S. Brent Morris, 33
Washington, DC

In the early decades of the twentieth century, Brother Howard Thurston was one of a number of Mason magicians who brought distinction to both Freemasonry and magic.

We shall now pronounce the magic word ‘Hiram Abif’ and the rooster and the duck will change places.”1 Thus did Howard Thurston, 32, prepare his audience to be amazed and, and at the same time, let his Masonic Brothers know a Craftsman was on the stage. Thurston was the last of the great vaudeville magicians, and at one point in his career he had two separate Thurston Shows touring. At its peak, his show used ten railway baggage cars to transport scenery and equipment for illusions

In a puff of smoke, Master Magician Brother Thurston commanded an automobile filled with attractive assistants to vanish.

Howard Thurston was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1869. He ran away from home and performed in a circus sideshow as did another famous magician whom Thurston even- tually succeeded, Bro. Harry Kellar. The first magician Thurston saw was Bro. Alexander Herrmann, the then reigning “King of Magic.” Thurston resolved to match the style of his idol, but he briefly studied for the ministry before taking up a magician’s wand

He first toured the United States with a small act. Then a European vaudeville tour started him on the road to magical fame. Thurston’s financial success in Europe let him build an illusion show which he took around the world. He visited Australia, India, and the Orient, polishing his skills and developing a stage presence that served him well. Thurston returned to the United States to succeed the then-reigning magician, Harry Kellar. Brother Kellar had established his reputation by touring the United States for decades with a marvelous stage show.

On May 16, 1908, in Ford’s Theatre in Baltimore, after Thurston had performed with him on his farewell tour, Kellar passed his magician’s wand to Thurston. A dynasty of magicians was started then that continues to today: Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston, Dante (Harry Jansen), Lee Grable, and Lance Burton. The Baltimore Assembly of the Society of American Magicians is known as Kellar–Thurston No. 6.

Thurston kept only a few of Kellar’s illusions while making full use of the fame that came from being Kellar’s successor. He produced lavish shows, adding pretty women and humor where Kellar had more formal presentations. New effects were added every year as old ones took a rest. While his original fame rested on card manipulations, Thurston’s later reputation was built with large stage illusions. One of his popular tricks was to make a Whippet automobile filled with beautiful ladies disappear. (See poster, previous page.) He also was famous for floating an assistant above the stage and out over the footlights where she eventually vanished without a trace.

Towards the end of his career, Thurston faced one of his biggest challenges, how to compete against movies? He presented a scaled-down version of his famous show in conjunction with a feature film—a movie and a magic show for one price! It was quite a step down from a ten-boxcar show, but he kept on amazing his audiences. His last years on the stage were during the difficult times of the Great Depression, but from 1908, when he succeeded Harry Kellar, until 1936, the year of his death, Howard Thurston was the top magician in the United States.

Thurston was initiated in Manitou Lodge No. 106, New York City, on July 22, 1907. He received the 32 in New York City on July 10, 1910, and later became a Noble of Mecca Shrine Temple there. Here is what Bro. Thurston had to say about the Craft. “I sometimes think that the traveling Masons have more opportunities of being both proud and glad of the social distinction designated by the Square and Compasses than those who remain home most of the time. This is certainly true of a public entertainer, and especially of a magician.... What a wonderful thing for a stranger to be able to meet the best men of the community as a brother and a friend!”2

1. Price, David. “The Magician in Masonry,” The Trestle Board (publication of the Invisible Lodge, Masonic magicians), vol. 1, no. 2, p. 8, Spring 1975. Also see vol. 1, no. 3, Summer 1975.
2. Denslow, William R. 10,000 Famous Freemasons. 4 vols. Missouri: Missouri Lodge of Research, 1958, 1958, 1959, 1960. In addition to an entry on Thurston, Denslow also has entries on Houdini, Kellar (see below), and other famous Mason magicians.

Harry Kellar (1849–1922) Magician. b. July 11, 1849, in Erie, Pa. As a young man he was assistant to the “Fakir of Ava,” the magician. In 1867 he joined the Davenport Brothers, spirit mediums, as business manager. With Fay he toured South America and Mexico as “Fay & Kellar” in 1871–73. He was with Ling Look and Yamadura under the name “Kellar, Ling Look & Yamadura, Royal Illusionists,” playing through South America, Africa, Australia, India, China, Philippines, and Japan. Both Look and Yamadura died in China in 1877. He was then with J. H. Cunard as “Kellar & Cunard,” traveling five years through India, Burma, Siam, Java, Persia, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Mediterranean ports. From 1884 he performed in leading American Cities. He was made a Mason in May, 1875, in Lodge Fraternidad y Homa at Peltas, Brazil; received the Royal Arch Degree on the Isle of Mauritius (Port Louis). In 1880 he received the Scottish Rite Degrees in Triple Esperance Lodge, Port Luis, Mauritius, and the 33 AASR in New York City. d. March 10, 1922.

William R. Denslow, 10,000 Famous Freemasons, Volume III, page 10.Also see: Christopher, Milbourne. Panorama of Magic. New York: Dover Publications, 1962.