Learning About Thurston

The Thurston Scrapbook

Last weekend I picked up the Thurston Scrapbook that was put out by Phil Temple. This book is Grace Thurston’s autobiography of life with Howard Thurston. I started reading it and there’s a lot going on that doesn’t hold up to modern standards. I’m only about 30 pages into it and it’s really changed my view of Howard Thurston.

It begins when a 29 year old Howard meets a 15 year old Grace at a train station and convinces her to go on the road with him. He then takes her shopping for clothes and says that they can deduct the cost from her wages. In modern times this is human trafficing behavior. He took her from her family to a different state and now she owes him money, so she’s stuck with him. Then he gets her to lie about her age so that they can get married.

On the first few pages she casually mentions he beat her, so there’s that. I think that men hitting women was more common an accepted by society in 1898 than it is now almost 125 years later.

At the time that they met Thurston was working as a sideshow barker and much of his troupe performed in brownface. Once again, this was more acceptable in late 1800’s than it is now. These are things that aren’t really brought up in the stories that old magicians would recite about him.

A common story about Howard Thurston that older magician would tell me when I was a kid was about his preshow ritual. Howard would stand in the wings and say, “I love my audience” to himself before he stepped onstage. In the book Grace mentions several times that he refers to his audience as “suckers”. I figure I should mention this is early in his career while he’s still working in carnivals, so that may change later.

I’m curious if more of what I was told or assumed about Howard Thurston will change as I continue reading this book.


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