What better way to promote your wares than painting a huge advertisement on the side of a mountain? The manufacturers of Mennen’s Borated Talcum Powder did just that in the early 1900s outside Harper’s Ferry.
In 1906, the advertisement, created by a milk and whitewash mixture, was painted on the side of the mountain to reach passengers traveling on the nearby train tracks, according to the National Park Service. The ad read: “Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder C. Maxwell Co. Trenton, N.J.,” according to a wire report in The Morning Herald.
The sign can be seen in the photo above, a 1908 postcard showing the “B&O Bridge tunnel to under Maryland Heights.”
In May 1963, members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club took turns climbing to remove the approximately 30-by-40-foot advertisement from the mountain. “It was generally considered unsightly, barring the scenic beauty of the gap,” according to the article. “It was not removed earlier because of its inaccessibility and because the federal government has been now in the process of taking over the Maryland Heights area as National Park Service property.”
Another article in The Morning Herald detailed the removal. “They are using a combination of paint remover and carbon black in order to give the area from which the sign is being removed a look to match the nearby rocks that were long subjected to smoke from coal burning locomotive that came puffing out of the B&O Railroad tunnel.”
The club’s efforts were fairly short lived, as about four years later, the ad resurfaced on the side of the mountain, according to the park service, where it remains today.
Sources: National Park Service Fact Sheet ‘The Sign Before the Tunnel’; The Morning Herald, May 14, 1963 and May 18, 1963