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Jacques Kelly: Pieces of Baltimore past often surface in 'ghost' signs

Jacques Kelly: Pieces of Baltimore past often surface in 'ghost' signs
A ghost sign for Cubanola cigars and the Faulstich carriage and wagon makers on the side of building at Fayette and Duncan streets. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

When the rusty sheet metal siding came off an East Baltimore building last month, a lesson in neighborhood history unfolded.

The structure at 2117-19 E. Fayette St., at its corner with Duncan Street, revealed the life it led a century ago. Its east side wall contains a painted sign declaring the building as the home of N. Faulstich, carriage and wagon builder.

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Beneath that, and filling much of the remaining wall, is a large ad for Cubanola cigars.

Evan Woodard, a photographer who lives in Patterson Park, saw the old “ghost” signage and was intrigued.

“I noticed the old metal siding had come off a building that I pass during my commute to work,” Woodard said. “Underneath was beautiful signage from the early 1900s. The paint was pristine paint and in vibrant colors.”

He began a quest to shed light on N. Faulstich and Cubanola cigars.

On eBay, Woodard found a 1916 receipt from Nicholas Faulstich Carriage, Wagon & Auto Works. He contacted the Carriage Museum of America, and its staff confirmed that Faulstich had been a light carriage and wagon builder. The February 1914 issue of The Carriage Monthly notes Faulstich’s business.

Woodard posted a photo and his research on his Facebook page, where neighbors learned that the old brick building had a story to tell.

It captured my curiosity as well.

A look into newspaper and census records reveal that Faulstich was born in Bavaria, Germany. He sailed to Baltimore and became a naturalized citizen in 1884, part of the large migration of Germans to Baltimore and other cities at that time. Faulstich would have had no trouble finding fellow Germans in East Baltimore.

He settled at 1917 E. Lafayette Ave., near Wolfe Street, where he lived with his wife, Anna. Her parents also were born in Germany.

A son, Nicholas Jr., and daughters Mary and Martha lived with the elder Faulstiches. Census records show the family was well educated and spoke English. In 1910, he and other businessmen received a state charter for their East End Loan and Savings Association. He remained a board member of the neighborhood savings association until his death on Dec. 12, 1924, at age 80.

His requiem Mass was offered at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church on East Lombard Street, a parish with numerous German-speaking members.

By the time of his death he had closed the horse-drawn carriage business on East Fayette. Listings in Baltimore directories of the period suggest that his son may have become an automobile painter.

The building, a three-story loft structure with a wide entryway to accommodate Faulstich’s wagons, went on find other uses connected to the business of hauling goods.

By the mid-1930s, it was a warehouse for Little Potts Co., once a well known furniture retailer on East Monument Street near the Northeast Market. Little Potts, named for Isaac Potts, was an old-fashioned neighborhood firm. It was still selling porch gliders, televisions and washing machines into the 1980s.

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At some point Little Potts sold the warehouse to E.C. Meekins moving and storage, whose trucks rolled in and out of the place for a time. By the 1970s, the Fayette Street facade was coated in gray Formstone and had become Peoples Pentecostal Church.

The church closed about a decade ago, and the building stood vacant.

The ad for Cubanola cigars was the most prominent feature when the metal siding came down.

Cubanola, owned by the American Tobacco Co., was widely advertised — often on similar signs painted on walls. Another Cubanola ghost sign appeared about 15 years ago in the city when a Canton resident took a layer of plaster and bricks off a rowhouse wall.

When A. J. Billig auction firm sold the East Fayette Street building earlier this month, it brought $152,000, painted signs included.

The sum would have bought a lot of Cubanola cigars 100 years ago. They sold for 5 cents apiece.

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