Prop Spotlight: The Signpost

With contributions from Larry Lee Moniz, Ruth Shea, Steven, and Joe.

Introduction

The M*A*S*H signpost is an iconic piece of television history, instantly recognizable by millions. It represented home to the members of the 4077th, pointing in all directions towards a variety of cities, no matter how far away. At the end of the final episode the signpost was taken apart, with characters taking the signs to their hometowns.

The famous M*A*S*H signpost

The Signpost

Here is a listing of most of the cities and distances on the signpost:

  • Boston
  • Seoul – 34 miles, 54 kilometers
  • Coney Island – 7033 miles
  • San Francisco – 5426 kilometers
  • Tokyo – 259 miles, 414 kilometers
  • Burbank – 5610 miles
  • Death Valley – 6116 miles
  • Indianapolis – 6779 miles
  • Toledo – 6418
  • Decatur – 9412 miles
  • Seoul – 34 miles, 54 kilometers
  • Honolulu – 4548 miles

It’s interesting that some of the more famous hometowns, like Hawkeye’s Crabapple Cove or Radar’s Ottumwa, aren’t on the signpost.

The Signpost Through The Years

Notice that for some reason there are two signs pointing towards Tokyo in the Season One episode “Love Story” (and likely many other early episodes).

Love Story

“Love Story”

In “Temporary Duty” Charles added his hometown of Boston to the top of the signpost.

Temporary Duty

“Temporary Duty”

Near the end of “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” the signpost was taken apart by jubilant doctors and nurses preparing to return home at the end of the Korean War.

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”

The Signpost Behind the Scenes

A total of three signposts were used during the production of M*A*S*H. Since M*A*S*H was filmed both on sound stages on the 20th Century-Fox lot and out at the Fox Ranch in California two signposts were originally constructed. During the final season, a fire burned the outdoor set, including the signpost. A third signpost was soon fashioned to replace the one that was destroyed.

After the series ended, the third signpost was was donated to the Smithsonian by 20th Century Fox and was on display with other M*A*S*H props and memorabilia. Currently, the signpost is part of the National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian signpost was also on display in the American Pastimes: Entertainment portion of the Remembering Gallery in America’s Smithsonian, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian.

It was even included in The Virtual Smithsonian, for the Smithsonian Institution Millennium Project. Footage of the M*A*S*H exhibit at the Smithsonian and a 3D model of the signpost are available here. Use the following steps:

  • Click on Remembering
  • Click on American Pastimes
  • Click on Entertainment
  • Click on Movies & Television
  • Click on the green arrow in a circle four times to get to the signpost
  • Click on the image of the signpost
  • You will see a larger image and a description
  • On the right, click on the circular, white icon of a camera to see footage from the M*A*S*H exhibit
  • Click on the white, circular icon of a cube, a sphere and a cone to see the 3D image of the signpost

The sound stage signpost was later owned by Bert F. Allen, set decorator for M*A*S*H. It was sold by Profiles in History during its July 2005 Hollywood auction. It had a pre-sale estimate of between $10,000 and $12,000 and eventually sold for an impressive $25,000.

Fan Replicas

Fans of M*A*S*H have created their own versions of the signpost. In June 2002, I received an e-mail from Larry Lee Moniz, with an attached photo of a reproduction of the signpost, circa Season Eleven. I was quite impressed, and asked if I could post the picture here. Larry graciously agreed. Here it is:

Image Copyright Larry Lee Moniz

Larry’s Signpost

And in August 2004, Ruth Shea sent me an e-mail explaining how her decision to build a miniature version of the signpost:

“I have been a MASH nut for years. My dad got me into watching it, and we used to watch it together – it was one of the few things we ever agreed on – it was a magnificent show. He’s been deceased for the last three years, and around the time of year when the anniversary of his death rolled around in June, I became obsessed with the signpost. I thought how cool it would be to have a reproduction of the signpost in my living room. My boyfriend convinced me, however, that it would be too large for our living room, so I compromised with him. I made a miniature signpost, about 10 or 11 inches high, made of lightweight plywood, small pieces, and made individual signs on it. It’s quite authentic, I think, and I put a lot of time into it – I think it took me about three hours to make. It was a labor of love, actually. I think I did it for my father. It has sat on my bedside table ever since.”

