Henry Hulbert Obituary 1901

Sudden Death For Henry Hulbert

 

From the Colon Express, November 1901: “Veteran Solicitor for the L. K. G. Company was stricken Sunday with Heart Disease. Suddenly, without warning, Henry Hulbert the popular L. K. G. salesman, entered his last repose from an effection of the heart as he was walking near Dickinson’s Market about one o’clock Sunday afternoon after he had eaten dinner. Several friends saw him fall backwards to the ground as he was crossing the street but efforts at resuscitation were unavailing. He was carried to the home and word telephoned to his daughter, Miss Berenice who arrived shortly from Coldwater. The shock to her and Mrs. Hulbert was very great but they endured the trying ordeal with great fortitude.

Henry Roberts Hulbert was born at Grafton, Ohio, May 8, 1835, and was 66 years of age. His father, Wm. Hulbert, was a newspaper writer of distinction at Pittsfield, Mass., and at Grafton. His only brother died in infancy.

With his mother Henry came to Matteson from Ohio in 1844, and early developed a taste for commercial life. Being proficient in mathematics in school and expert in the use of the science in practical business. After three years residence at Matteson, with his mother and grandmother he came to Colon and at the age of fourteen entered the employ of his uncle Thomas Bargour, who later enlisted in the Union cause and died in the service with measles. He thoroughly mastered the art in three years and at the age of seventeen engaged in the business of making and repairing harness on his own responsibility, turning out excellent work.

In 1866 he sold out and with Dr. Reynolds engaged in handling general merchandise and drugs in the Born block. Nine months later he opened a general store in the Wonsey block continuing it for twelve years. Eight years later he engaged in the grocery trade in the Clement building which burned down twelve years ago with considerable loss to himself, where the Frary market now stands.

Two years later or about eleven years ago, he entered the employ of the Lamb Knit Goods Co. as solicitor through southern Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, his sales reaching $20,000 a year and in Michigan $13,000 this year.

January 29, 1861, he was united in marriage at Burr Oak to Miss Hannah M. Cline, daughter of Ephraim Cline, of Sherwood township. Four children were born to them, John H. who died in infancy, Jennie B., wife of L. L. Tallman, who died at Walla Walla, Wash., about three years ago at the age of 26, Fred O. who died on his return from Chicago in 1896, consumption being the cause in both cases, and Miss Bernice, formerly the efficient librarian of the public library at Three Rivers, and now in the employ of the Southern Michigan National bank at Coldwater as assistant bookkeeper.

Mr. Hulbert was a man of integrity, generous and obliging to friends, faithful to his employers and honorable in dealing, as well as devoted to his family.

Funeral services were held at the home Tuesday, Rev. Aunks officiating. Interment at Lakeside.”

Monk Watson Remembered by Dan Waldron 2008

”Monk” Watson Remembered

 

From Magicol magazine, May, 2008, by Dan Waldron: “Donald “Monk” Watson was a perennial at Abbott’s Magic Get-Togethers. He lived in Colon, and ads for new Abbott products often bore his endorsement: “I’ll take one!” says Monk Watson. “To show how easy it was to do some new trick, Abbott’s had Monk saying things like “I got it in the morning and put it into my show that night!”

Such lines notwithstanding, Monk’s performing style embodied the old truth that “It’s not the trick, it’s how you do it that counts.” He was aces at hocus pocus. His first foray into magic, however, turned out to be almost his last. “I was hardly more than a kid,” he said, “and I had just learned the Water-to-Wine trick. I thought it would go over bigger if I drank it. Of course, it wasn’t wine at all – just chemicals – and it almost killed me!”

Monk wrote a column for The NewTops  called “The Professional Touch.” The name came from the presumed showmanship and know-how, based on his many years as a professional entertainer. He had indeed been one, or rather, many – magician, vaudevillian, hoofer, traveling showman, bandleader, producer, writer … he had done it all. He got the name “Monk,” he said, from his shenanigans as a soldier in World War I, when a fellow doughboy seeing him do an acrobatic flip-flop into a shell hole, said, “Look at that monkey!”

A running feature in his Tops columns was a supposed feud with Dorny. Werner Dornfield wrote a column, too, and they were always taking potshots at one another. Actually, they were good friends, both having trouped with “the sweetheart of the AEF,” Elsie Janis. Janis was as big a star as they came in her day, although Monk’s and Dorny’s frequent references to her must have left us young Tops readers mystified. We all knew about our current stars, like Judy Garland, but our education had woefully not included Miss Janis.

Monk and his wife, Mary, lived on Colon’s Main Street in a neat white frame house with a tidy green lawn. Apparently the house was the domain of Mary, for there was not one shred of evidence that a show-business veteran lived there. But in the back yard Monk had a small building crammed with relics from his career. It held vintage photos (many autographed by famous vaudevillians), posters, scrapbooks, albums, yellowing theatre programs, folders of sheet music and other memorabilia of his days as a Janis trouper, his time with dancer Irene Castle, his vaudeville days – both with a partner and as a single – his later stint in Detroit, where he had a band called “Monk Watson and his Serenaders.” There was also magic apparatus, some theatrical props and an old L. C. Smith upright typewriter on which he wrote his columns.

