Inventing Magic


From newspaper clipping, date and source unknown:

“Former Danvillean Making Name For Himself Concocting Trick Contraptions, By Ruth Howard. “Mystery of modern magic depends not only on the skill of the performer but upon ingenious mechanical devices without which the illusions would be impossible, according to Jess Thornton of Colon, Michigan, former Danville boy who invents mechanisms for the use of magicians.

Jess, son of Major and Mrs. E. Thornton, formerly of Danville began as a boy to experiment with magic tricks. For several years he was a professional magician, but more recently he has turned his attention to inventing magic apparatus for the Abbott’s Magic Novelty Company in Colon.

Industry Survives War

This company, although a small industry with 30 employees, has survived the impact of the war. Where Thornton and the men he supervises used to use metal and rubber and plastic. Before the war the company received orders from Australia, India, Germany, every country that used magic. Now even Canada will not allow money to leave the country for magic. Nevertheless, the firm receives more orders than it can fill. Many of the orders go directly to the camps for the USO.

Inventions Publicized

The latest Abbott’s Catalog contains a full-page picture of Jess Thornton demonstrating his “Watch and Clock,” a vaudeville act he performed in Danville’s Palace Theatre several years ago. Three of Thornton’s more recent inventions are discussed in the August issue of Tops, the Magazine of Magic. One of these in which the red, white and blue cards fall out, triumphant over the flags of other nations, already has sold 700 copies.

“We consider Jess a member of the Abbott family,” says Percy Abbott, owner and manager of the company. “He has injected a lot of new ideas into our work in the last three years. We suffered when he was laid up so long.

Works Despite Injury

Mr. Abbott was referring to an automobile accident more than five years ago in which Thornton sustained a serious injury to his left leg. For 12 months he was confined to his bed in a cast. His mind, however, kept working on magic and he was able to describe many of his ideas to his assistants in the plant.

“There are dozens of problems,” said Thornton, “in the back of my head all the time. Any solutions that don’t come right away I put aside and while I’m busy about something else, the answers will often pop into my mind.”

Finally, it was necessary to amputate his leg above the knee. Since the operation his recovery has been so rapid that he has taken up his work in the factory again.”


From a newspaper clipping of 1943




Death came to Jesse D. Thornton this morning very suddenly. Mr. Thornton, well known in magic circles and an expert in production of magic, has been on the Abbott Magic Company staff for several years. Appearing at his work as usual at 8:30, a little later he complained of not feeling well. Believing that he was coming down with the flu, Mr. Abbott called Mrs. Thornton who came to the plant for Mr. Thornton, who evidently died shortly after arriving at their home on Elm Street..

Jesse was born in 1901.


As of this writing (2011), Jess’s son Harry and wife Mitzi live on Findley Road in Burr Oak. They have two children and three grandchildren.

Jess’s daughter Kay lives on Bowman Street in Colon and has three children and five grandchildren.