Here’s a picture of Ruth’s miniature signpost:

Image Copyright Ruth Shea

Ruth’s Signpost

In July 2009, Steven e-mailed me with incredible photos of his full size replica of the signpost that he built with a little help from his father. Here’s how he put it together:

“I am a huge MASH fan. I am only 15 years old and I decided that I want to make a tribute to the show. So I decided to make a replica signpost, modeled after the one donated to the Smithsonian. I wanted to make it 100% replicated, including its size.

“Each sign (depending on which city) is roughly 4-6 inches wide, and around 3-4 feet long. The pole I got to put the cities on is 8.5 feet tall… No kidding! It took me around 3 months to make it, even with my Dad’s help. I had to cut the pieces, paint them white and sand them down to make them look worn, spray them with a weather resistant polyurethane, make a wooden base for the pole, and finally screw the signs in.”

Here’s a photograph of Steven’s signpost:

Image Copyright Steven

Steven’s Signpost

In October 2009 Joe sent me some pictures of his Popsicle stick version of the signpost:

Image Copyright Joe

Joe’s Popsicle Signpost

In November 2009, Steven e-mailed me again with pictures of a miniature signpost he built. Here’s what he had to say about it:

It is nothing big, only 10 inches tall. But that’s what a miniature is, I guess. The signs themselves are made of balsa wood and I used rocks and fake shrubbery to create the illusion of a foreground.

Here’s what it looks like:

Image Copyright Steven

Steven’s Miniature Signpost

In February 2012, SM e-mailed me with pictures of a signpost he built for a student veterans fundraiser at Siena Heights University (in Adrian, Michigan):

Image Copyright SM

SM’s Signpost

References:
Profiles In History, Hollywood Auction 22 Auction Catalog, Page 169.

Last updated November 10th, 2013


37 Replies to “Prop Spotlight: The Signpost”

  1. This is all really cool; I once tried to construct a scale model of the entire camp (based on the Stage 9 layout), since I used to be a bit of a scale model buff, building miniatures of such locations as Sesame Street and Green Acres, lol.

  2. The M*A*S*H signpost is a part of this show that I have been intending to rec-create for a long time. It was very much a part of the show that was not seen very often, although when you see it, you can instantly recognize what it was associated with.
    I have the complete series in DVD, and I watch every single episode at least twice a year. Sometimes three times a year. Some people think I am mad but they do not understand what real comedy and meaning of the era it portrays, is all about.
    I get the same amount of laughs out of M*A*S*H every time I watch it. It is good to see most of the acors of the show are still around. I love it.

  3. The earlier version from the pilot had two Tokyo’s but the later ones had two Seouls. I wonder if the two that were in use for the show were identical, as some replicas have the two Seouls and some do not. Food for thought.

      1. I too am from Decatur Illinois and it is listed in the 9000s of miles as is Indianapolis which is only a couple hours drive from Decatur. So I’d like to think it’d be the Illinois one!

  4. I always found it odd that in the early episodes, they had multiple signs for the same city, rather than just having more different cities! My best guess for this is that maybe they wanted some cities to always be seen no matter what the angle of the shot. Of course, in the picture above with the 2 Tokyos, they are both seen from the same angle! In the first season of M*A*S*H they actually had 2 Tokyos, 2 San Franciscos, and 2 Seouls! Later they took some of these down (thank God!). At one point in the 10th season, I counted 3 Seoul signs! One after Boston, One behind Toledo (Toledo was later removed), and one under Decatur!

    When I made my signpost replica (back in 1983), I decided to go with the configuration in the final episode. In most of the last season, they only had one board per city. Mine is long since gone.

    If you watch the first several scenes of “Goodbye Farewell and Amen”, you can see an entirely different signpost in the begining of the movie that was originally created for the indoor set in season 9. They intended to use it because it was newer and less worn (figuring it would look nicer in close-ups). The lettering didn’t look as interesting as the older signpost or quite match the original… in fact, coney island was even cut differently. the older one was relegated to the ranch location for the outdoor shots. They swapped them for the last episode. That newer signpost was destroyed, along with the rest of the original ranch set in a wild fire that occured during filming. They were forced (to my delight) to use the older, more familiar signpost for most of the movie. when you see the last scene of everyone running up to “take their hometown home”, the signs are very worn, with many nail holes and flaws from all the reconfiguring of the boards. It looks a lot more authentically real and makes the scene work better (in my opinion). It’s a good thing they had a spare!