In Detroit, in addition to his band, he produced “Prologues” at the Riviera Theatre. (Like regulation Detroiters of the day, he called it the “Grand Rivera.” What else could you call a theatre located on Grand River Avenue? The second “i” in Riviera was completely ignored.) “Prologues” spanned the gap between the vaudeville and the talking pictures. They were often elaborate stage shows presented before the motion picture was shown. They usually had a line of showgirls, a theme such as “Hayloft Follies,” complete with scenery and costumes and generally a monologist or what we would call today a “standup comedian.” Monk hired Bob Hope and Jack Benny early in their careers or so he said.

“Prologues” faded away as talking pictures proved a big enough draw by themselves. They are memorialized in a wonderful Busby Berkeley movie called Footlight Parade.

Monk proved to be a popular figure in Detroit for a time. It was during Prohibition, and I rather think he lived it up in that era of flappers and bathtub gin. But times changed, and Monk retired to the town of his birth, Colon, Michigan. He must have thought heaven had arrived when Harry and Inez Blackstone settled there.

Monk appeared on every Abbott Get-Together program I can remember. He did magic, of course, but also some of his vaudeville routines. They seem curiously unhurried compared to today’s quick-cut-instant-everything society, but they were funny conceptions and funny to watch. One of them involved conducting an (unseen recorded) orchestra in one of the classics. Monk at the podium turned the pages of the score. Finally, he held it up for the audience to see, revealing, not a music score, at all, but a girlie magazine. He grinned wildly as he showed the old fashioned picture of the skinny-dipping lass in a lake entitled “September Morn.”

Another gag also involved conducting an orchestra. Midway through the piece a railroad train was heard approaching. Monk whipped out and donned a brakeman’s cap, grabbed a signal lantern, and waved through the roaring, but unseen, train. Then he ditched the cap and lantern and resumed conducting the music where he had left off.

In his late seventies Monk underwent major surgery. He had scarcely recuperated when he took a booking for a magic show at a reunion of war veterans. Maybe he needed the money. Maybe he simply felt the need to perform. In any case, he took me with him. To my horror, the hall was filled with raucous, unruly, liquored up GI’s. The last thing on their mind was watching an old man do magic tricks. Yet Monk went on and faced the crowd. From backstage I could hear the ruckus. Then it quieted down a bit. About 30 minutes later I heard a thunder of applause. Monk stumbled offstage. He was white as a sheet, soaked with perspiration and trembling like a leaf.

“I made ‘em stand,” he gasped, “I made ‘em stand!”

in Monk’s hands, that chaotic collection of rowdies had been transformed into an audience. They had given him a standing ovation. This was in the days when such an ovation was rare, not like today, when audiences automatically rise to their feet, whether the act deserves it or not. In Monk’s time, it meant something.

Monk was not your “kindly old curmudgeon.” He could be sour at times. But he never lost the dazzle of his trouper’s smile. Whenever he sensed a camera within 20 paces, on it came.

In his last days, he and Mary moved to New Jersey to be with his daughter. He died there in 1981 at age 87 – but not before he had scored a life-story interview on the local newspaper.

Michigan’s Magic Brain Trust by Gabe Fajuri

Michigan’s Magic Brain Trust

From Magicol magazine, May 2008, by Gabe Fajuri: “The opening pages of Abbott’s Catalog # 6 are filled with photos. Images of the Abbott plant, where devices of deception were cranked out in assembly-line style, crowd the pages. Cleverly staged snapshots show various departments, including the offices, print shop, art department and the front façade of the building. More tantalizing, grainy images show off the “enormous stocks” always on hand. Books bulge over shelves, feather flowers droop from the ceiling in fat bunches, and worktables in the paint shop are cluttered with the nuts and bolts of the miracle making business. Nesting bottles, polished Lotas, chrome-finished clock dials and skeleton-frame houlettes crowd Abbott’s glass display cases.

Customers might have peered at those photos wishing to pluck a prop or two right off the pages. There was so much apparatus on hand; surely Percy Abbott wouldn’t miss a piece here or there. After all, Abbott’s was such a grand operation that it didn’t just have a front door – the catalog proclaimed this a business with an entrance hall.

The third page of pictures displays images of Abbott’s demonstration stage. The platform, so crowded with illusions, had barely enough room for a demonstrator. Perhaps that’s why only one member of the Abbott staff – and a short-term one, at that – was able to pose for the photo. His name was U. F. Grant.

Grant (1901–1978) worked for Abbott’s for less than 24 months, perhaps the victim of “Boris Zola syndrome.” A Saginaw, Michigan dentist, Zola was indirectly responsible for the company’s initial success. Squash, the barehanded vanish of a shot glass full of liquid, is now a classic pocket trick. The effect was the first ever advertised by Abbott’s in the December 1933 issue of The Linking Ring. Zola dreamed it up, and Abbott’s marketed it. Even though the trick was Zola’s, in the recent catalog (#26) the trick bears the name of its ersatz creator, Percy Abbott.

Abbott was the pitchman and drum-beater. His salesmanship and savvy in marketing of what could have been nothing more that a rubber ball stung on a piece of elastic, sent Squash over the moon and made it a bestseller. This one dollar pocket trick (“We pay the postage,” the ads proclaimed), paved the way for the development of what Robert Lund called “the General Motors of the hocus-pocus business” and, with it, the development of a magical brain trust.

