Bringing ghost signs back life

Many of you may have noticed faded ads in downtown Paducah commonly called ghost signs.

Innovations Branding House is taking pictures of these signs downtown and bringing them back to life as they looked 50 years ago. The process takes between 30 to 40 hours.

There’s research involved in getting the design and colors right. As they release the pictures, CEO Todd Duff hopes enough excitement builds around ghosts signs in Paducah that tours can be created or maybe even a fundraiser to restore one.

“I think there’s some fun there, and I think they shouldn’t be overlooked because a lot of towns don’t have these. The buildings have already been torn down or they’ve been painted over," Duff said.

This comes at the same time city leaders passed an ordinance encouraging property owners to restore them, but keep them in their "vintage" form.

LMcCracken County Library Local and Family Historian Matt Jaeger has taken pictures and analyzed several of the ghost signs in Paducah.

“It informs us of our past, informs of what were the likes and dislikes, what was important to people,” Jaeger said.

You can recognize national ads and those unique to Paducah.

“That teach us about Paducah’s past like the Hank Brothers signs, Wile’s Department Store,” Jaeger said.

The artwork was also considered dangerous to do.

“Imagine hanging off the side of the Hotel Irvin Cobb and painting that sign way at the top,” Jaeger said.

At the very top of one building in downtown Paducah, it says the Paducah Standard.

“Not a great photo, but the Paducah Standard was a newspaper before the Paducah Sun,” Jaeger said.

The new ordinance is encouraging people to restore any ghost sign from 1966 or before, but not to its original state. 

“If it looks too new it wouldn’t look historic, but we don’t want them to fade to the point that we lose them either,” Jaeger said.

Before the ordinance, technically property owners couldn’t restore these ghost signs because you’re only allowed to advertise what’s on your property. The new ordinance also doesn’t prohibit property owners from painting over the ghost signs.

Crystal Troutt with Troutt Old Time General Store found her own link to a ghost sign on North 3rd Street of Dr. Bell’s Pine Tar Honey.

“When we ran across these we didn’t even connect it at first,” Troutt said.

Then she saw the E.E. Sutherland Medicine Company lettering which made the elixir advertised on the ad. They’re connections to the past, that couldn’t be possible if we’d painted over these pieces of history or knocked them down.

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