I guess the recent Ghost Signs got me thinking about the way things used to be in an earlier age. My memory circled back to a time when professional baseball didn’t exist in Washington, DC and we used to travel to Baltimore to see the Orioles play. This happened a lot when I was a kid, long before the Orioles occupied the beautiful, iconic Camden Yards that so many other ball clubs copied. The Orioles took the field on a much less beautiful and nowhere nearly as iconic Memorial Stadium before that. I even think we saw the Baltimore Colts play (American) football a couple times there too. The Colts left Baltimore in 1983 just to show how far back my mind wandered. What happened to Memorial Stadium after its replacement, I wondered.
Memorial Stadium; Baltimore, Maryland, USA
I drilled into a satellite image and discovered that the old stadium still existed. Well, not really. The city tore it down in 2001. However many fragments remained, spread throughout Baltimore. Its basic shape also remained. A new residential neighborhood occupied much of the land originally part of the Memorial Stadium property. It included a ring-road that approximated the circumference of the stadium itself. Inside that asphalt oval, an open field covered the spot where professional sports teams once played. It offered configurations for baseball, football and soccer.
That made me consider other stadiums wiped from the earth. In many cases new stadiums simply covered the exact footprint occupied by their predecessors. In other instances not a single sign remained at all. However, I enjoyed the ones like Baltimore the most, where people kept their memories alive. Those stadiums continued to exist in an odd ethereal way. The roar of the crowd now silenced, the crack of the bat or the kick of the ball no longer felt, but the stories remained in the landscape.
Some quick searching found several more examples.
Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium; Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Hank Aaron 715th Home Run Monument. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr (cc)
Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium hosted both the Atlanta Braves of baseball and the Atlanta Falcons of (American) football at various times before a controlled implosion finally took it down in 1997. The brand-new Turner Field rose on an adjacent parcel, and the spot once occupied by Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium became part of its parking lots. The old footprint occupied a large section of the Green Lot (it looked awesome on satellite view). Even more of a bonus, the spot where Hank Aaron hit his historic 715th Home Run continued to be commemorated. Aaron accomplished that feat in 1974, surpassing the lifetime record of Babe Ruth, when Aaron hit a ball over an outfield fence and into the Braves’ bullpen. The memorial in the parking lot replicated the fence and the bullpen at the exact spot where it happened.
I realized that marker made little sense to much of 12MC’s international audience. Just understand that a really great sporting event happened there and its preservation was a nice touch.
Yankee Stadium; The Bronx, New York, USA
Once a ballpark, now just a park. Photo by Benjamin Kabak on Flickr (cc)
The New York Yankees baseball team played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx from 1923 until 2008 (map). The team left for a new Yankee Stadium on an adjacent lot. Then the city demolished the old stadium and created Heritage Field on the same footprint. As the New York Times described it,
Now amateur and high school baseball clubs from all over the city stand where some of the greatest professionals once played.
Milwaukee County Stadium; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Helfaer Field. Photo by Rough Tough, Real Stuff on Flickr (cc)
Combine the idea of a parking lot and a small ball field on an original footprint, and that became the fate of Milwaukee County Stadium. Miller Park replaced it in 2000 on an adjacent parcel. Although large surface parking lots grew completely around Miller Park, the former spot of Milwaukee County Stadium became a baseball field. It took the name Helfaer Field with room for 500 spectators in its bleacher seats. People can rent it for "softball, youth baseball, kickball, tailgates, meetings and much more." It looked pretty good on Satellite view sitting there, surrounded by parking lots.
Memorial Stadium; University of Minnesota, USA
McNamara Memorial on Wikimedia Commons (cc)
The Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota played (American) football at Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis from 1924 to 1981. The stadium became totally obliterated. An alumni center filled its former spot (map). However one vital feature remained, its entry arch, inside of the alumni center. People could still walk through the old entryway, although its passage no longer led to a gridiron. Instead it opened into a large room called the Heritage Gallery, "a multimedia museum … [that] honors the accomplishments of University of Minnesota alumni, faculty, students and staff."
Waverley Park; Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia
I found faded stadium footprints outside of the United States too. A prime example existed in Australia. Waverley Park in Mulgrave, Victoria once hosted up to seventy thousand Australian rules football fans. Concentric ring roads circled the demolished stadium, part of a masterplanned community, with a grassy centerpiece remaining at the spot of the original stadium now serving as a practice facility,
The original stadium no longer existed although a grandstand at one end still held room for a couple of thousand spectators.