While no one knows the terms of the deal between Abbott and Zola (it must have been amicable, for Zola released other tricks through Abbott’s over the years), the reasons behind U. F. Grant’s departure from Colon, Michigan, in 1941 seem easier to determine. Between trick developing tricks like the Modernistic Amputation (though some believe this periscopic miracle was actually the brainchild of Winston Freer) and his Diminishing Cards (“Fastest, Cleanest and Most Perfect on the Market,” claimed the catalog), for which he received full credit, Grant conceived one of the most practical and affordable small illusions in magic: the Super-X Levitation. It became an Abbott’s bestseller.

The problem, from Grant’s perspective, was that Percy Abbott received credit for inventing the trick (and in Catalog # 7, the Super-X was given an even more pompous endorsement than Grant’s diminishing card trick: “It’s Abbott’s Greatest Release in the Magic World and Will Make Magic History”) No wonder Grant was miffed.

Lack of credit didn’t keep Percy from attracting dozens of inventors and mechanics to the fold. Two brothers came from the Cincinnati area, George (1912–1997) and Glen (1910–1991) McElroy, began working at Abbott’s in the 1930s. Expert marionette makers, the young men had a gift for all things mechanical and, at Percy’s insistence, designed puppets of every description, from talking skulls to elaborate dummies with as many as 11 or 12 operations (including a light-up  nose). For a brief period, from their home workshop, the McElroys offered their remarkable vent figures for a staggering $115 in 1912. (The price? Why, that should be the least of your worries,” stated Catalog # 4.) A more moderately priced “standard” McElroy figure listed for $55, still more than double the price of several small illusions, including Lester Lake’s Chinese Chopper.

Lake (c. 1905–1977) an Indiana native who later settled in Ohio, made his living defying the laws of nature as a magician and defying death at carnivals and on fairgrounds, by being buried, burned and, on rare occasions, staging a “boiled alive.” His capacity for inventing marketable magic was also great, and some of his innovations, like the Chinese Chopper, remained stalwarts of the Abbott’s line for decades. Long-time Abbott employee Patrick ‘Bud’ West related a tale of how Lake spent a week in residence at the Abbott house in Colon, dreaming up a minimum of one new and salable idea each day, at Percy’s insistence.

Lake’s Disecto and chopper, goofily named, garishly painted and cleverly gimmicked, is perhaps one of the firm’s best-selling parlor tricks of all time. So popular was the chopping and lopping illusion (“To compare it to anything else of similar nature is like comparing a Model T to a luxury liner”)  that it spawned at least one variant tin moth method and make-up. (“New” Disectos, with green, gold and black lacquered finish, are difficult to find these days.) The original version remains in the Abbott line (as does the Chinese Chopper) to this day.

Lake’s other popular item was a pocket trick known as Wa-Ter-Lu. A metal canister the size of a tuna can was filled with water, covered with a playing card and inverted over the head of a spectator. When the card was removed from the mouth of the can, the water remained suspended inside. The effect was clever enough in method and easy to perform. (“Read the instructions, fill the container with water, and do the trick. That’s all!”) that the Tenyo Company of Japan released its own version in the late 1960s under the blasé name “Water Suspension.”

From the moment Recil Bordner partnered with Percy, he played ringmaster to the behind-the-scenes work at the Abbott plant. Part mechanic, part humble farm boy and part aspiring magician, Bordner (1910–1981) supervised a crew consisting of ex-vaudevillians and troupers, as well as craftspeople at every skill level. Bordner and crew made the tricks while Percy Abbott trod the boards and took the bows.

In the postwar years, the ranks of the Abbott staff swelled to more than 50. With that sizable staff came a capacity equaled by few magic factories in the history of the art. Many magic manufacturers were actually

re-manufacturers. They modified playing cards and dime store goods into salable tricks. Abbott’s did this, too, but to a much greater extent. Bordner’s methodical eye supervised the transformation of raw materials into magic tricks. Lumber, lacquer and sheet metal filtered through the Abbott plant at one end, coming out the other as finished goods. Train cars full of glassware were deposited behind the magic factory where they were turned into C-Through Mirror Tumblers (“Worked in the Middle of the Floor While surrouned”) Ink to Goldfish tricks (early models with a hand blown glass gimmick). Modern Water Bowls (a la Al Baker’s Naomi Goldfish Bowl). And the now sought-after Silk Flash. (“It is self-contained! No mirrors! No threads!”)

After his career as a small-town showman came to and end, Gus Rapp (1871–1961) worked for a time at Abbott’s, manufacturing puppets and other ‘soft’ goods in the magic factory. He was supervised by a man named Good, a self-proclaimed “tack-spitter,” in charge of Abbott’s cadre of seamstresses. The tack-spitter term came about because much of what Good worked on was upholstery-like in composition: outfitting illusions with hidden pockets and bags, making up baffling bra tricks and the like.

Good was also the worker who made and pulled saltwater taffy in the basement of the magic factory during the company’s annual Abbott Get-Togethers. Percy and his cohort Howard Strickler pitched the candy in the big circus tent before the evening shows. (“You may find valuable prizes in some of these boxes! A gold watch! A five dollar bill!”) Strickler’s  obsession was magic, his profession was in the automotive industry. He worked for Autolite, a spark plug manufacturer still in business today. Strickler’s salary kept him more than financially solvent and made him one of Abbott’s best customers and an occasional demonstrator at the Get-Togethers.

