How did two world-famous magicians go from rubbing shoulders with David Copperfield in Las Vegas to life in the small valley town of Smiths Falls? Some might say that the couple was drawn there by the magic of one extraordinary house. For Ted and Marion Outerbridge, the moment they first stepped through the keyhole entrance was when their lives would change forever.
Mysteries of the Keyhole House is the name of the couple’s latest touring production of magic and illusion. Still, it is also the story of everything that Ted and Marion have learned and experienced since moving into their dilapidated Victorian dream home in 2018.
The couple had been based in Montreal for the past two decades but spent their working lives touring the world and performing under the stage lights of Hollywood and beyond. Eventually, it came time to make a change, and the Outerbridges were torn between two desires: they wanted to join their magician friends and move to Vegas, but they also longed for the warmth of a Victorian-era home — which is not the kind of architecture that you’ll find readily available in the desert.
Smiths Falls, on the other hand, is flush with some of the most beautiful examples of 19th-century house building. And this is what drew the Outerbridges to the Ottawa Valley.
As it’s come to be known, the keyhole house has an obvious allure to its exterior — the red brick arch that frames the entranceway is an exceptionally rare feature that makes this home instantly identifiable.
Stepping through the keyhole, the Outerbridges found a less enchanting interior state. A worn-out roof had allowed years of water damage to soak in and collapse the ceilings. But Ted and Marion saw life in this old house, hidden beneath decades of grime, bad wallpaper and shag carpeting. So they committed to resurrecting the keyhole house, but the couple was less prepared for the spirits they would meet along the way.
Now, ghosts may or may not be a real phenomenon; we’re not here to debate their existence in these pages, but it is undeniable that old houses have a tendency to collect the histories of the people who live in them.
When the pandemic hit, Ted and Marion found themselves stuck at home for the first time in two decades, having grown accustomed to spending between four and six months out of the year on the road touring their magic act. And that gave them plenty of time to become well acquainted with the spirits who are forever attached to their keyhole house.
As the Outerbridges probed deeper into the house's structure with their renovations, more and more artifacts from the past presented themselves. There were notes in the walls, newspapers in the attic, golf balls in stovepipes, screwdrivers under the floorboards, faded old photographs, and hidden behind the fireplace mantle was a set of eight solid metal keys that were forged to unlock the original doors of the keyhole house — luckily the original locks remained under layers of poorly applied paint.
As Ted uncovered these hidden treasures, he documented the process and posted his experiences on social media. This was more than a fun way to pass the time during a pandemic; Ted’s posts quickly exploded across the internet. The keyhole house has now garnered tens of millions of views on TikTok and over 130,000 followers on Facebook from around the world.
In the process, Ted has become an amateur historian in addition to his title as master illusionist. Ted’s natural curiosity for uncovering the legacy of his home and the people who lived there has evolved into a regular history column in the local Hometown News publication. And he currently has an entire book in the works dedicated to the keyhole house and the early days of Smiths Falls.
As for their renovations, Ted and Marion are working slowly and steadily to restore their home to its original glory. The keyhole house was built in 1892 and designed by the renowned architect George T. Martin, who was responsible for the Trinity United Church in Smiths Falls and a host of iconic buildings across the Ottawa Valley. The house is filled with masterful design touches beyond just its famous entranceway.
For example, the front parlour window features a similarly arching shape bordered by original stained glass panels. The fireplace is adorned with an ornately carved wooden mantel and surrounded by ceramic tiles inlaid with the patterns of musical instruments. The grand entranceway and staircase are highlighted with an octagonal newel post and prairie-style stained glass windows, both favourites of the architect Frank Llyod Wright.
Restoration work at the house has been on pause as Ted Marion spent the summer touring their latest production around Perth, Smiths Falls, Carleton Place, and Gananoque. The couple are using this mini tour as a polishing phase before they take Mysteries of the Keyhole House on a grand tour.
“We want to start touring again, all across Canada, the US, wherever they want us,” says Marion. Ted adds, “We’re going to be away from the house, but we’re going to spread the story of our house all over the world; we’re gonna make it the most famous house on planet Earth.”