Visions of the Past: My Hometown’s Ghost Signs

For this original blog post click here.

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.

For more on Charles Selberg 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.


Katie Jacobson is a recent graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead where she received a bachelors degree in anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology. She is passionate about art, culture, prehistory, and preservation. Check out additional posts by Katie, on her blog Anthropology Gallery.

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