Even Si Stebbins (William Henry Coffrin, (1867–1950) briefly worked for Abbott’s before moving to Wisconsin, itinerant tendencies getting the best of him. Stebbins had been at times a circus performer, a pitchman and a vaudevillian. In the early 1940s, finding himself in Detroit with few if any prospects for employment, he called on Percy Abbott, who offered him a position at his magic factory. While at Abbott’s Stebbins not only lent a hand in the workshop, but also pecked out varied accounts of his career as a rube, a vaudevillian and a circus performer on a spare Corona typewriter. Thankfully, the Stebbins manuscripts have survived the years.

Jesse Thornton (1901-1943) was another vaudevillian who found a second career behind the workbench at Abbott’s. his mechanical talking skull, offered for $95 in the 1947 Abbott’s Catalog # 9, was considered the poor man’s version of Joseffy’s famous Balsamo. (“We do not guarantee this trick for a year, but we gurantee it forever.”) For a time, Virgil the Great used the prop in his show. Today, the Thornton-engineered Abbott skulls are prized by the few that own them, almost as hotly as another Thornton conception, the Watch Ladder.

The Watch Ladder was a centerpiece of Abbott’s Catalog # 6. A combination billiard ball stand/coin ladder for seven pocket watches, this effect (recently recreated by Nick Ruggiero in a limited edition) was a feature of Thornton’s vaudeville act and was much like Gus Fowler’s better-known version using only watches. Thornton produced seven watches which he displayed on a stand on top of the ladder. On his command, the watches vanished one at a time from the stand, cascading down the ladder, click-clacking back and forth between a series of staggered brass pegs. At the base of the ladder sat and empty top hat, into which the timepieces fell. When Thornton lifted the hat from its resting place, he produced from it ringing alarm clocks, bringing the act to a close. “In this effect you have everything – Flash – Mystery – Action” went the line from the Abbott catalog.

Recil Bordner also supervised the assembly and packaging of tricks built for Abbott’s by outside inventors and manufacturers. In the very first years of the business, Al Caroselli (1888-1950) manufactured brass props, holdouts and gimmicked coin tricks for Abbott’s from his Detroit shop (he also played the banjo semi-professionally). Caroselli’s work is hard to identify these days, as many of his items were simply repackaged under the Abbott name.

Another Detroit firm, A&B Magic, was represented by Abbott’s for a time, post-World War II. Ads in The Spinx proclaimed each new A&B release as an “Abbott Exclusive.” The firm manufactured metal products, including a kid-friendly  version of the P&L Firecracker trick painted to look like a jumbo peppermint candy stick (which turned into peanuts when placed in a chromed tube: “the suggested routine is bound to bring laughs and applause”), as well as coin tricks and other bench-made metal props for Abbott’s. The jumbo Squirting Wand made by A&B and sold through Abbott’s was popular in Loring Campbell’s school shows. Today, the wands are difficult to find.

The Cadillac of magic metalworkers, Brema’s, was also associated with the Abbott business for a time. After the doors of their Walnut Street shop in Philadelphia were shut, the famous brass creations of the father-and-son team, Carl and Bill Brema, were manufactured, though for less than two years, in Colon. In addition, the well-known effects like the Ball Thru Bolt, Locking Bill Tube and Nickels to Dimes, Brema turned out several new (and now hard-to-find) props that can only be described as downright goofy: Brema’s Fountain Candle. The prop is similar to the A&B Squirting Wand. A lit imitation candle reposing is a brass candelabra contained a load of water which shot into a high arc while held by a spectator over his head. (“Remember! It’s not just a squirt of water but a continued stream.”)

An alchemist with materials of a different nature, and a one-time Abbott employee, was the enigmatic Winston Freer (1910-1981). His lengthy correspondence with Stewart James (1908-1996), another stalwart of Tops and the Abbott catalogs, led to the inclusion of several Freer originals in the Abbott published Encyclopedia of Rope Tricks, and his tenure in Colon in the late 1930s resulted in the release of unique effects including The Bedeviled Egg, in which a gigantic egg visibly diminished while held on the magician’s outstretched palm. It was as if the Thayer Diminishing Billiard Ball trick were performed without the clever mechanical apparatus and in full view. Due to its fragile nature, no examples of the apparatus for the egg trick exists today (though reports of one unit in a California collection have made it to this writer’s ears).

Success breeds success. As Abbott’s business grew, the company expanded like no other magic retailer before it, opening branches across the nation. Magicians, often hungry for notoriety amongst their peers, submitted ideas, half-baked and otherwise, to Abbott’s for consideration. Some, like Eddie Joseph (1899-1974), and Englishman living in Calcutta, India, became stalwarts of the Abbott enterprise. Joseph’s name was introduced to the magic community by Abbott’s in the late 1930s with the publication of his manuscripts on Cups and Balls. In addition to authoring seminal (if sketchy) tracts on pick pocketing, card magic, mentalism and body loading, he contributed endlessly to both Tops and later, The New Tops. His output of marketed magic was so prodigious that an entire section of Abbott’s Catalog # 13 was devoted to his creations.

While Joseph’s magic was not big, bulky or liberally coated with crackle-finish lacquer (most of it was of the close-up and parlor variety, sold in manuscript form for with inexpensive gimmicks), it did provide Abbott’s with material that made for good advertising copy. Based on the catalog write-up, Joseph’s card trick Premonition seemed too good to be true. A spectator’s freely named card was the only one missing from a deck. To wit: “At no time does the magician ever touch the cards. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO FORCE OF CHOICE. This miracle works 100%!”