    When the series went off the air, set decorater Bert Allen gained possesion of the original signpost used in the production of M*A*S*H. The Smithsonian Institute then wanted many of the props and set pieces for display as iconic articles of television and pop culture history. Producers had a replica made up to donate, as the original was unavailable. Although they claim it is a set piece, it is clearly not authentic in many ways, and some of the signs don’t even look close to the originals (check out Boston, Seoul and Coney Island for example). This was proven when in 2004, the “Profiles in History” auction had the original M*A*S*H signpost from Bert Allen up for bid. Despite it’s poor conition, it fetched approx. $24,000!

    To this day, I am still considering recreating another M*A*S*H signpost. Thanks to the pictures and information in the Profiles in History auction, and the Box set of DVDs, I could make it even better than the one once on display in the Smithsonian!

  5. I believe the Decatur was in Illinois because the first Col was an Illini fan which of course is in Champaign,IL.

  6. 6779/9412

    I thought it impossible that the Decatur was in Illinois. There was a sign for “Indianapolis” (6779 miles)
    and Decatur (9412 miles).
    Illinois is not 2633 miles from Indianapolis…..lol

  7. Most of you sound like confirmed MASHophiles so I have one comment for you. Take a trip to Malibu Creek State Park above Pepperdine. I was able to visit there last summer and the site was exactly as I had imagined it! It’s a 2+ mile hike into the park from the parking area but the Park Rangers have a wonderful guide book with a map in it. You’ve all given me the idea of making the MASH signpost for my backyard! Thanks!

  8. I used to work on the MASH set in Malibu around 74-76. I worked on various sets at Century Ranch during that period. One fall when they were striking the set the sign was dismantled and laying on the ground. My friend and I asked what they were going to do with it and was told we could take a few pieces if we wanted so we did. I got the Seoul and Tokyo ones and have sat on them all these years. I am now putting them up for auction and if anyone is interested send an email to garliccityauction.com. It was one of the best times of my life. I was very lucky.

    1. Barbara, do you have any photos you can share?
      I am very interested in these signs.
      I actually a few time to get ANY information the auction, specifically the signs, I never got an email or call back.

      Is there anyway you can help?

      Thanks!

  9. Since I’m from Indianapolis I’ve often wondered why the Indianapolis pointer does not appear on many versions of the MASH signpost! I don’t recall any MASH character actually being from Indianapolis, but Major Frank Burns was at least from Fort Wayne, Indiana, a large city about 85 miles or so northeast of Indianapolis. And Frank also mentioned Indianapolis on a few episodes, so maybe this sign was for Frank. He once said that his wife had bought a bible at the Indy 500 and had shopped in Indianapolis.

    1. Many of the recreations of the M*A*S*H signpost are based on the replica that is in the Smithsonian Museum. That version doesn’t totally represent the signpost accurately as it was on camera. For a few episodes in the 8th season, the exterior signpost had “Toledo” on a light colored board with dark lettering where Indianapolis was normally. Typically, Toldeo is a dark board with white lettering (the only sign like that). Indianapolis was on the signpost throught most of the show’s run. I am not sure why the Smothsonian didn’t include it. I suspect the replica was hastily made for the exhibit.

  10. First off this my favorite MASH blog.. My boyfriend surprised me with a MASH signpost which he also copied from a photo of the one in the Smithsonian. It has to got to be the best gift I’ve had received for sure. We are working on a couple different MASH props at the moment.. We are having a MASH themed wedding reception. Working on the still at the moment. The biggest challenge has been the glass for it.. But I will totally email picture for you to post when are finished.. and no it wont be a real still . I think we will put something fun in it to drink tho. 😉

  11. I have a green sign from the MASH TV set that says “QUARANTINE”. I got if from a g/f whose dad worked on the show (J. Hidalgo). Hoping someone can tell me where it was posted so I can get a screen grab. Also if it has any value beyond fond memories of a great show.
    George

  12. got box set for the little extras, TV edit out a few minutes on some shows and I enjoyed every second. High schools should teach mash to show that this world is not an all you can get buffet. anyone under 40 I think would not get mash and the meanings of the show. I know its a war comedy but it covers A-Z when it comes to everything else. Not sure how many times I have watched but wife gets tired when I “talk along” or before, know most of the words. Favorite Episode is when Radar gets his tattoo and Pierce states its permanent when Radar states it will come off in the shower….. Would be great to meet what is left of the cast Alan Alda would be the tops………Dean

  13. I swear in one episode the sign post had the city of Alltoona PA on it. Can anyone confirm or deny it…. And what episode if so. Thanks!!

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