Byrd Watching

“Misty” Howard: The Travis Street Magician With A Mean Sleight of Hand

In the October 6, 1947 printing of The Stroller, Sigman Byrd introduces his readers to “Misty Howard,” a talented magician who invited Byrd over to his magic shop for some card trickery. During his visit to Howard’s shop Byrd kindly refers to Howard as, “the world’s finest magician” in-between casual conversation and career advice.

Born and raised in Tennessee, Howard Campbell became fascinated with magic at a young age after seeing a performance by Harry “The” Greatstone. He completed The Tarbell Course of Magic as a teenager and upon graduation, proceeded to travel from coast-to-coast performing at schools throughout the nation. After covering 46 out of the then 48 states during his time as a travelling magician, he decided to settle down in the Houston area in the early 1940s. Not long after marrying his wife, Ruth, he opened Howard’s Fun Shop in February of 1942 in Downtown Houston.

Originally located at 908 1/2 Travis Street, the Campbells later relocated Howard’s Fun Shop to 812 Mckinney Street
Advertisement for Howard’s Fun Shop in the October 1945 issue of “Popular Mechanics”

Outside of Sigman’s accounts and Howard’s career as a professional magician, not too much else is known about the Campbells on a personal level. The Houston 1951 City Directory lists both Howard and Ruth as the owners of Howard’s Fun Shop, and their home address as 1645 Bonnie Brae Avenue.

Built in 1935, the present day Houston home of Howard and Ruth Campbell

Interestingly enough, the 1941 Beaumont City Directory lists the Campbells’ residence as 1243 Liberty Avenue and states Howard’s occupation as, “musician.” While I couldn’t find more information on Howard’s additional occupation, I did find a record company called Phamous Records occupying the same address as the Travis Street location of Howard’s Fun Shop. Things became increasingly interesting when I noticed that Phamous records specialized in vision-impaired and blind country music acts. Their most notable group was a collective referred to as the “Blind Troubadours” who even had a few records worthy of being mentioned in Billboard Magazine.

Did Howard Campbell have anything to do with this record company? We will likely never know, but we do know that Sigman Byrd himself described Howard as having, “…gimlet-sharp eyes, although he’s totally blind in the right one – from a childhood accident – and has only 21/100 vision in the left.” Coincidence? I shall leave the speculation up to you.

A record featuring the Blind Troubadours. Note the address.
“Misterious” Howard Campbell on the cover of the February 1956 issue of Genii magazine

Sadly, while Howard died in 1966 at the age of 58, I was unable to find a date of death for his wife, Ruth. I couldn’t dig up as much information as I would have liked on Howard and Ruth’s past, but I did discover an overwhelming amount of former visitors to Howard’s Fun Shop on various forums and social media pages. Each and every one of them had something positive to say about Howard himself, his shop, and the impact magic made on their childhood. For me, that’s more important than any city or government record.