Cathkin Park; Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Cathkin Park. Photo by Tom Brogan on Flickr (cc)
I found a particularly early example in Scotland, a football (soccer) stadium called Cathkin Park in Glasgow. Professional football there dated back to 1884 when the Queen’s Park club called it home. Third Lanark took over in 1903 and remained there for more than sixty years until the team folded.
Much of the stadium was removed as it fell into disrepair (map). However, terraces ringing three sides of the stadium remained in place, as did the old field. The area became a public park and a home field to various amateur and student teams.
Under Cities/Towns, History, International, Miscellaneous, United Kingdom | Taged Atlanta, Australia, Baltimore, Braves, Bronx, Georgia, Glasgow, Golden Gophers, Hank Aaron, Helfaer Field, Maryland, Memorial Stadium, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mulgrave, New York, Orioles, Scotland, Third Lanark, Victoria, Wisconsin, Yankees
It adorned a cliff on the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (map). I’d seen it dozens of times over the years, a constant presence as I toured the town or rode my bike along the C&O Canal Trail. Its smoothed painted surface cracked over the years, the letters faded, and I never could tell exactly what it said from a distance. I’d seen a Ghost Sign.
Harpers Ferry Ghost Sign. My own photo
This type of advertising used to be quite common as the 19th Century crossed into the 20th. Nobody thought twice about slapping some pigment on a wall, a barn, or in the case of Harpers Ferry, upon nature itself. This unknown author chose a prime spot on an outcrop known as Maryland Heights, scaling down the precarious ledge to apply his commercial message. Back during the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces both occupied the heights at various times, ringing it with artillery. They wanted to control the highest point of elevation above a key town at a major river confluence. An advertiser claimed those same heights a generation later although for a peaceful purpose.
The sign could be seen practically everywhere in Harpers Ferry. More importantly, everyone riding a train on a heavily traveled railroad line saw an advertisement for "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder" just as they entered a tunnel directly below the sign. That’s what it said, as I learned.
Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder
Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder, 1898
on Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Apparently people in an earlier era liked to purchase a tongue-twister of a product called Borated Talcum Toilet Powder. I think it lost some of the superfluous wording later and simply became Talcum Powder. Meanwhile, the Mennen brand continued to exist, now owned by Colgate-Palmolive. In recent years they made a popular deodorant called Mennen Speed Stick. Then in the early 1990’s they practically sparked an entire musical genre when they marketed a deodorant to teenage girls called Teen Spirit. Smells Like Teen Spirit!
A Ghostly Phenomenon
Butte Ghost Sign VI. Photo by Rex Brown on Flickr (cc)
Frankly, I hadn’t paid much attention to Ghost Signs. I’m not even sure how the subject popped into my mind for a Twelve Mile Circle article. Other people took it very seriously, though. They fixated on it with the same intensity as my obsession with county counting. I could respect that. After all, these signs became the subject of a popular website, a Twitter account with more than 5,000 followers, and a Flickr group with more than 30,000 images. The popular press also expressed an interest, for example in articles from The Guardian and The Independent. Ghost signs completely eclipsed my humble efforts on 12MC.
Clearly something in those signs sparked such intense devotion. They acted as connections to earlier times, fading a little bit further as each year passed. They were survivors. However, ghost signs also seemed ephemeral, like on any given day someone might return to find their favorite sign gone. A nostalgia formed around them. Some have been fortunate and have been saved from destruction as cherished historical artifacts. Many more will disappear. I know that I’ll keep a better eye out for them now that I’m tuned in to the phenomenon.
For instance, I’ll stay on the lookout for the Lincoln Hotel and Butte Special Beer sign on Park Street (map) if I’m ever in Butte, Montana.
Black Cat, Dingley Road. Photo by Caroline on Flickr (cc)
The name Sam Roberts came up often as I researched ghost signs. He, apparently, began cataloguing them worldwide about a decade ago from his base in London. Often he listed his favorite example as the sign for Black Cat Cigarettes on London’s Dingley Road (map). Regrettably, he reported the loss of that mural in September 2016, covered up by a new building constructed next to it. Another wonderful ghost sign lost.
