What Is a Ghost Sign?


UniformSignWebA ghost sign is an advertisement, usually painted on a brick wall, that has faded with the passage of time and exposure to the elements. The haunting name stems from the fact that most of the signs promote long-dead products or companies, but their transparent appearance adds to the effect as well. These fading ads, seen in cities and towns of all sizes throughout the United States, reveal the products and services that helped to define everyday life decades ago.


Fading Ads of Birmingham, published by The History Press, is the kind of book I always wanted to see, but I never expected that I would end up writing it. After a lot of digging through historical records, books, and photographs, the result is a colorful, fascinating look at the Magic City's history as told by its advertising signs, accompanied by vibrant pictures from local photographer Jonathan Purvis. The book also describes how and why such signs once dominated the American landscape, the evolution of painted ads in Birmingham, and what it was like to work as a sign painter. Each ad profiled in the book includes the address so that you can find your favorites and see them in person. (Or locate them on the Birmingham Fading Ads map.)


Wiseola1-WebGot a question about the book or Birmingham's ghost signs? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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And here is my original Birmingham magazine article that inspired the book.