Some Joseph effects, however, were not well received, and consequently are hard to come by today. Take, for example, Vasudeo’s Pyala, in which a small brass bowl with an “Indian” fugure in the center could seemingly absorb a healthy quantity of water. Today, prop qualifies as “scarce,” and examples have fetched as much as $275. Reason being? The rick was lousy, and not many were sold.

During Abbott’s “golden age” (in other words, its most profitable years, approximately 1939-1952), the firm operated a number of branch stores in major cities across the country. Duke Stern, (1913-1998), who would later move to Colon and act as a pitchman and producer of tricks, headed up the Abbot store in Indianapolis. Karrell Fox (1928-1998) managed an Abbott outlet in Detroit at the Tuller Hotel Building. In Los Angeles, George Boston (1905-1975) managed the Abbott’s branch at Sunset and Wilcox. On and off for a number of years, Stewart James ran a small Abbott dealer outpost from his home in Courtright, Ontario, Canada (he had stationary printed to prove it). The New York City operation was staffed by Ken Allen and, later, James Reneaux (both gentlemen are still living). In Chicago, at the Woods Building, George Coon, a local magician, minded the store.

A number of branch managers were successful performers in their own right; Fox went on to success in the industrial entertainment field as both producer and performer. Reneaux headlined at the prestigious Blue Angel in New York City. George Boston, before working for Abbott’s, had been hired and fired by most of the great magicians of his era, including Thurston, Blackstone and Will Rock.

Just as important as their pedigrees as presenters of underhanded entertainment were the managers’ contribution to the Abbott’s catalogs. Coon manufactured a small line of tricks with light bulbs and sold them through Abbott’s. Fox released a number of parlor effects through the company and, with Duke Stern, became an unforgettable fixture at the company’s annual Get-Togethers. Stern pitched magic a mile a minute at conventions and, while he lived in Colon, in the Abbott’s showroom. Over the years Stewart James released several fine ideas in both manuscript and manufactured form under the auspices of Abbott’s.

Many other now forgotten inventors also released their pet effects to the market through Abbott’s. Who today remembers these one-hit wonders: Billy Powell, Al Zink, Eldon Nichols and Roy Shrimplin? Each of these men provided grist for Abbott’s mill of magic mongering in the form of Crystal Coin Ladders, Color-Spheres, Krazy Kubes and the like.

More familiar are the names of Jack Hughes and his Attaboy, Norman and his Elusive (Hippity Hop) Rabbits, and Bill Neff and his Miracle Rope Trick. Through an arrangement with the firm of Hughes-Dowler and Harry Standly (this was a pre-Unique Magic Studio), Abbott’s secured the rights to these and other popular products. The combination of clever methodology, bright lacquer and funny-looking props thickened Abbott’s catalogs and Percy’s wallet. Many effects in the Hughes line and those tricks brought to the States by Abbott’s in the 1940s were best sellers for the business.

Another well-remembered member of the Michigan brain trust was Neil Foster (1920-1988). He joined the company as vice president in 1959, just before Percy’s death, and stayed on as editor of The New Tops, master demonstrator, illustrator, author and inventor of tricks. His Center Tear effect is used every night in Lance Burton’s Las Vegas extravaganza. In many ways, Foster was the heir apparent to Howard Melson (1890-1958), former Abbott’s staff artist and editor of Tops; but Foster, a gifted performer, was much more. While Melson invented a few tricks and was an entertainer (he performed a chalk talk act with some regularity), he was primarily a pen-and-ink man. Although Foster was more than capable at the draftsman’s table, he was first and foremost a polished, poised magician.

When Percy Abbott retired in 1959, passing control of the company to Recil Bordner, the magic business – show business, in general – was in a state of flux. Nightclubs had long since replaced vaudeville. Television sets were cheaper than ever before and on their way to becoming fixtures in every American home. Abbott’s business was in decline. Its branch stores had been closed or sold, one by one, until the Colon plant and store were all that remained.

The other element that remained, and perhaps what attracted Neil Foster to the sleepy Michigan village in the first place, was intangible; a magnetism created by Percy Abbott himself. That the man was a deft salesman, a publicity-maker and a natural born hustler – the likes of which magicdom had not seen, and has not seen since – in undeniable. Though 47 years old when Squash became a best seller, Abbott realized that he was finally. After years of trouping and touring, on the right path. He not only survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, he built a profitable, viable magic business during that period. He created a company that set a standard seldom equaled by other magic companies, attracting idea men – dreamers, really – to his fold. And along the way he put the small town of Colon, Michigan on the map as “the magic capital of the world.”

Gabe Fajuri’s new book, Mr. Mysterio’s Encyclopedia of Magic & Conjuring, will be available from Quirk Books this fall.

 

Abbott’s Get-Together 1980

Abbott’s Get-Together

 

August 13 – 16, 1980 – Colon, Michigan; A Report By Bill and Irene Larsen. From Genii Magazine, October 1980: “ summary – “Get-Together” is defined as an informal social gathering. This certainly describes the Abbott affair in one sentence. Whatever the shortcomings in the way of talent and facilities, everyone present had a marvelous party.

