The Men Who Painted the Ghost Signs

Painting advertisements on the sides of tall buildings was dangerous work--in more ways than one.

Faded, sometimes cryptic, advertisements are still visible on old buildings throughout Spokane. Outdoor advertisements in the early days of Spokane were mostly hand-painted. It was hard and dangerous work. Painters held heavy buckets of paint maneuvering six stories from the ground. The popular name given to these professional painters was "walldogs."

The painting business was at its peak through the beginning of the 20th century. Due to the demand, many young painters wanted to become walldogs. Some aspiring painters went to school to sharpen professional skills but most of the business knowledge was handed down through generations from one skilled walldog to another.

Companies like Worley's Sign Works and W.G. Doyle Signs created advertisements in Spokane. Rather than use scaffolding painters would hang from the sides of buildings while balancing heavy cans of paint to work. Even the ingredients used in paints were hazardous, with poisonous lead, and combustible linseed oil to name a few being used to add color to paint. However these materials, lead in particular, are why we can still see the ghost signs today.

Evidence of growing businesses and industries in downtown Spokane is shown through today's ghost signs. The signs mark a significant demand for painting businesses as Spokane developed into a growing city. It didn't take much to become a walldog other than some painting skill, and a willingness to paint in high altitudes with minimal safety precautions.