The Missing Ghost of Pottstown

A couple of years ago I made a trip to Pottstown, Pennsylvania because they had done a unique thing: they hired a local artist to restore some of the old, faded advertising painted on brick walls. These faded ads are commonly known as ghost signs. These shots served as a previous post of mine titled Bringing Back the Ghosts.

A few days later someone contacted me to let me know that I had missed one. It haunted me. I knew that I had to go back and find it, but I had no idea where to look. There were four that I saw in plain sight, including a marvelous Coca-Cola ad, but the fifth was hiding. This past weekend we drove around Pottstown and I decided to get a shot of The Very Best, which is a bit of a local legend, while I waited to spot the fifth ghost.

The Very Best, Pottstown, PAIf you look carefully, you can spot another ghost. Namely, me.

In order to get back in the direction I waned to go, I had to make a turn around the block and down another side street. As we turned and looked back across the railroad tracks, the ghost suddenly appeared, visible behind some buildings. I wheeled around the block and dipped into an alley, and on the other side I came face to face with the remaining restored ghost.

Merkley's restoed ghost sign, Pottstown, PA

At last, the complete set. And just to the left of this one was the rear entrance to the old Sears store, an actual un-restored ghost sign!

Sears and Markley's, Pottstown, PA

For more about ghost signs in general and specifically the restored versions in Pottstown (and one in Shenandoah), visit the Bringing Back the Ghosts post.

The Long Lost Video of Auburn

While I was digging up stuff for the last post, I finally got around to editing the video I had taken while trying to get the Genesee sign, the Hunter Dinerant, and the ghost sign. So here it is in all its splendor and glory, and the few surprises I found around the corner. Be kind, gentle reader…

Bringing Back the Ghosts

Originally, when I got into this whole taking-pictures-of-signs nonsense, my interest was solely in the classic neon signs. Somewhere along the line I branched out into ghost signs, which are about as non-neon as it gets. Perhaps it was the fascination with something from the past that is very slowly fading into oblivion, but most likely it was because I ran into the websites of Dr. Ken Jones and Frank Jump, who specialize in these disappearing pieces of history. Visit these places, and I’m sure you’ll be inspired.

But, as much as I enjoy a good ghost, I really appreciate those gallant few who have started a movement to restore these classics. Certainly, we can all appreciate the impact of a ghost sign and its visual manifestation of a building’s age. For instance, here’s a great one I found in Mt. Carmel, PA just recently:


Not only is it historical, it makes for a fun game! Guess what it says?

The King Midas Flour portion, visible (only just) at the right side is fantastic, but can you imagine if it was restored? Here’s what it most likely looked like:


This was taken in Shenandoah, PA last year. This whole building was covered in old advertisements, repainted to look just like they did at the turn of the last century.


Recently, we went through Pottstown, PA, which has become a center of these restorations. An artist named Tim Riegel was commissioned to recreate the ghost signs in the center of town. He restored five of these, four of which I was able to spot and get reasonably good pictures of:

garage-pottstown pottstown-blade weitzenkorns-wide wrigleys-pottstown

That’s an awful creepy mascot you got there, sir…

Much though I love the ghosts, there’s something terrific about these restorations, just knowing that these historic advertisements will live on for at least another hundred years. Terrific work, Mr. Riegel, and thanks to Pottstown for recognizing the significance of this art.

More from Main Street


The Joseph S. Rice Building

I’ll give my friend Denise the credit for finding this one. She spotted this one first and was so happy she found this ghost that she bounced up and down for a few minutes.

So who was Joseph S. Rice? I found this in a history of Wilkes-Barre, written in the twenties:

From the time he was nine years of age Joseph S. Rice has been making his own way in life, and the more than a half century of independent activity which has been his has brought achievements in varied lines. Not many successful business men are the possessors of world records in a field entirely outside the general business world, but Mr. Rice held the world championship as a long distance bicycle rider back in 1896, and for some years he was also a long distance roller skater. He is engaged in business at No. 138 South Main Street, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as a designer and manufacturer of lighting fixtures, and is also the owner of a prosperous and highly attractive gift shop, located at the same address, and has associated with him in business his wife and his son, J. Granville Rice.

OK. Thoroughly cool. Glad there’s still a memory of you around, Mr. Rice.

Everyone moved on ahead as I tried to get some good angles on this one. I’m positive Denise didn’t notice that I managed to fit her into the next shot:


That’s her, at the bottom right. And how could I avoid taking a shot of this sign? Missing letters are just plain fun. It’s undeniable.


One of the odder buildings I’ve seen. The top looks like it’s part of another building.


