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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  

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

By Martha Williams

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.


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