'Ghost Signs' Leave Haunting Reminders of Forgotten Pittsburgh Businesses

Apr 25, 2014

The exhibit of these painted advertisements span from Corapolis to Homestead, but many of the old buildings are being taken down.
Credit Kelly Bogel

Etched on the walls of Pittsburgh’s most well-worn buildings, advertisements for long-forgotten products serve as a haunting remembrance of the city’s past consumerism. Two Pittsburgh photographers have documented these signs in an exhibit called “Palimpsests: Ghost Signs of Pittsburgh.” 

The idea originated with Pittsburgh Filmmaker’s Associate Professor Will Zavala, who said he noticed the rapidly changing landscape of the city and wanted to photograph the signs before their buildings were demolished. He asked Pittsburgh photographer Kelly Bogel to join the project and the two have preserved both the ghost signs and the memory of the once-forgotten businesses.

“I always wondered why we like these things,” said Zavala, “I think it’s because they are a mystery. They’re a mystery because their literal meaning is sometimes a puzzle, sometimes they’re advertising products, for the most part, that don’t even exist anymore for companies that aren’t around, even though they must have been household names at the time.”

Pittsburgh's Ghost Signs have been mapped out and cataloged below, take a visit while you can.

View Pittsburgh Ghost Sign Catalog in a larger map