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Skeletons Under the Floorboards… Images of The Catacombs Nightclub of the 1940s

A candle lighting the room filled with plaster skulls.

In 1940, LIFE magazine sent a photographer, Ralph Morse, to capture a sensational new nightclub that had just opened in Columbus, Ohio. It was called Catacombs, and it was opened by Albert Pick, owner of the Pick Hotels chain. It was a tribute to all things deathly and horrific (at the time) and it was wildly popular. Guests would enter an elevator at the front door, which would “descend” 300ft down to the nightclub itself. The walls were furnished with plaster skulls and skeletons, and there was a resident magician, Marcus the Mad Magician, who would play practical jokes on patrons in the “Nut House.” The Catacombs unexpectedly closed in 1941, only a year after its doors opened, for reasons unknown. Below you can find Ralph Morse’s photos for LIFE Magazine.

All Images: Ralph Morse/Pix Inc./The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

A cigarette girl carrying plaster skulls

A cigarette girl carrying plaster skulls on her tray.

 

A young man, dressed as a skeleton, posing with plaster skulls and skeletons.

A young man, dressed as a skeleton, posing with plaster skulls and skeletons.

A woman looking at a plaster skull.

A woman looking at a plaster skull.

A candle lighting the room filled with plaster skulls.

A candle lighting the room filled with plaster skulls.

A lady standing above an underground skeleton.

A lady standing above an underground skeleton.

A woman throwing the crumbs from the tablecloth onto the floor.

A woman throwing the crumbs from the tablecloth onto the floor.

A woman becoming frightened at the sight of skeletons.

A woman becoming frightened at the sight of skeletons.

A woman feeling the skeleton wrapped in tattered burlap.

A woman feeling the skeleton wrapped in tattered burlap.

A gag waiter cutting the sleeve off a guest's shirt.

A gag waiter cutting the sleeve off a guest’s shirt.

Plaster skulls and skeletons.

Plaster skulls and skeletons.

A view showing the brightly light exterior of the Catacomb nightclub.

A view showing the brightly light exterior of the Catacomb nightclub.

The keeper of the tombs, in the Chapel of a Thousand Skulls, sitting near a skeleton wrapped in burlap. The skeleton is known as the Guest of Honor.

The keeper of the tombs, in the Chapel of a Thousand Skulls, sitting near a skeleton wrapped in burlap. The skeleton is known as the Guest of Honor.

A waitress trhowing peanuts into the face of a customer.

A waitress trhowing peanuts into the face of a customer.

A magician pulling a rabbit out of a man's jacket.

A magician pulling a rabbit out of a man’s jacket.

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Joshua Alvarez

    April 23, 2015 at 7:46 am

    All I gathered from this was that the staff were assholes.

  2. Justin Ton

    April 22, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Alex Sawyer

  3. Caroline Anne Morris

    April 22, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Laura Morris

  4. Fernanda Isensee Nasário

    April 22, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Tais Filipe quero frequentar essa buatchy

  5. Ben Weymes

    April 22, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Caroline Anne Morris

  6. Der Ingenieur

    April 22, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Jonathan Cronin
    Im sure our club will be open longer than a year and with better decor

  7. Jonathan Cronin

    April 22, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Der Ingenieur

  8. Ian G. Smith

    April 22, 2015 at 5:39 am

    Nicole Roberts

  9. Dustin James

    April 22, 2015 at 4:50 am

    Ashley Marie Rodgers

  10. Stephanie Koithan

    April 22, 2015 at 4:26 am

    Joseph Horowitz

  11. Jose Murcia

    April 22, 2015 at 3:57 am

    Fabio Jiménez Acosta

  12. Jen Gnssn

    April 22, 2015 at 3:15 am

    Matthieu Girard haha je ne connaissais pas 😀

  13. Matthieu Girard

    April 22, 2015 at 3:13 am

    Jen Gnssn 😉

  14. Jorge Escobar San Román

    April 22, 2015 at 1:21 am

    I bet that place was really fucking badass at the time. Would be the perfect place for horror punk/goth gigs if it still existed

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