Outdoor “Advertising”

On the way back to South Bend yesterday (returning My Favorite Domer to campus for spring semester) my attention was again drawn to a sign.

One of those billboard-sized outdoor signs, the kind you can’t miss.

The kind that normally advertises legal services or hotels or car dealerships.

Or “adult entertainment.”

The sign is nestled in a clearing on the east side of I-65, somewhere between Lowell and Merrillville, Indiana. It features a stark black background and immense white letters which read: “Jesus is Real” as you’re headed north.

The back side of the sign, as you’re traveling south, reads: “Hell is Real.”

I’d have taken a picture of it, but traveling along at 70 mph leaves little room for photographing stuff.

Even interesting stuff.

Besides, I’ve given you the description, and it’s not like it was photogenic.

This sign has been up for at least four years, and the former journalist and present-day writer in me finds it quite mysterious.

Who put it there? Why do they keep it in such good shape?

Was it erected by a born-again convict who’s seen the error of his ways? Is it being maintained by a church group hoping to nudge passersby into regular religious attendance? Or did a son or daughter use their inheritance to proclaim something dear ole Dad always used to tell them?

Once I called the Indiana Department of Transportation to find out some background on the sign.

But, sadly, they had no information for me. They said they really didn’t know who’d put up the sign, or how long it’s been there, or if there’s a juicy story behind it.

So, I guess I’ll have to do as I’ve done for the past four years. When I come to the vicinity of the sign, I’ll read the front side, then whirl around to read the back.

The one side is comforting; the other, sobering.

Anybody out there know the origins of this billboard or its proclamation?

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17 thoughts on “Outdoor “Advertising”

  1. Well. As luck would have it I was able to google your sign and mile marker and send it to a friend of mine who works for Lamar outdoor advertising in Gary. YOUR sign is owned by the owner of the property and was erected illegally. Not much is known beyond the family has money and is very religious. It does not sound like they are very godly people. And that was all my friend could tell me about YOUR sign but promises to be in touch if he finds out more….I told him the sign had drawn the inquiry of a famous writer who might want to include it in one of her books..My friend said to be sure to mention his name to you…Bill. Just Bill. :-D

    • Oh, my gosh, you’re GOOD!! Here I sit on my computer most of the day and never even thought to Google this sign! I knew there had to be a story behind it, though. Now you’ve got me even more curious — odd that InDOT didn’t act like it knew a thing about this (well, maybe not odd; maybe just the ignorance-is-bliss philosophy!) Thanks for checking for me!

    • I don’t know that either. My guess would be that an outdoor advertising company owns them and contracts with some business or other to “decorate” them, but I don’t know. I’d think a landowner would get something, too, for letting the sign be erected on his/her property.

  2. Isn’t it amazing how we can learn just about anything about anyone or anything or even any random billboard…..all through google. Whatever did we do before them? How did we find our way? I’d say Google is real.

    • Google certainly is awesome — they’ve taken the time to check and re-check, saving the masses untold hours of wading through volumes of words. I can’t imagine life as we now know it without Google!

  3. Interesting, Debbie. I’m most impressed with My Odd Family’s detective sleuthing. But it raises more questions. If the billboard was put up illegally, why doesn’t the local government try to take it down? And what’s the purpose of putting your message on a billboard if no one gets it? Hmm…

    • Good questions, Monica. As with many things, one answer leads to another question. Every time I pass this sign, I wonder about it. Not that it contains a “bad” message, just that it’s so different from the other signs occupying highway space. Maybe Jim (http://blog.jimgrey.net/) who’s traveled all across Indiana, can offer some insight. Help us out here, Jim!

  4. Hard to say what the intricacies of the law are. Here in Texas, as I understand it, if the sign is private and on private property outside the jurisdiction of, say, a city, it can stay. It can’t be on right-of-way, though.

    And yes, many people do lease land to sign companies. We have a lot of big billboards around here, and if you look at the bottom, it usually has the name of the company.

    This reminds me of the time in high school we woke up to see a huge “Jesus Saves” sign in the backyard. It was blue and white, and pretty impressive. I never knew which of my classmates went to all that trouble, but they must have been pretty bored. I don’t even remember what happened to it – maybe my dad got out the chainsaw.

    • That reminds me of the time I was in high school and my family traveled south for the Christmas holidays. Upon our return, we were stunned to see our front door barricaded with snow! Turns out, my friends had had some fun in my absence, thanks to a huge snowfall. Sad we don’t get many of those nowadays.

  5. I’m so glad that My Odd Family had some details to add about this sign!

    Every once in a while I see a sign that isn’t just your usual advertisement. Like your sign, they catch my attention. They make me think and ponder, long after the sign is out of my sight. And considering the intent of a billboard is to grab attention, I’d say that the owners of your sign got their money’s worth.

    • Absolutely right! Of course, the sign also makes me wonder if there was something deeper involved — like the owner was trying to say going north was better than going south!

  6. Interesting sign. How cool that Odd Family was able to find that info so quickly. (Might save some sleepless nights wondering about it, huh? :)) It’s strange that it was put up illegally and has been allowed to remain. Maybe it’s a conspiracy and the cops are in on it, getting kickbacks to look the other way. (I think I might read too many mysteries…)

    • Isn’t it funny how we writers, with our vivid imaginations, can come up with all sorts of backstory for things like this?! Thanks for reading and offering your possibilities, Janna!

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