This gallery showcases advertisements in the Old Eighth Ward, captured in the photographs of John Lemer in 1911. Photos reveal posters and billboards virtually everywhere, advertising a variety of goods, services, and entertainment: upcoming movies, shows, and fairs; health products like cough drops and cleaning supplies; and food and drink products such as bread and beer.
One should not assume that the neighborhood’s inhabitants erected these posters or comprised the primary audience for their advertisements. Building owners willing to advertise on their property would usually have lived outside the ward, and advertisements in many cases target individuals with enough disposable income to purchase non-essentials. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that African American or new immigrant residents were the primary target audience for advertisements for the minstrel shows hosted by John W. Vogel in the Majestic Theater, which featured white actors donning blackface, or the advertised fair in Hagerstown. A more likely target were the many who passed through the Old Eighth, the Gateway to the State Capitol.
It is also noteworthy that Harrisburg’s City Beautiful reformers considered billboards and advertisements antithetical to their ideal of beauty: J. Horace McFarland even declared a fight against billboards in his crusade against ugliness). Billboards and advertisements in the Old Eighth, then, provide a complex window into the neighborhood: controlled by non-residents and intended for a broader population, the photos of posters and billboards may have provided further justification, in the minds of reformers, for the neighborhood’s demolition.