The Hollywood portion of this sign, I’m guessing, has been around awhile. The only information I could get on this business was that it was owned by Irving and Shirley Bellsey for a number of years, and that WNEP weather girl Ann Wideman worked here modeling clothing. The “Place 1 …… at the” part is fascinatingly awful. Place 1 has another store in Scranton, so I’m guessing whenever they bought this place out from the previous owners, that part of the sign was added, perhaps to cover up something.


I didn’t really think this was that great until I processed it. Neon bullet holes, striking blue against a dull brown building. It’s kind of growing on me. Also cool that Bell’s Furniture has been around since 1960.


Another unveiling! This ghost just made an appearance on the side of Boscov’s. Can’t quite make it all out, but welcome back, stranger!


I recently saw a conceptual drawing of a department store that was planned in the late 30s, and when I saw the façade of this Boscov’s/The Boston Store, I felt compelled to take a picture of it that looked very much like that drawing. I was very happy with the result. Even the people walking seemed to fit in with the vibe of that concept.

Originally, this was called Fowler, Dick and Walker: The Boston Store. Frank Jump has some interesting stuff on his blog about it.

Destruction and Rebirth

Our friends Denise and Lynn have been trying to get us to Wilkes-Barre for at least a year to see the Sterling Hotel, an abandoned building on the Susquehanna that was one of the more opulent places of its day. We got a chance to visit at the beginning of June, and out we went to the city to see it. The sign, of course, is not much to see, but even in these passing glances you can see the magnificence of it.

sterling sterling-fire-escape

In the course of taking these shots I noticed another guy with a point-and-shoot working around the building from the other side. We met in the middle, both of us shaking our heads at how much the place had gone to seed.

“They’re tearing it down end of July,” he said. “Too far gone to save.”

I re-doubled my effort to get shots. Last chance at this old beauty.


You know there’s a problem when there’s a tree growing on your hotel…sterling-back

Lynn talked to the guy a bit more, told him about what I do. He said he was from Plymouth, which I knew of because I had gotten some shots there last year. “They knocked down an old building across from Fainberg’s,” he said, and my ears perked up. Fainberg’s was the furniture store I went to visit; their neon sign was straight out of the thirties, it appeared. “The building was from 1896, and when they tore it down they uncovered an old tobacco sign from 1892.”

Well, I thought, guess we’re going back to Plymouth.

So, sure enough, as we drove along US 11, we came upon an empty lot, and at the far end, we saw this:


Mail Pouch Alert!


So often, I’m talking about the bad side of the story, like the Sterling: a sign or a building that no one seems to have use for and is deemed “beyond saving.” But this one seemed like a win for history’s sake. Glad to see you again, old man. It’s been a long time…

On a side note, last year Laura and I had taken the road less traveled to Pottsville because I had read about a Mail Pouch sign on the side of a tavern. Look below and you’ll see why I couldn’t resist. But also, note the similarity of the signs. Same artist?


G. W. Hooven Mercantile, Pottsville, PA

Looking for History

Still in Reading last Sunday. Lynn and Denise had driven us all over the city, and we had come to rest on Penn Street, the main drag of Center City Reading. We rounded a corner and I spotted this one right away: crumbling neon and gray, probably 50s or earlier. Lynn pulls the car over and we get out. It’s high up on the building and I half wonder if anyone notices it anymore. Zipf’s Candies, it says. The sun is hitting it square from the west at this time of day, so I wander over to the other side.


My mouth falls open. From the angle that I’m standing underneath the Zipf’s sign, I can see a ghost sign behind it.

Ghost signs, for the un-initiated, are the advertisements that were painted on brick that have (chances are) faded to the point that sometimes you can’t read them. They’re rare and good finds, but you hardly see them so close to another sign that you can get both in the same shot. So I couldn’t hit the shutter button fast enough:


The ghost sign says “Paper” and there’s some more of it visible if you step back a few feet.

When we got back to Denise and Lynn’s house, we started going through a set of books Lynn has that covers the history of Reading, mostly through old pictures. There are plenty of shots of Penn Street, so surely there would be one of this sign, wouldn’t there? We go through book after book. Plenty of shots of Penn Street, great shots of the Loew’s Theatre, many signs I wish were still around, but no Zipf’s. And here’s why: whoever took these shots (I’m guessing) worked in a building on the side of the street Zipf’s sits on, because each shot was taken from the same location.

I have no idea how old this sign is. Interestingly enough, some internet research has shown me that there is a Zipf’s Candies still operating in Philadelphia. They’ve been going since 1968, according to their website. No mention of Reading. And this sign looks older than ’68 to me. Anybody out there have any information?