PITTSBURG, Kan. — Happy Halloween! It’s time to be on the lookout for ghosts.
Ghost signs, that is.
Ghost signs are old hand-painted advertising signs — a way to mass market before the days of the internet and glossy magazines — that still can be seen on the sides of brick buildings.
Downtown Pittsburg once had many. Some, unfortunately, are gone. Such was the case of the north wall of Blue Water Pool at Euclid and Broadway, which boasted an advertisement for Schnackenberg Dairy.
Local history enthusiast Kate Emmett-Sweetser captured a photo before it was painted over, but its disappearance prompted members of Historic Pittsburg and Downtown Pittsburg to begin preserving any remaining “ghosts” through photos and research.
There have been official steps to preserve them elsewhere, including Philadelphia, Detroit and Fort Collins, Colorado.
One Pittsburg business owner, Joe Kim, used a unique strategy to preserve two of them at Bamboo, his restaurant in the 800 block of North Broadway. Once upon a time, the signs were on the exterior of the building adjacent to his. Now, they’re on the inside, right by a framed copy of a column I wrote about Bamboo.
Suggestion: Take a field trip around town and search for these ghosts. I did just that with my older son so he could practice his driving skills while I kept a lookout. We spied one for A.J. Cripe’s Town Talk Bread above Images by Stacey at 123 N. Broadway and one that says “wholesale grocer” along the side of her building.
We spied one for Coulter McGuire’s Mens Wear above Europe Park in the 500 block of North Broadway. Some just have one word left, like “berry” on the south side of University Realty in the 700 block of North Broadway, and “serve” on the side of Kutz Music at Sixth Street and Broadway.
If you find any, consider photographing them and sharing them with Historic Pittsburg’s Facebook group.
There’s another kind of ghost sign that’s made an appearance in Pittsburg: a book titled "Ghost Sign" collaboratively written by four well-known local poets.
Al Ortolani, Melissa Fite Johnson, Adam Jameson and J.T. Knoll make up the creative team of White Buffalo, named after the coffeehouse that once operated inside the historic Hotel Stilwell at Seventh Street and Broadway.
They will read from “Ghost Sign” at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Stilwell.
They have earned high praise — the current poet laureate of Kansas, Eric McHenry, says they “sing Southeastern Kansas in a rich and complex four-part harmony that’s both dirge and love song, haunted by loss and heartened by what endures.”
Ortolani, a former English teacher when I was a student at Pittsburg High School, now lives and teaches in the Kansas City area and is well-published. Johnson teaches English at PHS, and her first collection, “While the Kettle’s On,” won the Nelson Poetry Book Award and is a Kansas Notable Book.
Jameson, an estimator for Westar Energy, is a longtime wordsmith. His first collection of poetry, “#9 to Salisaw,” was released by Little Balkans Press. And Knoll, local award-winning newspaper columnist, has published several books, including “Where the Pavement Ends.”
Jo McDougall, a local award-winning poet herself, writes in the introduction of “Ghost Sign” that it is “honest work, lyrical and painful, joyous and sad. It is rooted in folk and mystery and place, informed by powerful imagery … I predict that readers of Ghost Sign will find in it their own ghosts, those indomitable, lost places and folk, brought back by the craft and passion of four poets who know how to remember.”
Those interested in attending are asked to make a $5 donation at the door to benefit the Stilwell Heritage and Educational Foundation. Books will be available for purchase.
Andra Bryan Stefanoni, a former Globe reporter, now works as a freelancer. She lives in Pittsburg, Kan.