Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Big Lou Walston’s Funhouse Magic Shop


Lou's Funhouse Magic Shop once stood on Eastern Avenue just over the city line.  
Lou Walston was a tall man who bore a striking resemblance to Bud Abbott of Abbott & Costello. His long amiable face was the perfect canvas for clown's makeup and a big bulbous nose! Some peers considered Lou a genius and an expert in sleight of hand who always seemed to have something you hadn't seen before. He was loved and respected by all in the community.

The Funhouse Magic Shop
   The Funhouse Magic Shop was Big Lou's contribution to the world of entertaining. In its heyday, the Funhouse was a gathering place for entertainers. Clowns, magicians, balloon artists, face painters, jugglers all would gather throughout the week dropping in to talk to Lou or just pass the time. Maryland Wizards Club held it's monthly meetings at Lou's location both on Belnord Road and Eastern Ave. for over 25 years.
The walls of the back of the shop are covered with framed photographs of many of the magicians and clowns Mr. Lou called customers and colleagues at one time, including Earl Canapp, the Senile Sorcerer, and Freddie Smelz, who taught Mr. Lou the craft of magic. 

"My mother, Bertha, played piano for Freddie when he went around doing his magic show," Mr. Lou said. "That's how I learned."
"Fake canine vomit, cans of peanut brittle that house spring-loaded cloth snakes, decks of trick playing cards, plastic vampire teeth, a calculator that zaps anyone who uses it with a mild electric shock - did I mention the self-inflating whoopee cushions - you can find all your joke, prank, gag, magic and clown needs at Mr. Lou's," -Dan Rodricks

 In 1968, Mr. Walston established Funhouse Magic Shop on Belnord Avenue, and later moved the business to Belair Road. He moved the shop to Eastern Avenue in 1993, where the business remained until he sold it and retired in 2003. As with many businesses built by 'larger than life' people, after Lou retired, the spark just wasn't there although subsequent owners did a fantastic job of trying to keep the dream alive.

Mr. Big Lou (Raymond "Lou" a.k.a. "Lou Bo" Walston)  who was born in Baltimore and raised on North Potomac Street, was a graduate of Patterson Park High School. He served with the 80th Infantry in Europe during World War II, where he attained the rank of sergeant and was decorated with a Purple Heart.
After being discharged from the Army in 1946, he returned to Baltimore and went to work as a produce manager for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. from which he retired in 1976. A lifelong interest in circuses, carnivals, clowns and magic came to define Mr. Walston's life as a clown and magician. When performing, he was known as "Loubo the Clown."  Mr. Lou even always wore a pair of leather clown shoes, tennis-racket-size things with laces made by the late, great clown-shoe cobbler Ray Griffin in New York City.

"Every time Ringling Brothers came to town, he'd run away with the circus, and then his parents would have to go and bring him home," said his daughter-in-law, Alice Walston.

Lou began teaching himself magic when he was 9 years old - Houdini was a role model - and he got to know Harry Blackstone, the great magician and illusionist.

Mr. Walston was married for 50 years to Catherine “Debelius” Walston, who died in 1996.

Raymond Louis Walston, who lost his heart to the Big Top as a child growing up in East Baltimore and spent the rest of his life as a magician and clown bringing smiles and laughs to children of all ages, died of lung cancer June 4 at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 81 and had lived in Essex and earlier in Fort Howard.


He was a founder of Clowns of America Inc. in the late 1960s.
Clowns of America got it's start in the early 1960's The organization which later grew to become COAI had its beginnings around Lou's kitchen table almost 50 years ago. 
Lou was member COAI #7.
The chapter later became Freestate # 30 clown alley, which met at Lou's until he closed and was reformed several years later. 
Freestate #30 still continues with meetings held around the Baltimore area.

Lou also hosted an annual convention known as the... Big Three Convention

 (named after the three individuals producing it)  
John Tabling (Lou's early business partner) Mike Schirmer (Master magician)
and Lou Walston 
It was a three day convention in the Baltimore area, for all entertainers with workshops, vendors, nightclub acts every night, a wild hospitality suite that closed in the wee hours of the morning... and the infamous 'Saturday Night Banquet' which featured acts from many of the areas outstanding entertainers.

The 20th was also Lou’s final annual performance as producer of the Funhouse Big 3 Convention  
Imagine it... 300 magicians, clowns, ventriloquists, jugglers and grand illusionists gatherined for a now-you-see-him, now-you-don't farewell to the man called Big Lou.

It featured Beverly Wood, the balloon sculptor; Martini the Psychic; and Steve Meyers the Vent throwing his voice through Uncle Nick, the wise-guy dummy.

Mr. Walston's act as 'Lou-Bo the Clown'  ended the convention this weekend, giving out final signature helpings of bourbon-marinated cherries to his old friends. His heavy-equipment illusion- making days had ended some years back after a heart attack, but had obviously maintained dexterity in the restless hand magic.


"Misdirection is very important; make the trick look simple,"- Walston

“And you never tell the secrets involved. You keep the secrets, protect the art.” – Walston

"You can't go wrong if you make a person laugh."
- Walston

"I was out in Vegas with a lady friend of mine a while back and some young guy all done up in a tuxedo started in with magic, showing off as if he were a real finger-flinger. I had to show him a thing or two." - Walston

"I got hooked on magic when I was seven and saw a guy named Freddie Smeltz vanish some lady's silk handkerchief at my Aunt Wanda's. Then he breaks the light bulb burning overhead and, hey, there's the handkerchief." - Walston

"The tall blonde in the act, very proper and beautiful, no tights, only a gown for her."  - Walston on his wife Catherine.

"They think you just put on some lipstick. But you have to be a mimic, an actor, a makeup artist and costume designer, too. Clowning is an art, like playing a violin. It takes years of practice," Mr. Walston said in a 1973 Sun Magazine profile.

“I watched my brother die from the Alzheimer's. No way I go like my brother, staring at a TV and losing the dexterity, You keep your dexterity, you don't get old,"  -Walston

"He was the best teacher of clown makeup, and a clown taught makeup by Lou Walston was one of perfection. Show business is full of characters, and he was one of them," said Denny Haney, owner of Denny & Lee Magic Studio in Essex.

"Without Big Lou, this would never be nothing," -Billy Camp (retired clown)

"He knew all the old-timers and could talk it up and tell stories of the people he had met and known through the years. He also had plenty of wisecracks and colorful expressions we call `Louisms,"  - Denny Haney 

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