socorro, New Mexico
Owl Cigar / Knights of Pythias Hall, Socorro, New Mexico


Coca Cola, Bald Knob, Arkansas –  with the outline of a woman drinking a bottle of Coke.  The graphic, from WW2, is a profile similar to the “We Can Do It” poster.  Apparently, we can do it better with a bottle of Coke.  This graphic is now painted over.  This sign was included (not my photo) in the wonderful book “Ghost Signs of Arkansas” by Cynthia Haas published in 1997.  (In case you are wondering why my sign is “shorter” than the street view, it is because I trimmed away the right edge of the building to get a more contained final image.)

Coca Cola / War Bonds and Stamps / Barber Shop / Wardrobe Cleaners, Bald Knob, Arkansas
Coca Cola / War Bonds and Stamps / Barber Shop / Wardrobe Cleaners, Bald Knob, Arkansas

Newton’s Fidelity Flour / Golden Wedding Coffee, Boonville, Missouri :  I photographed the sign in 2012.  It was muralized sometime in 2015.  The middle version shows a hidden graphic,  now gone, for a brand of coffee manufactured in Kansas City, Missouri. I will talk about how these enhancements are done in a future post.

Rex Flour / Grand Hotel / Levi Strauss Overalls – Big Timber, Montana :  The sign contains two separate Levi Strauss signs, one which is only visible using image enhancement.  It says San Francisco Made / Copper Riveted.  Only the Rex Flour is preserved (a local Montana brand of flour).

American Ghosts – Image Mosaicking

The following is a brief overview of what goes into almost every ghost sign that I photograph.  The major goal is to create as close to an archival version of the sign, at high enough resolution as required, to see all of the painterly qualities of the original sign. An additional goal is also to obtain a “clean” final result where all of the foreground clutter is removed.  A final goal is to make the ghost sign appear to have been photographed “straight on” by using perspective correction in post-processing.

Photos are taken from multiple camera positions to “see” around foreground obstacles.  Multiple images are photographed at each camera position to increase resolution in the final image.  In some cases, this can result in hundreds of separate images from a dozen camera positions. The following illustrates the images that went into three separate camera positions for a ghost  sign in Helena, Montana.

The images from each camera position are then separately mosaicked. I use the program Stitcher from Autodesk – which is no longer available. Too bad. It has numerous features that I have not found in other mosaicking programs.

Then, in Photoshop, I isolate and remove foreground obstacles from each intermediate mosaic.  The poles and wires are highlighted in cyan in the following image.

The resulting intermediate mosaics are then aligned and blended in Photoshop. Since the sky and clouds change between camera setups, the sky in the final image must be replaced. The resulting images are 2 to 8 gigabytes.

It’s as simple as that!