A long time ago Twelve Mile Circle featured the Highpoints of the Crown Dependencies, specifically Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. At the time I figured I’d quickly move to the island of Great Britain itself and the highest points of elevation of its three countries, England, Scotland and Wales. Several years passed and I decided to clean out some of the clutter on my potential topics list. Better late than never, I supposed. Plus I figured I’d give a little attention to the UK audience. I’ve focused too much on North America lately.
Ben Nevis; Scotland’s Highpoint
View from Ben Nevis Peak. Photo by Simon Caulton on Flickr (cc)
Ben Nevis sounded like some guy’s name. However I figured that couldn’t be the case, that it probably derived from Scottish Gaelic for something completely different. Ben-Nevis.com offered an explanation. It came from Beinn Nibheis. Beinn meant mountain or pinnacle, logically enough. Nibheis, well, that could mean one of several things. Maybe it meant "malicious," perhaps "in the clouds." Whatever the case, no mountain in the British Isles overshadowed Scotland’s Ben Nevis (map) at 1,344 metres (4,409 feet).
The Ben — its affectionate nickname — attracted about 125,000 full ascents and 100,000 partial ascents each year. If I quickly did the math in my head, and considered most people hiked to the top during warmer months, then there could be hundreds of people on the summit on a nice day. People might be tripping over each other.
I drove through the Scottish Highlands a number of years ago on my way to Fort William and passed right by Ben Nevis. I didn’t climb it though. If I had I would have seen the ruins of an old observatory that operated on top at the turn of the last century. That reminded me of Mount Washington the highpoint of the US state of New Hampshire. I did reach that summit although I drove up. The 12MC audience knows I’m a lazy, often reluctant highpointer.
Snowdon; Wales’ Highpoint
Snowdon summit. Photo by Gerald Davison on Flickr (cc)
I loved Wales because Welsh words looked so strange to my untrained eye. The English language version of its highest point of elevation went by Snowdon (map). In Welsh it became Yr Wyddfa. I couldn’t even begin to consider how to pronounce it. Snowdon derived from Old English, just a version of Snow Hill. The Welsh version offered a much more interesting situation.
That must have been quite the ancient character on its summit, 1,085 m (3,560 ft) above sea level, with a homemade king-beard cloak.
Scafell Pike; England’s Highpoint
View from Scafell Pike Summit. Photo by Philip Milne on Flickr (cc)
On the other hand, I’d never been anywhere near Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain (map). The Scafell part probably came from Old Norse, perhaps meaning the maintain (fell) with the bald summit. The word Pike came from Northern English as used in the Lake District, simply meaning Peak. I guess by that logic, Pike’s Peak in Colorado USA would be redundant, except that it took the name of an early explorer, Zebulon Pike. Regardless of that completely arbitrary non sequitur, Scafell Pike reached 978 m (3,209 ft.)
Lots of people liked to hike Scafell Pike too, particularly because of its easy accessibility and abundant rewards.
The name itself derived from an error. Nearby the mountain Scafell or Sca Fell — without the word Pike attached to it — was once thought to be the tallest mountain in the range. Scafell Pike got its name because the appendage Pike implied a lesser status (i.e., just one subsidiary peak of greater Scafell). Later surveys demonstrated that Scafell Pike actually rose a couple of metres higher than Scafell.
Three Peaks Yacht Race Start. Photo by Mark Hughes on Flickr (cc)
None of the three seemed particularly daunting from a mountaineering perspective. They might dissuade the unmotivated such as myself, although I bet lots of 12MC readers could conquer any of these slopes. In fact, many people do undertake those efforts and want to make the task even more difficult. Increasingly lots of them wanted to scale each of the summits in a single 24-hour period, an event called the National Three Peaks Challenge. That seemed rather more difficult although not impossible. It involved about 42 kilometres (26 miles) on foot with an elevation gain of 3,000 m (9,800 ft).
Another group offered an even more interesting proposition, the Three Peaks Yacht Race. Participants do not use motorized vehicles. They sail from one mountain to another. However, those mountains don’t abut the sea exactly so participants have to run from dockside to summit trails. At Scafell Pike they can use bicycles because they need to cover a longer distance.
The team Pure Attitude won in 2016 with a time of four days and a few minutes.
I’ve become increasingly enamored of the Wendover Productions site on YouTube. Their latest is "Every State in the US."
It cites lots of geo-oddities, many of which have also been featured in Twelve Mile Circle in the past. The big difference here is that Wendover Productions comes at if from a much more professional angle. If you haven’t seen any of their videos you should check them out. You’ll enjoy them.