By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 10, 2024 at 9:01 AM

We call the faded painted exterior signs around us “ghost signs,” because they linger, often just barely visible to the naked eye, though sometimes, as at the old Wisniewski radio on Kinnickinnic Avenue right now, a well-preserved sign is newly uncovered.


But what if we could see them the way our grandparents and great-grandparents viewed them: in full color?

A new augmented reality project called “Augmented History” offers this opportunity in the Historic Third Ward, where a number of these old advertisements remain.


Created by Third Ward-based marketing agency Hoffman York, “Augmented History” used research, hundreds of historic photographs, graphic design skills and modern mapping technology to recreate the signage that you can access via QR codes on a neighborhood map.

"With 'Augmented History,' we're not only preserving Milwaukee's history; we're making it interactive and accessible in a way that's never been done before,” says Hoffman York Executive Creative Director Mike Roe.

“This project marries our passion for storytelling with our commitment to innovation, allowing everyone to step into history where Milwaukee’s storied past gets a digital makeover."

The map – paper copies of which should be distributed in the neighborhood in May (watch the Historic Third Ward social channels and website) – makes for a great Third Ward walking tour and allows you to step back in time and see the area’s faded ghost signs as if they were painted last week.

You can also find the tour and QR codes on the project website.


"It's a portal to the past, offering a glimpse into the commercial vibrancy of old Milwaukee, all through the screen of your phone,” says Roe.

“We're thrilled to offer this digital bridge between generations, fostering a deeper connection to our city's rich history."

If you want to learn more about Milwaukee’s ghost signs, be sure to check out Adam Levin’s “Fading Ads of Milwaukee.”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.