Ghost signs — faded reminders of businesses that have long vanished — are hiding in plain sight across New York City. As many of New York’s oldest structures are Downtown, the city’s oldest ghost signs can be spotted there. But the buildings north of 14th Street also boast an impressive amount of faded ads. More than 100 are included in the new book Ghost Signs: Clues to Uptown New York’s Past. Here we highlight 10 of the best, plus one that requires an elevator ride to see.
1. Omega Oil, 287 West 147th Street
Three majestic ghost signs for Omega Oil survive within the West 147th–149th Streets Historic District of Harlem. Omega Oil was a liniment that promised to heal just about everything. A 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle ad described the wide range of ailments the oil would “cure”:
“Omega Oil cures Weak Backs. Lame Shoulders, Tired Arms and Legs. Stiff Elbows, Wrists, Fingers, Knees, Ankles and Joints. Rheumatism, Lumbago, Neuralgia, Sore Throat, Cold in the Chest, Sore Muscles. Aching, Itching, Sore, Swollen, Tired, Sweaty Feet.
A godsend to old people. Freshens, invigorates and strengthens the muscular tissues after hard exercise, hard work or hard pleasure. Good for everything a hard liniment ought to be good for.”
The Omega Chemical Company moved from Boston to 257 Broadway in New York in 1900. By 1908, its address was 576 Fifth Avenue. Omega Chemical operated a factory at 243 Greenwich Street from about 1904. The factory moved to Brooklyn in 1914.
Omega spent decades advertising its dubious curative properties in newspapers and on walls across the country. Two large Omega Oil signs were revealed during the construction of 150 Columbus Avenue in 1995. Omega pioneered the use of endorsements by professional athletes. A 1934 New York Daily News ad featured boxer John L. Sullivan, who states, “You can put me down as saying that Omega Oil is fine stuff to rub on the body and limbs. Its green color suits me, too.”
“The successful athlete doesn’t take chances with his physical condition,” another ad advised. “Every other man wants to be strong and vigorous too, no matter whether he is a laborer, a merchant, a professional man, or a preacher.” Omega Oil was acquired by Colgate-Palmolive-Peet in 1931. The brand disappeared sometime after 1957 when it was accused of false advertising by the Federal Trade Commission.