Meet Chuck Keiger, Sam Caldwell's Cincinnati Walldog

Story of sign painter and walldog Chuck Keiger, painter of Cincinnati's Sam Caldwell ghost sign.

Elderly man standing in front of an enormous fading painted sign advertising Sam Caldwell & Co., Painters & Decorators..
Sign painter Chuck Keiger, a few years before his death in 2011, dwarfed by the last remaining example of his work. Photo courtesy of Dale Keiger.

Those that have seen the Sign Painters film will likely remember the enormous ghost sign that provides the backdrop for Justin Green's interview. This advertised Sam Caldwell & Co., the Cincinnati painting and decorating firm.

During our anniversary screening event, director Faythe Levine mentioned that she had a photo somewhere of the man that painted the wall. This led to me being put in touch with his son, Dale Keiger.

Dale wrote about his father's life as a sign painter and wall dog in an essay for Cincinnati Magazine, which was later published in his book, The Man Who Signed the City. He has kindly allowed its reproduction in full here.

Man of Letters

By Dale Keiger

My girlfriend and I were lingering by the display windows of a dirty bookstore. The year must have been 1972 or 1973. We were high school sweethearts, teenagers downtown on a date, probably to see a movie at the Grand or the Albee or perhaps the boxy little duplex Studio Cinemas on Seventh Street. As for the adult emporium, it had made headlines by brazenly opening for business on Vine Street in disregard of the local judiciary, which took a dim view of smut. The commercial space leased by the proprietors had these large windows on two sides, but my girlfriend and I were not peering in to ogle the inventory. The owners had discretely covered the windows with white butcher paper signs inviting 18-and-older Cincinnatians to come in and peruse the racy merchandise. We were amusing ourselves by reading these signs when I thought, Wait a minute. I know that script. Only one sign painter in Cincinnati produced such distinctive italic lettering, simultaneously vigorous and elegant and commercial: my father.