Ghost Signs of Salem, Massachusetts

Newmark's Ghost Sign on Essex Street c. 1970

The term "ghost signs" refers to now weathered, hand painted brick advertisements that were popular during the late 19th and early 20th century. In the days before digital marketing, this form of advertising was used by a variety of local and national businesses to promote their locations and products. Remnants of these signs can be seen throughout the city of Salem, Massachusetts. Though multiple ghost signs remain, many have been lost over the last century to revitalization projects, rezoning and demolition. 
Pillsbury Ghost Sign on Endicott Street
The most famous of these advertising signs are for Coca-Cola, many of which are still visible throughout North America. Between 1890 and 1920, an estimated 16,000 murals were painted across the United States. In 1910, a quarter of Coca-Cola's advertising budget was used solely for the creation of wall murals. 

Lost Coca-Cola Advertisement on Boston Street c. 1930

Recently, Coca-Cola launched a ghost sign revitalization project, where the company employs artists to restore their ghost signs. The project has already breathed new life into over two dozen murals, across fifteen states. 

Almy, Bigelow & Washburn Ghost Sign on New Derby Street
Beeman's Pepsin Ghost Sign on Peabody Street

Dating the Past - Civil War Revenue Stamps

Courtesy: Salem State University Archives & Special Collections

During the American Civil War many soldiers took with them mementos from home, including photographs of loved ones. Photography had improved dramatically over the previous decade leading up to the war, both in quality and accessibility. This created a boom in portrait photography during antebellum that still continues.

In order to finance the war, the Union government instituted the Revenue Act of 1862, which taxed luxury items. Photographers were required to collect tax for each image and to show the tax was paid by affixing a stamp to the back and cancelling it with their initials and date. Although photographs were one of the most taxed items, photography did not have its own stamp. Often stamps for telegraphs and playing cards were used. 

On August 1, 1866 the tax on photography was repealed, making these revenue stamps indicative of the Civil War era. They do not appear on images prior to or after the war, making them easy to date. 

This particular image was taken in the heart of downtown Salem, Massachusetts by Essex Street photographer, D.W. Bowdoin. The 3 cent stamp attached to the back indicates the keepsake was purchased for between 25 cents and 50 cents. 

Java Head (1923) - Salem, Massachusetts

Courtesy: Streets of Salem
The silent motion picture Java Head, released in February 1923, is based on the 1919 book by Joseph Hergesheimer. The story chronicles the tragic marriage between Salem ship captain Gerrit Ammidon played by Alan Roscoe and a Chinese princess portrayed by Leatrice Joy.

Java Head was filmed at many locations in Salem mentioned in the book, including Derby Wharf, Central Wharf, the Custom House, Hardy Street and Salem Common. During the month of filming, the Salem Evening News reported daily on the crew's progress, stating "never before has this city been picked as the location for a moving picture."

Courtesy: Salem State University Archives & Special Collections
The first scenes of Java Head were filmed on October 12 and 13, 1922 outside 26 Hardy Street (nonextant.) The location was chosen based on Hergesheimer's book, which named the home as the residence of Edward Dunsack, played by Raymond Hatton.

$75,000 of the film's $200,000 budget was allocated to filming in Salem, the crew began restoring Derby Wharf to its 1840's glory in early October 1922. Alterations included: stabilizing the neglected wharf, building several warehouses, covering rail lines and placing cobblestone. Ships brought in from nearby Gloucester and the whaler Charles W. Morgan from New Bedford were docked at the wharf. Studio artists rendered a large painted backdrop to conceal the mills of the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co. in the distance. 

Courtesy: Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Like 75% of the silent films made in Hollywood, the 1923 version of Java Head has been lost. Only a few still photographs exist. In 1934, however, another version of Java Head was made, set in Bristol, England, and starring the Asian-American actress Anna May Wong. This version is still available. 

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Edited by Emily A. Murphy, Ph.D. 
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