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.
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.