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 on her tray.
A young man, dressed as a skeleton, posing with plaster skulls and skeletons.
A woman looking at a plaster skull.
A candle lighting the room filled with plaster skulls.
A lady standing above an underground skeleton.
A woman throwing the crumbs from the tablecloth onto the floor.
A woman becoming frightened at the sight of skeletons.
A woman feeling the skeleton wrapped in tattered burlap.
A gag waiter cutting the sleeve off a guest’s shirt.
Plaster skulls and skeletons.
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.
A waitress trhowing peanuts into the face of a customer.
A magician pulling a rabbit out of a man’s jacket.