The End Of The Palace Theatre
From “The TOPS Magazine, June 1968, by Monk Watson: “I could name at least fifty theatres named The Palace, across the country, and I guess I’ve played most of them in my lifetime. However, the one that I played first was right here in Colon, at the age of ten. It was in this Palace I learned to do the flying rings and trapeze act. The Palace was an old barn with a hay chute and loft and plenty of room for kids to put on a show. This, as manager and actor, I did at the drop of a hat … and as I look back, someone was always dropping a hat just to see our show.
Monk is given some tricks: I had seen a circus and was thrilled at seeing the flying acts over a big net. I had already learned to chin myself and do a few muscle grinds on the hitching posts around the town. I had also learned, from my father, to walk on my hands and do a real good handstand. We used to count to see how long we could stand on our hands, and I know I won every time because I practiced a lot. It did come in handy as long as I was in show business, too. It was easy for me to get the local blacksmith to make me a set of rings and it was also easy to take one of our brooms and make the bar for my trapeze. I talked the local merchant into giving me some red, white, and blue bunting … even with some stars on it. This I made into a border to hang from the rafters, making a nice looking proscenium arch. High in the rafters I tied the ropes that held the rings and trapeze. They hung about six feet from the floor. Now, what has this to do with magic? I’ll tell you – I had also been given some tricks by the local druggist, a man named Charles Niendorf, who had mixed up the Wine to Water and also a couple that he made up to use in his store. He could start his music box from any place in the store by just a wave of his hand. I never did find out how he did it but I know he must have had stings or wires hidden under the counter where he could give them a pull with his free hand.
And takes off his pants: when our local factory (Lamb Knit Goods) would let out, about four in the afternoon, we’d start the street parade. A dog in a crate (lion or tiger) … I played a drum made by the tinsmith and another boy played a tin flute … ‘twas a good parade. Then for the FREE ACT before the big show. We had trained a dog to climb a ladder and jump into a bedspring covered with a blanket. The jump must have been at least ten feet, and the dog loved it. Then we’d announce the show to be held upstairs in the barn. … In the meantime I had gone up and taken off my pants. Because my mother had sewed my long stocking to my underpants and had dyed my undershirt black. I was then dressed in the best tights you have ever seen.
When the crowd was seated we’d start the show with a big magic trick, never seen before or since. I mentioned that we had a hay chute that they’d throw hay down from the loft to the feedbox below. It made a perfect escape for one of the cast. I would stand the boy in front of the chute and hold a blanket up in front of him. He would climb into the chute and drop into the feedbox below and then at the ‘WHERE IS HE?” he’d come up the front steps and yell, “Here I Am!”
I’m not sure but I believe that some of the greatest magicians must have see that trick because I’ve seen it done almost the same way in many shows. The bow I took and the applause I got for doing my tricks were the best I have ever received.
… And a reader complains: I received a letter from a reader telling me that he wasn’t thrilled with the Looking Backwards I’ve written about. Well, the way I figure it is that perhaps he didn’t have anything to look back on. My reason for bringing up the shows in this old barn is because they tore it down the other day. I stood there and looked up into the old loft and there hanging from the rafters were the rings I had performed on, and the old bunting was still hanging, but worn thin over the sixty-five years. I took a picture of the barn, and then asked for the rings. My daughter wants them to put into a shadow box to hang in her son’s room. I was going to have them plated. Neil Foster told me I should leave them just as they were. I will be glad to see them hanging again.”
Monk appeared in Abbott’s Get-Together in 1942. 1944, 1946, 1957, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, and 1979. He wrote a long running column in Tops called “The Professional Touch”. He died in 1981.