Located in Columbus, Ohio, Catacombs nightclub was a delightful pocket of horrors. Opened in August 1940 by the hotelier Albert Pick, the venue was presented as 300 feet underground. Guests entered by an “elevator” which, while not moving at all, was shaken about so as to appear to descend that distance.
The catacombs had a horror theme replete with fake skeletons and mummified bodies in chains. Chains clanked, spider webs hung from the ceiling, the roof dripped, and unseen bodies shrieked and wailed. Catacombs also featured an aptly named “Nut House,” presided over by Marcus the Mad Magician, perpetrating all manner of practical jokes on thrilled patrons.
Shortly after the club opened, LIFE magazine sent photographer Ralph Morse to record a typical evening’s entertainments. According to LIFE, Catacombs success was “instantaneous and immense.” But that success was short-lived; less than a year later, in July 1941, the club closed. History does not relate why. Catacombs was sealed off for good.
Not all of LIFE’s readers enjoyed the article. One wrote in: “What type of decadent perverted minds, what sort of people, can find pleasure in mocking the bones of those who have died before them? For they too must pass through the dark gates of Death. Bad taste and sordid vulgarity have reached their nadir in Columbus Ohio”.
Here you can see the photos taken by the magazine: