Bob Allen creates second 'ghost sign' downtown, evoking history from bygone era and celebrating Hannibal's bicentennial

HANNIBAL – With each measurement from his ruler and stroke of the brush on Monday, Bob Allen added another detail to a “ghost sign” at 120 N. Main St. — featuring the circa-1800s logo for the Diamond Jo Line Steamers.

The term “ghost sign” refers to the faded appearance a painted sign takes on over several decades. Bicentennial committee members Allen and Jim Waddell discussed creating ghost signs downtown before the group came together, and Allen has already finished his first ghost sign at 323 N. Main St., depicting the bear and barrel logo of the former Hannibal Lime Co. His latest artwork features intricate lettering and will have a steamboat in the center, just like the ships that docked at the riverfront and offered rides to passengers from Hannibal to St. Louis for one dollar.

Allen said the signs' muted colors and bygone images are an ideal fit for downtown Hannibal's heritage.

“We want to keep downtown historic,” he said.

Allen plans to complete the Diamond Jo Steamers sign by the end of the week, and he is already preparing to create another ghost sign in America's Hometown.

He first picked up a paintbrush during his teenage years, painting vehicle pinstripes. Later in his career, Allen made artwork for Kenison Advertising. But bricks and mortar bring a unique set of challenges — the uneven surfaces, dips and bumps make it challenging to create straight lines and detailed images. The irregular surface hasn't stymied Allen — the sign's details are true to the original design.

After Allen completes the Diamond Jo Line Steamers sign, he will be ready to create another ghost sign to celebrate Hannibal's 200th birthday. And he's enjoying painting his creation with an eye toward authentic details.

“I just love the style of lettering,” he said. “It has a personality that should fit the business.”