 

As most of you Genii readers know this was the first time Irene and I had attended the Abbott affair. We had talked about it but jokingly said that we would wait until they built a Hilton Hotel before we came. Last year since Stan and Kathy Kramien played the “It’s Magic” show we had a few drinks together after one of the performances and they convinced us that we should join them for the Get-Together. Stan promised plenty of Early Times, pick up and return to the airport, and everything else our hearts desired. Naturally we could not turn down an offer like this. So taking Heidi and Erika with us we flew to Chicago and then on to Kalamazoo where Stan was indeed waiting for us.

 

Stan and Kathy Kramien

 

One thing you learn very quickly in this part of the country is that distances are great and signs are few. Even though Stan had been in the area many times he still had to refer to his instructions to safely pilot us into Colon, Michigan. On the way we stopped by the Bordner house and then went on to one of the local hangouts called “The Magic Carpet”. There we found Kathy with Mary and Hazel Taylor who run the magic shop in Bellevue, Washington.

Stan and Kathy had rented the Blackstone Sr. home for the next few days. It is situated on Blackstone Island just a 15 minute walk from the center of town. For those of you who have never been in Colon, let me briefly describe it for you. There is a main street of approximately four blocks, which is called East State Street. This is intersected by a street called North Blackstone Avenue. This is the center of the village. (Colon is not large enough to be a city and is therefore designated a village).

 

In the photograph you will see this intersection with the old opera house in the background where the Blackstone Show used to rehearse. If you walk one block west on State Street you come to Saint Joseph and just four buildings south are the Abbott showrooms, offices, shipping rooms, etc. Continuing on State Street another half mile is the Magic Carpet Restaurant which is always very popular during the Get-Togethers.

Going north on Blackstone Avenue you go right onto Blackstone Island where the Blackstone summer house is located. Going south on Blackstone

Avenue you will eventually find the factory which is completely unmarked as the curious are not particularly welcome there. as you will see from the photographs the factory is constantly busy turning out illusions every day. Two blocks east on State Street from Blackstone Avenue is the Colon Elementary School. Walking four or five blocks further east from the Elementary school we come to Dallas Street and taking a left approximately two blocks up we find the High School.  This is where the shows are presented. Continuing on State Street three or four blocks you come to the Saint Paul Lutheran Church where for $4.50 you can receive a great meal. This not only attracted many of the people registered but also local people as well.

Now that you are oriented we will take you with us through the few wonderful days that we spent.

We went with Stan and Kathy to the Blackstone house and Irene and I stayed in the room that he had used during the summers that he was there. It really was an experience to think of all the magical things that have happened in and around that house.

 

The Blackstone House

 

When the show would come in for the summer the assistants would be roomed in nearby cottages and the equipment would be stored and repaired. Then they would rehearse in the opera house and take the show out on the road again. There is a great deal of rockwork around the house that was personally supervised by Harry Blackstone, Sr. the pictures show the rock stairway going up to the main road and also the beautiful barbeque that Harry built.

 

We arrived on Tuesday the 12th of August and Wednesday morning there was a special service for Jack and Anne Gwynne. Karrell Fox read a memorial for Jack and Anne as their urns were buried. Karrell did a wonderful job and it bust have been very difficult for him.

We also paid our respects to the Blackstone, Duke Stern, and Bill Baird graves.

 

The Barbeque

 

After having lunch at the Magic Carpet we drove out to the factory with Stan Kramien to check on some of the props that were being built. Bud West runs the factory along with Arturo and Bud West’s brother. We then made our first visit to the display at the Elementary School. You will see from the photographs that every bit of stock is brought over to the school during the Get-Together days. It is said that more magic is sold at the Abbot Get-Together then all the other major conventions combined. It was an interesting sight to see youngsters lined up at the counters with their “grocery lists” in hand and wads of money in their fists.

Wednesday evening we were guests of Sam and June Horowitz and they presented a feast. Staying with them were Trevor Lewis, his wife Val, and their two sons, David and Richard, who were about the same ages as Heidi and Erika. We had been warned that the weather would be very hot. Such was not the case. In fact on this evening it rained throughout the late afternoon and spoiled June’s plans to eat outdoors. In any event we stuffed ourselves with all of her wonderful dishes and barely had time to get over to the High School Auditorium for the first evening show.

What a surprise and delight it was to see Dorny sitting backstage in his old place as stage manager. He is looking just great.

Dorny and Irene

 

The show itself opened with Top’s Editor Gordon  Miller as the M.C. First act was Chris Jakway. He is a young man who seems to be progressing well in magic although we could not easily see his act since we were sitting up ourselves. Next on the bill were Wilheim von Larsen and Princess Brunhilda. This is the act Irene and I do from time to time, here and there, when asked or not. It was very kind of Recil Bordnerr to offer to pay us after the show but Irene and I perform at conventions we do it for the fun of it and not for payment. I would be too embarrassed to take the money. In any event we do a comedy mind reading act which seemed to go over well with the full house.

Next was Kikuchi from Japan with his very complicated and colorful act. How this man can carry so much equipment and costume from convention to convention is something I will never understand.

After intermission Gordon Miller did a comedy spot followed by Fantasie and Monica with their always-smooth act. Their beautiful daughter Jackie was with them although she did not work in the act this time. She, Heidi, and Erika became good friends and were inseparable during the affair.

Closing the show was Don Adams and Company. Another very young man, he performed illusions. After the show we went to the American Legion Hall which is just a block from the center of town and which is the traditional gathering place for the late-evening crowd. Here you can buy hot dogs and hamburgers and drink beer or even Early Times. Our thanks to Peter Tappan who bought us our first round of drinks.

