Thursday, May 14, 2009
sponsored by Graue Inc.

Main Street Lincoln celebrates National Historic Preservation Month

Greenback mural project planned

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[May 14, 2009]  Two activities are planned for Main Street Lincoln's celebration of National Historic Preservation Month. Today (Thursday) there will be a downtown cleanup with the planting of flowers. On May 23, a mural with historic value will be revitalized.

In addition, historic preservation will be the topic when Anna Margaret Burris speaks at the Kiwanis luncheon at Rusty's on May 19.

The mural project is a story in itself.

Greenbacks for Greenback Tobacco

Contributed by Christopher Elam of Main Street Lincoln

It's not a stretch to say that Lincoln is well on its way to being a mural town. We have historic ones, repainted ones and newly conceived ones. Murals that used to function primarily as advertisements now beautify our city as original art pieces.

Earlier this spring, a visiting architect from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency discovered one such original piece -- a "ghost mural" -- on the alley side of the Vintage Fare building.

Ghost murals have nothing to do with ghosts; they are old remnants of historic paintings and are a common sight around Lincoln.

This one in particular is very faint and difficult to discern, but with a little gentle cleaning it would probably reveal itself quickly. Should its colors be revealed, it would be one of the oldest murals to grace Lincoln's brick walls.

In a spirit of historic preservation, Main Street Lincoln is hosting a group of volunteer cleaners on May 23 to reveal the historic mural, which depicts an 1890s frog logo for Greenback Tobacco.

"Greenback Tobacco" was a brand of the Marburg Bros. Tobacco Processing Co. from that time. This particular brand used "plug cut" North Carolinian tobacco and was processed in Baltimore, Md. With regard to the iconic Greenback frog, the pack of loose leaf reads: "Don't attribute the great success of 'Greenback' to the popular superstition that the 'Frog' is a lucky emblem."

However great its success was, Marburg, like most small tobacco companies of the day, was swallowed up in the early 1900s by American Tobacco Co., which owned nearly 92 percent of the world's tobacco industry.

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With a few hours worth of Internet antique shopping, one can find advertisement cards for Greenback going for nearly $200, with each image unique -- one with a twirling dancer; another depicting an elderly couple cuddled up in a twin bed, very much in love; and yet another is Greenback money, surely a predecessor to Marlboro miles and Camel cash! One wonders what these images have to do with smoking tobacco, but perhaps advertising hasn't changed all that much over the years.

In some of the largest collections of historical cigarette advertisements, Marburg Bros. is nowhere listed, leading one to believe that Greenback Tobacco and its corresponding company were actually a blip in the history of American tobacco. Isn't it very odd that someone in Lincoln's history decided that a Greenback Tobacco advertising sign should be painted here? Maybe there is a little luck in that Greenback frog -- Lincoln may quite possibly have in its portfolio a very rare original example of early tobacco advertising!

So, what is "Greenbacks for Greenback" all about? Main Street Lincoln would like to offer "Main Street Money" (good at all participating downtown stores) as an incentive to anyone who can uncover useful information about the mural. The organization would like to put together a short history about the painting, including the date it was painted, who painted it and perhaps even early pictures that could be posted at the mural's wall.

If you have any valuable insights, please contact Main Street Lincoln at 732-2929 or

The mural has painted on the wall: "Smoke Greenback Tobacco." The rest has not been deciphered.

[Text from file received from Main Street Lincoln; article by Christopher Elam, design committee chair]

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