‘Ghost sign’ restoration recalls Wellington history
For more than 100 years, a sign advertising an early cornerstone business in Wellington had been hidden. Today, through the magic of modern technology, people in other countries have been watching the restoration of the sign on YouTube.
The “ghost sign” - 15 feet high, 50 feet long and 36 feet from the ground - on the now vacant building at 120 S. Washington advertised the Jacob Engle Dry Goods Store, opened in 1892 by Jacob Engle, a German immigrant. Around 1915, the Masonic Lodge building was constructed next to the building, so close that it obscured the sign from view. A 2018 earthquake led to the old Freemason building being demolished and the dry goods store sign was seen again. It was faded, but still visible.
“There was no air between the buildings,” Colette Kocour, wife of David Carr, a great-grandson of Engle said. “The sign wasn’t exposed to the elements.”
When Laura Lombardi, of Wellington, bought the building, Kocour and Carr talked to her about restoring the sign. They talked with Carr’s father, Francis Carr, Engle’s grandson, about the idea, but he died in 2019 before he could see the project take off.
Garrison Hullinger, of Portland, Oregon, is the principal designer, restoring the sign. “We wanted to preserve the nostalgic integrity of the sign by duplicating the original colors as closely as possible.,” Hullinger was quoted in a press release. “These signs were painted with house paint and since there are no color photos available, we researched 1800’s paint samples and compared them to the remaining wall pigments to get a color match.”
A Lawrence, Kansas company, PROSOCO, is putting a special acrylic coating over the paint “so it will last another hundred years,” Lombardi said. Restoration of the sign will take about two weeks.
The restoration process can be followed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2hmPuOCQFLTizKSyczNgeQ.
Jacob Engle was 18 in 1880 when he emigrated from his home country of Germany in search of a better life in America. He had a cousin who owned a dry goods store in Dallas, Texas and Engle worked for him and found dry goods were to his liking.
Dry goods stores sold fabrics and “everything but groceries,” Kocour said. “There weren’t department stores yet.”
In 1884, Engle moved to the young town of Wellington, Kansas where he worked at Harlan’s Dry Goods Store. In 1892, Engle bought the store and the sign was painted on the south side of the building.
“This was the advertising mechanism of the time,” Lombardi said.
In 1893, Engle married Myrna Saylor, whose family had come to Wellington from Ohio in the 1870s. “She took up quilting with materials from the store,” Kocour said. “We have 15 quilts she made.”
The Engles built a two-story house at 224 N. B Street, which still stands. “My husband remembers playing in that house,” Kocour said.
Their first child, Kathrina Engle, Carr’s grandmother, was born in 1894. In 1900, their son, Arthur was born, followed by son, Edward, in 1902.
Arthur and Edward Engle both attended Stanford University in California. Edward stayed in California, but Art came back and worked for the store as a buyer, traveling throughout the United States.
In 1923 Kathrina Engle married Ellis Marshall Carr, a banker whose family had been in Wellington since 1900. In 1925, they had son Francis, David’s father who passed away last year.
Jacob Engle sold the store in 1926, but continued to work there. “He was a fixture at the front door. He knew everybody in town,” Kocour said. He died in 1944 and the business closed some time in the ‘50s. Myrna Engle died in 1959.
After Jacob Engle settled in America, he sent fabrics, clothes and care packages back to his family in Germany. “He sure kept in touch with his family. He felt some obligation. We don’t know if he had other siblings,” Kocour said.
His wife, Myra, continued to send materials to family in Germany. When she died, her daughter, Kathrina, took over the practice. Later, Francis’s wife, Faddy, who died in 2004, sent packages abroad. They were communicating with family in Germany right up until the 1960s or ‘70s, Kocour said.
They wouldn’t even know where to look to find family members in Germany today, Kocour said. “Maybe if we joined ancestry.com, we’d find out something,” she said.
In 2021, it will be the 150th anniversary of Wellington’s founding and Lombardi said she thought the sign restoration is “a great thing to do in celebration of our anniversary next year.”