Visions of the Past: My Hometown’s Ghost Signs

While my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota is growing, remnants of the past still echo on the walls of the downtown area.  Ghost signs of historical ads build character and a sense of nostalgia  for viewers taking a stroll down the busy street.  I decided to do a little research to gain a better understanding of the faded yet interesting murals that I have always admired.

Scherling Photography Ghost Sign. Image copyright of Katie Jacobson of Namaste Photography.

This image is a perfect example of a historic piece for a local business that is still thriving today.  Though Scherling Photography has been located on 13th avenue for 32  years, the beginning of this business started on Broadway in downtown Fargo.  This ghost sign is especially close to my heart since my dear friend Tara Scherling continues the family tradition and works as a wedding photographer at the current studio.  Tara’s great grandfather, Arvid R. Scherling, interned with Dewey Studio in 1919 and opened his own studio by 1920.  The studio was later passed to Arvid’s son Orlando.  Orlando and my grandfather actually grew up across the street from each other and Scherlings photographed my grandparent’s (Kennith and Donna McLaughlin) wedding.  Rumor has it Orlando heard of an upcoming ordinance that was to ban painting murals for advertisement and quickly decided to put the sign up before the ordinance passed.  Larry and Patrick Scherling now operate the popular photography studio.

To view Scherling Photography’s website, click here!

Hotel Bison Ghost Sign. Image copy right of Katie Jacobson of Namaste Photography.

I have always admired the Hotel Bison ghost sign with its pop of vibrant green and the barely visible caption that reads “Sensible Hotel Rates”.  The building was built in 1910 as the Viking Hotel and later updated in 1940 as the Hotel Bison.  Although I was not able to find what year the mural was painted, I did find some interesting information regarding the location.  It is believed that Bob Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) spent many evenings at “The Bison” during the dog days of 1959.  This fun fact made me smile considering Bob Dylan is playing a show in Fargo tonight!

For more on Bob Dylan’s days in Fargo click here!

Sunny Brook Whiskey Ghost Sign. Photo copyright of Katie Jacobson of Namaste Photography.

I absolutely adore this Sunny Brooke Whiskey mural.  The painting, also known as “The Cowboy”, was painted in 1949 by artists Charles Selberg when he was just 17 years old.  Selberg grew up in North Dakota and later moved to San Francisco to further his career as an artist.   In 1960 he started the Selberg Fencing Academy in Fargo.  Selberg traveled back to the West Coast and was named one of the Great Fencing Masters in history by Amarillo College.  This talented man was an artist, author, teacher, and fencing master.  Fargo is proud to be home to one of Selberg’s early art pieces.  The commercial art piece, commissioned by Sunny Brooke Whiskey, has since been restored and helps color the streets of downtown Fargo.  “The Cowboy” was restored by artist Chandler O”Leary, an illustrator who now runs Anagram Press in Tacoma, Washington.

For more on Charles Selberg click here!

To view and to purchase original work by illustrator Chandler O”Leary click here!

Next time you find yourself in a fast paced street, remember to take a moment to observe.  Take a moment to appreciate the fading artwork that lies around you and celebrate the history of your local downtown.

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14 thoughts on “Visions of the Past: My Hometown’s Ghost Signs

  1. Pingback: Ghost signs of Downtown Fargo, North Dakoa | Visit Fargo-Moorhead

  2. Pingback: Visions of the Past: My Hometown’s Ghost Signs

  3. Time for a leisurely stroll around downtown Fargo the next time we’re in town. I totally agree with your suggestion about taking a moment to observe. Thanks for the tips on these Fargo attractions, at least in my eyes and yours.

  4. Love it! Not so many ghost signs in downtown San Francisco anymore, but I know of one ghost coca-cola sign in one of the neighhborhoods. And we have a 70+ year old coke billboard that still lives… Pittsburgh had ghost signs, when I lived there…

  5. There are other ghosts of Fargo that haunt me in an unexplained way.
    I recall back in the late 60s and early 70s the street people and “skid row” of NP Avenue.
    The man with so many growths on his face and body,the kerosene faced Native Americans. The kind cop that still walked a beat and escorted us young silly hippy girls to the bridge to Moorhead,
    Later years working downtown the down and out people with beautiful souls and hopeless lives. The Flame” era”, the suicides and even the death of a homeless person on Broadway Rectory steps. Death by fire by Duis and self neglect and rumored elevator shaft ghost in the Duis law office (Universal Building?)
    Now sadly the use ofmeth and heroin by the downtown “heros.”
    No one talks about it as they honor and martyr the musicians that OD on heroin.
    It is ugly and no one will speak up.
    The Empire used to have honor and the Round Up smelled of Pine Sol. Before it was OK you might see a co worker “cruising” the Adult Book Store late at night when you yourself should have been home, but just drove by.
    Our beautiful Fargo Theatre is left-but she holds secrets too.

  6. Your article struck a chord with me. I’m a history lover, and when I see those faded signs they make me wonder about the building, the business, the people. Thanks for writing an article that many relate to.

    I have a Fargo-based blog as well. Please check it out when you have a moment.

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