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The Disappearing Ghost Signs Of The Rust Belt

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Ghost signs are nearly the equivalent of what cave drawings were to our early modern day explorers: signifiers of how previous lives lived, worked and maybe the kind of beer they drank or the cigarettes they smoked. While these ghost signs populate many towns in our country, they are in the process of leaving us. As the wrecking ball flies and mundane urban renewal efforts commence, we're losing more relics every day.

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Tarentum, Pennsylvania

As time goes by, we're more likely to see empty big box retailers than we are the appliance store, corner markets and independent auto stores that so often featured the painted wall ads. While the empty Circuit City stores, Eckerd's and discarded Wal-Marts may, in some ways, signify the same thing, hopefully, we can all agree that they're not nearly as interesting or individualistic.

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Martins Ferry, Ohio

On a national basis, Pepsi and Coke reign as the ghost sign kings. While they had their signature slogans and logos, they were often worked into the scheme of the businesses they were plastered upon. This kind of uniquely individual tie-in kept these signs interesting and, even today, makes them worth a look.

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Petersburg, Virginia

Alcohol and beer ghosts are prevalent throughout the Rust Belt, especially for a city's local brews. Many of these remaining signs are a wonderful glimpse into the Mad Men-look of the1950s and '60s. Culturally, the same could be said for the Pouch Tobacco and White Owl Cigar wall ads from the early part of the 20th century. Many times, as buildings are razed, these beautiful, colorful ghosts appear in fresh form after decades of being covered and protected by an adjacent building.

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New Kensington, Pennsylvania

The old mill towns throughout the Ohio Valley, due the amount of razed structures, are a virtual wonderland of ghost signs. The former factory towns, where the decades have brought nothing but age, loss and unemployment, are the fertile areas for this history. In those places, the ghosts are not only a reminder of the actual businesses and maybe business owners but of busy streets, communities and hopeful futures.

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Clairton, Pennsylvania

Please visit Randy Fox's website for more Rust Belt photography. Fox also manages the American Elegy website, which features the interviews and work of some of our greatest photographers, well-known and emerging.