Historical sign uncovered after adjacent building demolished

Lisa Depies
After the Burke Cleaners' building was demolished, a hidden advertisement for Fletcher's Castoria was discovered on the adjacent building

It’s rare that castor oil is a hot topic of conversation in Geneseo, but the age-old remedy has been a popular talking point — especially since a giant sign promoting Fletcher’s Castoria was recently discovered.

On Thursday, Aug. 16, crews began demolishing the Burke Cleaners’ building, located at 116 E. First Street. The building had been heavily damaged in an April 27 fire.

As excavators tore apart the structure, the adjacent building to the east began to reveal a curious sight.

The exterior wall of the building contained a large sign promoting Fletcher’s Castoria.

“Nobody knew the sign existed,” said Geneseo Historical Museum curator Angie Snook. “It’s been really fun seeing it.”

The historic sign, painted on the side of the building, proclaims, “Chas. Fletcher’s is on Every Wrapper of Castoria. The Kind You Have Always Bought.”

“Advertising on the side of buildings was so important to companies, that’s why they’d use top grade paint,” said Snook.

The fact that the sign has been covered and protected from the elements “also helped” she said.

Other painted building signs — such as the Kew-Bee Bread sign on the side of Urban Farmhouse’s building at 208 S. State St. — still exist, but many have faded and worn over the years, said Snook.

Fletcher’s Castoria started in 1871 and early in its history was known for its mass advertising campaign.

“They had signs on all kinds of stores in New York City and the east coast,” said Snook.

Still, said Snook, none of the other building advertisements she’s seen for Fletcher’s Castoria are as large as the one in Geneseo.

“Even the ones in New York and Boston aren’t as big. It’s really, really unusual,” said Snook.

One explanation for the size of Geneseo’s sign is the fact that the building was located near Weimer’s Garage and Opera House, a site that would draw crowds.

“They wouldn’t have made a sign that huge if they didn’t want it well seen. It had to be extremely expensive to have painted,” said Snook.

She added sign painters were known for their work on buildings and the sides of wagons and trucks.

“Hand-painting signs is a lost art form,” she said.

The sign has sparked discussion about castor oil.

“We’ve had people stop by the museum wanting to know about the sign and mentioning that they remember taking castor oil as a child,” said Snook. “I remember when I was a little girl, my mother would have to chase us around to try and give it to us.”

As for Fletcher’s Castoria, it still exists today — only now it’s sold as “Fletcher’s Laxative for Kids.”