On Saturday, I’m going to be in Marshalltown, performing at TC’s Pub. I’ve been there before. Cool people.
I was just chatting with the owner, and he let me know that he now owns the property at 207 East Main Street in Marshalltown, Iowa.
This excited me greatly.
Here is why:
There was a world-famous magician from Marshalltown, Thomas Nelson Downs. Known as “T. Nelson Downs, The King of Koins,” Downs performed all across the world, for royalty and heads of state, around the turn of the 20th century.
Downs was the author of several classic magic books (which I’ve devoured repeatedly), and he created and perfected many sleight-of-hand techniques that are still widely used by magicians, over a hundred years later.
What I’m trying to say is… T. Nelson Downs was kind of a big deal.
In 1912, he retired from performing and moved back to Marshalltown. He was only in his 40s, and he had already become wealthy and achieved world-wide success. That bastard.
Obviously a little bored with being off the road, he eventually opened a vaudeville house / movie theater, called The Casino, located at… you guessed it… 207 East Main Street.
As I mentioned above, Downs was kind of a big deal. The residents of Marshalltown may not have known it at the time, but other world-famous magicians would frequently visit Marshalltown, just to hang out, gossip, and talk shop with the sleight-of-hand master. Reportedly, these visitors included a number of my personal heroes: Dai Vernon, Chung Ling Soo, and Harry Houdini, among others.
Houdini. At the peak of his success. Hanging out in Marshalltown, Iowa.
Since the glorious days of vaudeville, the building (built in 1910) has been home to several bars and businesses – including a strip club – which have since closed, but the building is still in existence…
And I know the owner.
After I got off the phone with him, he sent a photo of a urinal (see above), and told me that not only was this the oldest urinal in Marshall County, it was also the original from the building’s 1910 construction.
“Houdini probably pissed here,” he joked.
I fell silent.
On Saturday, before my gig, I’m going to head to Marshalltown early to get a little informal tour of the building.
It will be thrilling to know that many of the most legendary magicians of history used to just “hang” in the very same building, decades ago.
Maybe I’ll stand on the worn floorboards where so many hardworking vaudeville entertainers once stood…
Maybe I’ll look out to the old mezzanine…
Maybe I’ll snap a photo of the original curtain rail, still installed in the high ceiling, that once opened and closed the shows nightly…
Maybe I’ll sit quietly and contemplate the rich history of this location and the colorful characters that once called this place home for one night at a time…
Maybe I’ll pull a silver dollar out of my pocket and stumble through a couple of sleight-of-hand techniques that were invented, perfected, and performed by T. Nelson Downs himself…
But first things first.
I’m going to piss where Houdini pissed.