Bringing ‘ghost ads’ back to life

They’re known to some as “ghost ads,” painted signs on the sides of buildings that have faded over the years to the point where they’re barely legible or noticeable.

But FOUND Antiques owner Chuck Swaney has enlisted the aid of local artist Thaddeus Brejwo to bring the ghost ad on the side of his Harmar Village building back to life, and he hopes other businesses follow suit.

“That is a classic, old, hand-painted advertising sign, Tornes Bros. Shoes,” Swaney said. “What do I do? I sell antiques. So I’m a believer in saving the past.”

The 113 Maple St. building that houses FOUND was built in 1896, with Tornes Bros. opening in it the following year. Over time, the approximately 13-by-20-foot sign faded, but not to the point that Brewjo can’t recreate it.

“There’s enough on it that I can connect the dots,” he said.

To match the colors as accurately as possible, Brejwo has pulled samples from small cracks that were at least partially shielded from the elements. On Monday, he was coating the surface with an acrylic polymer to seal off the old lead paint, provide a bonding agent for the new coat and keep moisture from seeping in after the new paint is applied.

If the weather cooperates, he expects to have the “new” sign completed this week.

Ghost ads can be found on buildings around downtown Marietta and Harmar, and Swaney would like to some of those restored as well. Having multiple signs vividly visible again could be another asset to the city’s efforts to attract tourists, he said.

“I think any enhancement that you make in this town, it is just another feather in our cap,” said Swaney, who also serves as president of the board of directors for the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Lynne Sturtevant, owner of Hidden Marietta Ghost Trek, said the ghost ads already draw interest from people taking her downtown ghost walks. They also attracted the attention of Facebook users when she posted an album of them on her page about a year ago.

“Lots of people say just that – ‘Oh, it would be cool if they would redo them,'” Sturtevant said.

Some people don’t realize how many ghost ads are in Marietta until they’re pointed out, Sturtevant said. Her photo collection includes images from the former Leader Restaurant on the side of the Gallery building at 222 Front St. and the back of The Peoples Bank Theatre, where a portion of its former name, the Hippodrome Theatre, is visible.

“Once you start looking at them, you see them everywhere,” she said.

The downside to restoring the ads is that there is “a kind of beauty in their faded states,” Sturtevant said. But she thinks repainting some while leaving others as is would work just fine.

“I think that it would draw some visitors,” she said.