Mecca for Magicians: Abbott’s Magic Co.

Hometown Heroes, Iconic Communities, On the Road, People
on July 16, 2000
Crazy About Houdini

The renowned magician Harry Blackstone Sr. chose Colon, Mich., as the summer retreat for his traveling magic show 75 years ago, and the town hasnt been the same since.

Or maybe it has. Seeing isnt always believing in Colon.

Blackstone’s presence attracted other magicians, and today the town is both a mecca for conjurors and home to Abbott’s Magic Co., the only firm in the world devoted exclusively to making and selling magic books, tricks, and illusions. Giant black top-hat planters dot downtown sidewalks, and local stores and restaurants post “Magicians Welcome” signs in their front windows.

Blackstone was one of the most popular stage performers of the 1920s, and among those he attracted was Australian friend Percy Abbott, another magician. In 1934, the two started a business to serve other magicians.

Blackstone soon tired of the retail trade, but Abbott carried on. Joined by friend and fellow magician, Recil Bordner, he made Abbott’s Magic an international mail-order supplier and the most famous name in magical manufacturing.

Today, Recil’s son, Greg Bordner, owns the company and can’t imagine Abbotts Magic or his family being anywhere else but in this south-central Michigan town of 1,254 souls.

Inside Abbott’s old-fashioned, wood-floored store, posters of old-time magic shows and autographed photos of magicians paper the walls. Display cases overflow with boxes harboring secret compartments, decks of trick cards, colorful silk scarves, and other tools of the magic trade including, of course, black top hats. Eight full-time employees take turns handling whatever business needs to be done, from answering the phone, to demonstrating a trick in the store, to working in the attached factory.

“Abbott’s factory produces everything from a $2 coin trick to a $10,000 levitating woman illusion,” says employee Gordon Miller. On an average day, the company ships 30 to 45 packages to magic professionals and hobbyists around the world.

Each August, some of those same magicians make their way to Colon for Abbott’s annual Magic Get-Together, a convention drawing more than 1,000 magicians from around the world. Magic shows are held nightly at the local high school, and Abbott’s hosts free magic acts during the four-day event (Aug. 2-5 this year).

But Colon’s real magic lies more in its people and surrounding farmland than in tricks. Straw hats and bonnets of local Mennonite families are as common as rolling cornfields, talk of the 4-H fair, or news of a church-sponsored pig roast. “We live here because its rural and a little more relaxed,” Bordner says. You can’t be here and have a high-pressure agenda.

Patti Miller, director of the Colon Township Library, agrees. “We’re a friendly little town, she says. The comments I hear from so many people who come here from bigger cities to retire is that it’s a relaxing place to live. It’s nice to know that there are people who want to make our town their own.”

Founded in 1831, Colon was named for the punctuation mark, the first symbol seen when one of the original residents opened the dictionary. Today, the town is more like an exclamation point when it comes to honoring its magical roots.

A bronze sign outside the public library commemorates Blackstone’s profound influence on Colon. And just outside of town, Lakeside Cemetery provides final resting places for Blackstone and dozens of other magicians, vaudevillians, and stage performers. The famous and not-so-famous are buried there, testimony to an era when thousands of now-forgotten folks, with performing in their blood, made their livings playing hundreds of small towns across the United States and Canada.

That’s certain. But then, you never know in Colon.