23 January 2012

Of Days Gone By

Okay, this may be a rambling sort of post today... I was intrigued by an article in today's New York Times about old advertisements found on the side of buildings when another was demolished in Highland Park, Michigan. The NYT got their information from a blog, Sweet Juniper, whose author did most of the research on the company whose advertisements for boys' clothing has been uncovered.

It got me thinking about how what is currently "hot" will become obsolete and unknown. Such things seem to happen more quickly now in our face-paced, gobble up and spit out culture. But stop and think for a moment: what stalwart company from your childhood is gone? Does the discovery of an old advertisement bring nostalgia or depression--or a mixture of both?
From the NYT article "Ghost Signs"...

For me, I remember the Borax and Comet commercials on television. Something about a "twenty-mule train" plodding across Death Valley is associated with Borax. I know the stuff still exists--when my son was small, we made crystal ornaments from a solution of Borax. And Comet...there was a theme song someone had bastardized into Comet/makes your whole house clean/Comet/makes your teeth so green/Comet/makes you vomit/So get some Comet and vomit today!

Amazing what the weird little recesses of your brain hang on to, isn't it?

But back to these nearly century-old advertisements found on the buildings. They date to somewhere between 1915 and 1922. At the start of that time, the world was still in a genteel place of boys in knickers and ladies who carried parasols. Etiquette and gracious manners ruled. Think "Somewhere in Time" with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

Of course, the real ugly side to that society was "Just the Way of Nature": oppression of any people of color, repression of women, sweat shop and prison labor abuses, etc.  But generally, life was slower and more shielded. Then Ford came up with the motorized assembly line, the Wright brothers came up with a machine that actually could stay in the air, and suddenly the pace increased, hurtling society forward at greater and greater speeds. The Great War started and the world shuddered in a cataclysm of violence. Nothing was ever the same, no nation could ever remain totally isolated from the wars of another again. And many mourned the demise of the status quo while others clawed their way up from where they'd been held down.

I highly recommend you read both the original blog post and the NYT article. I feel a short story coming on...


  1. I find these 'Ghostsigns' fascinating and I think the greatest loss is the skilled tradesmen who created them. Something of a revival is taking place though and I hope to see more new painted signs appearing on both sides of the Atlantic. Have a look at my own blog for more on these faded beauties.

  2. Thank you, Sam. Yes, the artistry is amazing and I enjoyed looking at the photos on your site. Glad to see some are being restored to their original vibrancy!

  3. Yes, I wrote about the debates in restoration here.