0 Love It
Save it

Capturing Chicago, ghost signs edition

For this month's photo series, Chicago photographer Debbie Mercer captures ghost signs hiding in plain sight on city buildings


The Daily News ghost sign, Grand Avenue west of Harlem Avenue

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



R.J. Rous Milk & Cream sign, Ogden and Kirkland Avenues

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Squint your eyes and you can see that this Madison Street sign says "Relieves constipation."

Photograph: Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Boarding Stable ghost sign, Fulton Market in the West Loop

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


Collars Shirts ghost sign, Wells and Harrison Streets

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


Wildman Boilers and Tanks ghost sign, 3000 block of West Carroll Avenue

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Radio & TV Tubes ghost sign, Roosevelt Road

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


"Children Cry for Fletcher's Castoria" ghost sign, West Madison Street in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. (Fletcher's Castoria was a laxative.)

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr 


The Creator Auto Shop ghost sign, 5124 W Lake St

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


Regal Musical Instrument Co. ghost sign, 3215 W Grand Ave

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Lyon & Healy ghost sign in the Loop

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



King Beer ghost sign, Laramie Avenue and 21st Street

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Ghost sign in Blue Island

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



CeeBee Packing Co. ghost sign, 3840 S Emerald Ave

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Binks Manufacturing Company ghost sign, 3126 W Carroll Ave

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


"It's All Good" ghost sign

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


"Good Food" ghost sign

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


"Peoria" ghost sign, 51st and Hoyne Streets

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


Lawndale Forge ghost sign, 2100 block of South Spaulding Avenue

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Pilsen Beers ghost sign, 4017 W Ogden Ave

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Gösser Beer ghost sign, Milwaukee and Ayers Avenues

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Garden Restaurant ghost sign, 5318 W North Ave

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Made ice cream ghost sign, Madison Street between Hamlin Boulevard and Kostner Avenue

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Ghost sign, 1535 N Pulaski Rd

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr



Pioneer ghost sign

Photograph: Mercer52/flickr


Ghost signs sounds spooky, but to nostalgia-lovers it just means old, hand-painted signs or advertisements that have remained on buildings since the early 20th century. These faded remnants of another time have inspired blogs, Flickr groups both locally and worldwide, and legions of enthusiasts.

RECOMMENDED: Your guide to living in Chicago

Among those enthusiansts is Chicago amateur photographer Debbie Mercer, whose interest in Chicago architecture drew her to ghost signs. Now it's a full-blown obsession.

"The thing that interests me and others most about ghost signs is the history they represent—the manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers or other merchants that were important to Chicago decades ago," Mercer says.

"The other thing that people like about ghost signs is the joy of finding one you haven't seen before," Mercer continues. "Sometimes signs are revealed when an old building is torn down and a wall of an adjacent building is exposed. Other times you just happen to look up and find one that you hadn't noticed before. It's sort of a treasure hunt."

We've selected some highlights of her ghost sign shots above. Inspired to go on your own ghost sign hunt? Mercer suggests West Madison Street as a good place to start.


John S

This ghost sign was revealed when a building at the corner of Lawrence and Milwaukee was demolished in 2003. The ghost sign is still there, but now hidden by the South wall of the CVS pharmacy.