Ghost Signs

The next time you’re in a town, large or small, look around for Ghost Signs

A Ghost Sign is a hand-painted advertising sign that’s been on a building for a long time.  The colors are faded, the surface is worn, and the words have no relation to the building’s current use.

Can you make out this one?

Berkley Springs WV

Ghost Signs remain on  buildings for a variety of reasons.  Maybe the owner thinks the sign has some cool, nostalgic appeal.  Or, maybe the building owner is indifferent or lazy and hasn’t gotten around to covering up the message. 

I like Ghost Signs.  They give a hint of the past while not interfering with the building’s current, modern use.

S Boston WV 2011-04 (TZ) (18)

People have Ghost Signs too.  I think of them as memories from our past that time has faded….the types of things that don’t (or shouldn’t) have any relevance to our present life other than nostalgia.

The messaging on our personal Ghost Signs can vary widely.  The pink dress that your mother made you wear…when you wanted to go outside and play in pants.  The bad performance evaluation at work….when your boss was blind to your brilliance and talent.  The boy who got away…before putting a ring on your finger. 

At the time these messages were painted on your life, they called for attention; but now looking back, their vivid colors have lost their luster.

When we apply a fresh coat of paint to our Ghost Signs, or never let them fade in the first place…we allow our past to unduly infiltrate our present.  By doing this, we imply to ourselves and everyone around us that the message is still relevant and that we haven’t moved on.

I know a few people who hold on tight to irrelevant memories and blame past experiences for ruining their present-day life.

It’s not where you came from that matters most…it’s where you are now and where you’re going.

Ghost signs don’t need to be forgotten, but they should be allowed to naturally fade…by the sunbeams that enter our lives each and every day.

Do you have any faded Ghost Signs?  Are there any that  you continually repaint?


29 responses to this post.

  1. This is a very romantic post, Tracy. Although my own blog is a ghost sign. And not so romantic.

    I may just be doing it wrong.


    • One day it will be wiped away…when the house and all of it’s contents are properly distributed throughout the world…or under the earth in the rightfull resting place of a landfill. 🙂


  2. great post!!! it’s making me think about all my ghost signs.


  3. That’s an interesting way to look at things past that might still be hanging around. There’s something comforting in seeing them on old buildings, though.


    • Ghost signs on old buildings are very intriguing…I always try to figure out what they advertised…and imagine the scene back in the day.


  4. Ghost signs, I love it! When we were hiking this weekend…I found one that said “no dumping”…was pulled off the tree and laying near a heap of “dumped” trash! I took a pic of the sign to use in a blog post, but didn’t have the term “ghost sign”…gives a whole new meaning!


    • Ghost sign is a real term…usually applied to faded ad signs on buildings…but the dumping sign sounds very ghostly to me. Will look for it in an upcoming post on your site.


  5. Some ghost signs best left buried, but others should be resurrected. Does not need to be profound. I remember how much I enjoyed artsy craftsy things. Restore a desk, make people out of shells and such.


  6. I adore ghost signs, but I’ve always loved old and antiquey relics of by-gone eras. This reveals itself in the fact that I’m probably traipsing the line toward hoarder; I’ve still got a science notebook from high school! You never know what that sort of stuff might be useful, right?



    Anyway, great post! And inspiring; I kind of want to go find something artsy to do with ghost signs.


    • RIGHT! I also have a folder of high school and college papers…ones that I couldn’t bear to part with. If I had an entire closet full….now that would be hoarding. If you do something artsy and ghostly…please let me know!


  7. Yes, I have many ghost signs. Many of them are showing up in my life right now. At times I feel like I’m making good progress and at other times I feel somewhat overwhelmed, like I am making no progress at all. I do, however, realize that there is greater victory on the other side. The thing is though, simply realizing the sign(s) alone doesn’t resolve it. Realizing it is the first step and then the decision, and then the execution of starting to do something different when you don’t necessarily feel different yet. It can feel somewhat confusing in the middle.

    On one thing I do agree though: instead of using them as excuses for how you are creating your future you should rather face them and make changes into your future that will give you a more desirable outcome instead of repeating the same thing that didn’t work to begin with. Your past is ample proof of that. Your future shouldn’t keep showing you what you already know.

    Good post, Tracy


  8. Great post. I love the pictures, and as a fan of local history, my eyes will be peeled for ghost signs, both in my own life and on brick walls…;)


  9. I agree that we can cling to bad history, bad memories in an unhealthy way, but sometimes there are Issues we need to revisit and really understand. Kind of like a ghost sign on brick – until you actually sand down into the brick, the sign will keep reappearing.


  10. Posted by Kalli on June 15, 2011 at 10:30 am

    i love this! we have a bunch downtown and i love to really look at them………


  11. Wisdom in your words, Tracy. I have ghost signs in my life. They fade, but I visit them now and again. Each visit I see them in a different light. Someday perhaps I’ll see them just right, if they don’t first fade into oblivion. Blessings to you…


    • My grandma tells me that memories CAN fade into oblivion….I know some of mine already have. Blessings back to you Carol Ann.


  12. This post made me think, Tracy. Can any of admit to not having ghost signs in our lives? Sometimes they are there and we don’t even realize it until something inside us triggers a memory from the past and suddenly we are caught off guard.


  13. the sunbeams…beautiful post!,


  14. Great analogy! I love old buildings like that, with just a hint of what used to be. It kinda makes me sad, though, as I realize long after we’re gone people will be seeing ghost signs from OUR lifetimes.


  15. Hi Tracy .. so true – it’s the now and what happens next that’s important – what’s gone has gone. But I love the faded history .. can tell us so much – and a good source of ideas – thanks interesting article .. cheers Hilary


  16. Posted by Bonnie on June 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I always enjoy your posts Tracy, but this one in particular made a big impression on me. What a meaningful comparison made to our daily lives. I know a couple of people holding on to their own larger ‘Ghost Signs’, and I admit I revisit a few of my own, though rarely. Great post. 🙂


  17. I also love ghost signs. They can be very interesting and cool to look at.


  18. I like the concept of personal ghost signs; my c-section scar, a burn on my arm from a Christmas dinner, the place where I cut my finger in the kindergarten…


  19. me = thermometer.

    that being said, i wish it was hot here. what in the world, it’s like 60 degrees and cloudy and rainy.

    midwest is messed up.


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