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One Chicago “Ghost Sign” Salvaged, Two Remain

A group of five removed the wood-slat sign for transport to the American Sign Museum.




One of the three “ghost signs” in Chicago has successfully been dismantled and brought to the American Sign Museum.

The American Sign Museum (Cincinnati) Founder Tod Swormstedt has reported exclusively to Signs of the Times that one of the three “ghost signs” — the subject of last week’s popular news story, Historic “Ghost Signs” in Chicago Facing Demolition — has successfully been dismantled and brought back to the Museum, to be reconstructed and exhibited at a future date.

A nearly century-old gem uncovered

According to a press release from the American Sign Museum, “The signs, painted on lap siding, were uncovered in early August when aluminum siding was removed from a building in preparation for the structure’s demolition on Aug. 22.”

Retired signpainter and pinstriper, Bob Behounek, was the first to discover the 1930’s era signs and immediately notified local media as well as area preservationists and signshops, per the press release. “Behounek, who is the unofficial keeper of Chicago’s rich history of signpainting, was particularly excited by the fact that one of the murals was signed by Jack Briggs, Briggs Outdoor, a founding partner of the very well-known and influential Beverly Sign Company,” reads a portion of the release. “No one had known of Briggs’ background prior to establishing Beverly Sign in the 1940’s.”

Recovery efforts

Behounek also reached out to Swormstedt, who enlisted a contractor to install 21-ft.-high scaffolding alongside the building. Swormstedt and valued associate Todd Ulrich drove to Chicago the afternoon of Aug. 9 and arrived at the building site the following morning to prepare for the disassembly of the 15 x 17-ft. Ward’s Bread mural. They were soon joined by Robert Frese, and Frese proteges Kelsey Dalton McClellan and Andrew McClellan, co-owners of Heart & Bone Signs (Chicago), whose work is coincidentally discussed in our August feature on painted murals.


The 70-plus wood boards were removed, numbered and staged on the roof of an adjacent building, and then shrink wrapped four at a time for lowering to the ground and loading onto the Museum’s flatbed trailer, according to the press release. “Considerable attention was paid to preserving the paint as well as accounting for all the sections of boards as many of the 15-ft. lengths were segmented into two and three sections. There were also pieces of the 100-year-old boards that had split from the original board. These were documented and packed so that the wall sign could be re-installed in whole.” The museum plans to feature the reconstructed wall sign in its expanded Signs on Main Street area.

The fate of the remaining signs?

As this story was being posted, plans were being made to have the scaffolding contractor disassemble the scaffolding and move it to the other side of the building where the two other murals — one for Shell Motor Oil and Shell Gasoline and one for Martin William Roth Coal and Wood, a fuel merchant from nearly a century ago — are located. Heart & Bone Sign was seeking volunteers from the community to assist in removing the lap siding for these two murals.  Temporary storage for the wall signs had been arranged. Local businesses and historical entities were being contacted for a more permanent home for the historical walls — all per the Museum’s press release.

“It’s sort of the old guard combining with the new,” Swormstedt said to me by phone, referencing the cross-generational makeup of the salvage team. The Chicago-based members face a race against the clock, however. The building is scheduled for demolition on Aug. 22.

The group has started a GoFundMe campaign — Save Historic Chicago Hand Painted Signs — to find a permanent home for the remaining sign.

Chicago CBS affiliate Channel 2 also filed a report from the scene. To watch, click here.



Mark Kissling is Signs of the Times’ Editor-in-Chief. Contact him at



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