Ghost Sign

I’m fascinated by old signs that have long outlived their usefulness. The resolution in this photo isn’t very sharp—I took it with my iPhone while sitting at the Juneau and Old World Third Street stoplight—but it pulls together several eras in an interesting fashion.

At the left is the F. H. Hochmuth building, built in 1892. The resolution here is too poor for you to see it, but that year is written above the Hochmuth name, just below the facade’s peaked roof. Milwaukee buildings of this era (1870s–1900) all have a pretty similar look: skinny, three or four stories tall, built with Milwaukee’s own Cream City brick, and displaying its year of construction in a stylized banner across the top.

To the right is a luxury condo/apartment building that has been built to appear old. The Moderne has an Art Deco look, or more accurately Art Moderne. Yet it’s actually brand new (four years old).

And in between is the “ghost” sign. I regret not taking a photo of it before the new building blocked it. It’s some kind of pest control ad, from a company that used “K”s like a New York Post headline. The text on the sign reads something like “Killed Kleen” or “Kleen Killed,” if memory serves.

I figure the sign is from the 1940s or 1950s. Note the “K” on the cartoon exterminator’s hat, as well as the cape unfurled beyond his shoulders. The lower half of the sign, now obscured, reveals that the man is wearing some kind of superhero outfit, a leotard-and-tights look that’s a cross between Superman and Peter Pan.

One last thing: I found this photo on eBay and discovered that the F. H. Hochmuth building was home to a musical instrument store by that same name.

I found the October 21, 1972, Milwaukee Journal obituary for Otto Hochmuth, “retired operator of the old Hochmuth Music Store,” who was found dead at age 75 in his room at the Abbot Crest Hotel.” Otto’s father was the “F. H.” of the building’s name: Franz Hochmuth, a German violin maker, founded the store in 1892 after immigrating to America. Franz’s son Otto operated the business from 1940–1969.

So, I don’t know. That sign itself is nothing special, apart from its surprising durability. I could actually see it becoming, given its cheesy prominence in any photo taken from the wrong angle, a thorn in the side of Moderne building management. But there it is. And there it will likely remain until years of Wisconsin weather finally erases it.

A ghost from decades past peering impishly down.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in architecture, Art, History, Milwaukee, Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Ghost Sign

  1. Sally Cissna says:

    Katie! I love this…but I want to know about the company that put this up. It looks to be in such good condition….almost like it’s been renewed at some point. Love the juxtaposition of the very old (100+ years) and the modern (5 years). Keep up the great work on these photos. (don’t I just sound like a teacher!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sally! Yes, you sound just like a teacher, and the very best kind. The kind that encourages and genuinely cares and makes people want to do better because their teacher believes in them!


  2. Rose Didier says:

    I like this one too, Katie! A bit of history, a bit of whimsy, and a whole lotta Katie!!


  3. Michelle Gaebel says:

    Hi Katherine,
    I was looking at my grandfather’s mandolin today looking for clues. I wasn’t sure if it was my great grandfather’s from Hungary when he immigrated in 1905 or later purchased in the US after he settled in Milwaukee with his family. The label inside said FH Hochmuth In Milwaukee and your post was the first item that showed up! So now when I visit Milwaukee in May, I can take a look at that building on 3rd and Juneau. It gives me chills to think about walking in my Great grandfather’s footsteps!
    Thanks much
    Michelle G

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.