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Michigan's Magical History and City

by Lisa Diggs

Legendary magician, and master of the great escape, Harry Houdini died in Room 401 of Grace Hospital in Detroit on October 31, 1926. Medically speaking, he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. Given his profession, the fact that he passed on Halloween has led to rumors, conspiracies, séances, and even a broken wand ceremony at his gravesite each November.

It also led to the creation of International Magic Week, which is celebrated the last week of October each year. In that vein, it seems the perfect time to explore a town that many call the “Magic Capitol of the World,” Colon, Michigan.

This tiny little berg is home to only a little over 1200 people, but it’s not the current residents that earned them the title. It all began with a very famous man who decided to settle there in the 1920s.
Like Houdini, Harry Blackstone was one of the more prominent stage magicians of the 1920’s and 30’s. He and his brother Peter began their stage careers doing comedy magic. Gradually, the art evolved into a full evening show of illusions with Harry doing the performing and Peter working behind the scenes building the illusions. Blackstone’s show grew in size and by 1927 a crew of a dozen people worked and traveled with Blackstone.
During the off-seasons of the early 20’s, Blackstone and his troop traveled to West Lake near Kalamazoo to refit old equipment, build new effects, and relax. The company grew too large for the accommodations at West Lake and Blackstone looked elsewhere for a summer place. In the summer of 1926, his wife, Inez, drove her car south, by chance, from Kalamazoo through Leonidas and into Colon.
At the western edge of the village she noticed Angel Island in Sturgeon Lake. Upon investigation, she found that the island was for sale, and she placed a down payment on the property. Harry found that the island was ideally suited for his purposes. There was a frame house and a large barn where the stage equipment could be stored and many animals which were used in the show could be kept. There were several cottages which could be used to house the crew. The Blackstones purchased the island that summer and from then until 1949 Blackstone called Colon his home. He moved to California for health reasons in 1949, yet always claimed that he would rather live in Colon than anywhere else in the world.
Blackstone and his troupe would spend the summer months in Colon, designing their shows and perfecting their craft. Before Blackstone hit the road, he would open with a show in Hill’s Opera House, a 600-seat auditorium, which has since burned down. Though it was a dress rehearsal for Blackstone, for locals it was a chance to see a legend.
Among those who came to visit Blackstone, was his Australian friend, Percy Abbott. Not only did Abbott perform magic, but he built tricks and illusions.
When Abbott arrived in Colon that summer, he intended to relax, visit with Blackstone, do a little fishing, and then resume his tour of the United States. Instead, he stayed a lifetime in Colon. He married a local girl, raised four children, and founded what was to become the largest magic manufacturing company in the world. Over the course of the next 30 years, Abbott was to become a name known the world over by magicians.
Today rumor has it that more than a few residents can perform a simple card trick upon request and many can share a story or two that further adds to the magical reputation of the town. Among the residents are those who have built magic props, performed shows, given lectures, and written books and pamphlets on the art of magic.
The city sidewalk contains a magician’s walk of fame, of sorts, and is lined with planters that feature rabbits coming out of hats. It’s still home to Abbott and now includes Sterlini Magic Mfg for those who seek tools to amaze their friends with tricks and illusions.
Each August Colon is home to Abbott’s Magical Get Together, a convention filled with performances. The gathering is well over 70 years old and has had many of the world’s greatest magicians perform on its magic stage including Blackstone Sr, Blackstone Jr, Karrell Fox, Lance Burton, Mac King, Jeff McBride, Jeff Hobson, Harlan Tarbell, Cardini, Neil Foster, and about 900 others. Mark your calendar for August 6-9, 2014, to join in on the action. 

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