Monday, August 17, 2009


#229, South Loop, Chicago

Today's 2 for 1 special: a ghost sign with an additional ghost concept: the old telephone exchange abbreviation system. Back before everyone had three personal phone numbers, in the days when switchboard operators still labored away in tiny cement buildings connecting and untangling cables by hand (my Luddite heart beats warmly to think of these days when you could still sort of get the logic behind how dialing this leads to that), you had these little clusters of people living in the same spot whose phone numbers all began with the same prefix. To make it simple, the prefix was often written out as a word instead of numbers, based on the area where the phone numbers were centered: Gramercy numbers would begin with 47 (GR), and so on. The John O'Hara story BUtterfield 8 and the song PEnnsylvania 65000 both riff on this idea.

Really old phone books and ghost ads like this one will sometimes show signs of this mostly outdated system. Instead of an ad telling you to dial 842-2973, instead you'd see this one that reads VIctory 22973. Or, because I'm running a tight ship around here, you'll see only part of it. You get the idea. I crop because I care.

5 comments: said...

I'm just old enough to remember using the alphabet when I was a youngster memorizing my phone number.

We lived in the Chicago neighborhood of Humboldt Park, and our phone number began with the letters HU.

That sequence is so seared into my memory storage area that I can recite my old number like it was yesterday: HU-9-3088.

Pierre said...

Mine was OLive 4-7211.
Perry Mason's was MAdison 5-1190.

Jackie said...

"I crop because I care." Hilarious.

And: immediately I visualize Mrs. Olsen from Little House on the Prairie working as phone operator and listening in on everyone's phone calls. I am also pretty sure this is not the first time I've mentioned Little House in a comment on your blog. Perhaps it will not be the last, either.

nolergen- A person who knowingly eats foods he is allergic to because he enjoys the taste.

Therese Cox said...

I just remember how long it took for those nines and zeroes to wrap back around on rotary phones.

Jackie, someone (don't remember who) was just expressing a theory about Little House on the Prairie books and why they never appealed to her. Maybe because I'm from Illinois the prairie never had any sort of pioneering mystique for me growing up. Maybe if there'd been a series about a plucky girl from Staten Island...

Julie said...

Love ghost signs like this. Track them down over my city too.