When it came my turn to buy drinks I was astounded at the low prices. Someone made the comment that the tip at the Magic Castle is more than they charge for drinks in Colon.

So many friends to see that the time flew by and at closing we went back for a nightcap at the house.

One thing that was a must for us was to visit the American Museum in Marshall which is about a half an hour from Colon. This labor of love put together by Bob Lund and his wife Elaine did not disappoint us. We drove in with the Kramiens’ and had lunch at a quaint place called Win Schuler’s. After that we toured the Museum and recommend at a most for anyone traveling in the area.

Among the many interesting things we saw at the Museum were Neil Foster’s original zombie ball, some early posters of Peter Reveen, and the latest acquisition, the work chest that belonged to Pete Bouton (see photo). Pete Biro has more to say about this wonderful Museum.

 

Ricky Kramien and Bob Lund

 

The weather Thursday was overcast but no rain and really very pleasant. Since we had a big lunch we didn’t bother with dinner and sat and chatted at the Blackstone house until time for the evening show. Stan’s son, Stan Jr. (everyone calls him Ricky), had joined us for the trip to Marshall and would be staying during the rest of the convention. It was interesting to see the father and son working so closely together. Ricky handled all the advance on the Kramien Show and they really have it down to a science. I think I can safely say that Kramien puts more money in the bank at the end of each year than any other working magician. He knows the territory and he carries a show that’s big enough to be a special evening and yet small enough to be practical. I learned a lot listening to Stan and Ricky talking about business.

Thursday evening now and time for the second major show. Jay Marshall was the M.C. and nothing else need to be said. Jay is always outstanding and this was no exception. The first act was John Kurtz and Marie, a husband and wife act. He does a silent act in full dress which is comprised of candles, doves, and the production of a large rooster at the end. The act runs a perfect eight minutes.

Next followed Dennis and Peg Metz. He worked in a striking full dress white tail suit with gold trim and Peg in an orange pantsuit. They are from Cincinnati and also do a silent act. It was a special treat to see them do the blooming orange tree and the finish was excellent with a vanishing birdcage and production of a water fountain. Ten minutes of good magic.

Jay Marshall next brought out some of the material he hasn’t used in a long time including one-half of his Chinese Laundry routine, his military mob routine and the trouble wit routine with his funny British accent.

Jim Sommers and his wife Janine were the next act. The act was an overly long 32 minutes. The first six minutes were excellent as Jim performed over 10 effects one right after another. I also enjoyed his shooting of ribbons through the girl which is something I haven’t seen in a long time. The giant hippity hop could have been better omitted for a magical group.  His neon lights of the girl was very good as was the suspension on neon lights. Unfortunately the “Coffin of the Dead” cremation finish was a disaster.

Next on the bill was a young man from Sweden by the name of Tim Star. He got excellent reaction from the audience with his bird production, multiplying candles, and three ring routine. He does a fast seven minutes.

After the intermission came the Fosh Family Circus. This is an original musical entertainment that tries valiantly to be too many things and ends up having a rather disjointed jumble of good intentions. In all fairness the group only performs once or twice a year and they are indeed very energetic. They are Sam, Kent, Eddie Goldstein, Brent Warren, Barrett Felker, Steve Aidrich, Cheesman Spark and Kathi De Francis. They come from the Denver, Colorado area. Much of what they did was very amusing. I enjoyed the David Copperfield take-off entitled David Copperfoam. The magician’s grudge match was a clever idea. Also they did a magic song takeoff on Max Maven, called Steve Shaven. I enjoyed the parody on “Twelve Days of Christmas” which they called “The Twelve Days of Magic.” Without question the outstanding part of this performance was the juggling of Barrett Felker. He is only 17 years of age and could hold his own in any top room today. He received a standing ovation.

The show ended at 11 o’clock which was approximately three hours after the start. Recil Bordner and his wife Eda Mae were kind enough to have a small gathering for us back at the Blackstone house after the show. It was an intimate group and went on into the wee hours.

This would probably he as good a place as any to thank Recil and Eda Mae and their sons, Greg and Marty, for the wonderful hospitality that they showed us while we were in Colon. Recil is truly a tradition in magic and it’s nice to know that Greg has already taken over a great deal of the day to day running of the shop and wants to continue the business when Recil retires.

 

Recil and son Greg

 

On Friday at the High School  Gymnasium Auditorium we had the pleasure of seeing the Kramien Show. This was not part of the $50.00 registration  but it did attract a full house as an extra attraction. The show runs one hour and thirty minutes with intermission and Stan  works with his beautiful wife Katheleen and three other on-stage boy assistants. He also has other assistants working backstage. During the show he does 10 major illusions and many smaller effects. I won’t go into detail in this issue as this article is already long but we hope to be able to present a full review of the Kramien Show in the not-to-distant future. Stan works in the true tradition of the stage magician and his props and stage settings are excellent. He manages to get a lot of humor into the show and he even sings well. (He sang Happy Birthday to a little girl in the audience and I was surprised that he really had a good singing voice.)

Friday night now and another full evening of magic. Trevor Lewis from England was the M.C. and opened with a banjo number. The first act was Mark Brandyberry who is a student of Neil Foster. He has great potential and did a silent act in a modern tux. The only problem with the act is that it is too long at 18 minutes. He tries to do too many things within the act.

