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Fence-Hopping Blogger Chronicles Fading 'Ghost Signs' Across New York City

By DNAinfo Staff on January 26, 2012 1:24pm

Teacher Frank Jump, who profiles
Teacher Frank Jump, who profiles "ghost signs" on his blog, will sign copies of his new book on Thursday night at the Queens Historical Society in Flushing.
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Frank Jump

FLUSHING — Frank Jump has hopped fences, begged his way into strangers' apartments and even trespassed in pursuit of his art.

Jump, who teaches technology to second - fifth graders at Public School 119 in Brooklyn, has long photographed fading ads on brick buildings across the city, known to aficionados as "ghost signs." His exploits, chronicled on his blog and recently compiled into a book, have led him to restricted areas and garnered weird looks, but his drive to document an overlooked element of Big Apple art has always guided him through.

"I never really worry, I never think," Jump said. "I really felt like I was some guerrilla tactic photographer where I had to do these things stealth. Get in, get out."

Jump will present a 120-image presentation of his fading ad photos Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Queens Historical Society, taking visitors on a virtual tour of the fleeting historic treasures across New York City.

Snapping the images is something of a cathartic process for Jump, who began photographing the ads when he was 26 years old, after being diagnosed with HIV. Now 51 and healthy, Jump still feels a lasting connection to the signs that he felt drawn to initially because he thought that they were, like him, fading away.

The lecture will mark a sort of homecoming for Jump, who lives in Flatbush but has deep Queens roots. He was born in Far Rockaway and grew up in Belle Harbor, Laurelton and Howard Beach.

Jump said he gets requests to tag along on his adventures from the unlikeliest of places.

In the summer of 1997, Jump was at a family function when he noticed that his husband's niece, who was visiting from Italy, seemed bored.

Jump said she asked to go with him as he tracked down the ghost signs in the adventurous fashion she had heard so much about.

He took her to Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, an area he suspected had ghost signs but had never fully inspected. Sure enough, he spotted what appeared to be a fading ad beyond a plywood fence of a construction site. The fence was padlocked, but he smashed the wood and entered, and found an ad for a local business named M. Rappoport's Music Store that was revealed after an adjacent building had been knocked down.

"It just seemed like I was being filmed, like it was a reality TV show," he said, adding that the adventure was so smooth, his husband's niece thought it was a setup. 

Marisa Berman, the historical society's executive director, said she has already fielded numerous phone calls inquiring about Jump's lecture. She said the fading ads appeal to people in almost every neighborhood since they pass them so often.

"It's something you may have noticed but not something you would have absorbed," she said.

Jump said that while many New Yorkers don't appreciate the ads, they would miss them if they were painted over or destroyed.

"If it was missing from the landscape, it'd be like going to the Grand Canyon and it's filled in," Jump said.