Pete Biro followed and really a good night!  He was on for a solid 19 minutes and did many inside gags for magicians as well as some solid magic for the non-magicians.

 

 

 

Part of the Audience

 

Next were Tom and Sherri (Mescher). They presented their standard 13-minute act of fast-paced flash magic working with doves, candles and rabbits. They are a handsome couple and are always a pleasure to see.

Karrell Fox closed the first half reciting his “Heavenly Magic Show” poem which was printed in last month’s Genii. Needless to say it was well received in spite of the technical problems with the lights.

After an 18-minute intermission, we came back to the ventriloquist Monssieur Brunard. He did an interesting old-fashioned vent act which was a bit too long at 16 minutes.

Trevor Lewis followed with his own spot presenting the card sword and ballroom animals.

Closing the show was Harry Collis with his assistant Maxinne presenting 30 minutes of magic in the old-fashioned manner. He is the Frito-Lay magician known as “Mister Magic”. He works in white tails and does his magic very deliberately and slowly. The highlight of the act is when he gets four little children up on the stage and does the Miser’s Dream for them.

The show ran two hours and 41 minutes and seemed longer. While the conditions in the auditorium are better than they were in the past it was still hot and the seats get hard after the second hour.

We visited the showroom again and then back to the American Legion Hall until closing.

I am sorry to say that I missed John Cornelius’ lecture on Wednesday because we were at the Museum. Also I had to miss the talent contest on Thursday.

I also understand that Ron Bauer gave a TV lecture-demonstration in the close-up room which was not part of the registration but those who saw it said that he had many good ideas for performing on television.

One of the many fun things that happened during the time we were there was the senior citizens brunch at the American Legion Hall. It was another extra event not included in the registration but again it was absolutely packed. Mike Close was one of the many magicians performing close-up in the bar area and he impressed everyone with Simon Aronson’s Thirteen Card Trick.

 

 

 

The Abbott Plant  with Recil in the doorway

 

After brunch there was a very funny “magicians assistants bit” which included Jay and Frances Marshall, Irene and myself, Tom and Sherri and Kathy and Stan Kramien. No time to go into details but the tables were turned and in this case the men were the assistants to the girls.

Another funny bit was Karrell Fox and Mike Caldwell doing their impression of magicians meeting on the street.

Following the brunch Howard Percy showed films of early conventions in Colon. Then Irene went shopping and I walked around in front of the Colon Township Library and took two pictures of the sign which is in front of this building. As you see they are dedicated to Percy Abbott and to Blackstone.

The close-up session that afternoon was done by Steve Aldrich, Pete Biro, Trevor Lewis and John Cornelius. They all rotated in the large Gymnasium-Auditorium doing the four shows to four separate groups seated up in the corners of the gymnasium. It worked quite well and they got some fun out of heckling each other.

 

 

 

The Abbott Office

 

The show Saturday evening featured Mike Caldwell as the M.C. and he was never better.  He got a lot of laughs out of the problems they were having with the PA system and the spotlight.

Opening were Jeff Hobson and Cindy. A more or less standard act, they have nice stage presence and do a good 11 minutes of manipulation.

Mike Caldwell then did his own act which he calls

“The Great Michael” and to the delight of the audience he brought up the young man that gave him a hard time a couple of years ago, took him off stage and we heard shots ring out. Funny!

 

The Factory

 

Closing the first half was Divad Company who present their magic and illusions in a very modern upbeat way. The total running time of 29 minutes went by very quickly. After the intermission Dale Salwak showed the upcoming youngsters how manipulation should be done in his superb nine minute routine. Dale continues to improve what has always been a top act.

Next Jay Marshall was brought up on stage to do his Juan Escardero routine with the paper hats.

 

Part of the Factory

 

Then it was time for what everyone looks forward at every Abbott’s Get-Together. It’s the Fox Family Time”. I understand this was the 29th time that Karrell Fox presented his magical fun. Working with such people as Abb Dickson, Jay Marshall, Pete Biro, Howard Flint, and others he does a take-off on just about everything that has happened during the Get-Together. True magical madness and we all absolutely loved it.

Some place along the line I remember seeing little Johnny Jones, J. H. Henry, Suzy Wandas Bennett, and Inez Blackstone Kitchen among the many friends that were there. Someday instead of writing a review I think I’ll just list the names of the people at the convention. Come to think of it, it might be more interesting.

Everything was just about over now. The winners of the talent contest were announced as follows.

First place went to Mike Younger, an 18-year-old from Glenwood, Illinois.

Second place to Franz Harrary, an 18-year-old from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Third place to Benjamin, a 19-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio. He is the one we talked about at the Evansville Convention.

Fourth place to Steven Biller, an 18-year-old from Oak Park, Illinois.

Fifth place to Chad Willow, a 12-year-old from Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Sixth place to Tom Glinski, a 17-year-old from Gary, Indiana.

Seventh place to Rich Hill, an 18-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

 

One of the things that really amazed me was the fact that everyone knew just where to go and when to be there. There was no printed program of any kind other than a one page sheet announcing the shows and lectures, etc. after the final show Saturday night everyone knew they were to go to the Elementary School Gymnasium where the dealers displays were because there the major awards would be made. No announcement was made to this effect from the stage and yet everyone knew where to go. Astounding! So we went on over to the display area and watched as the standing trophies were presented.

The award for the Bill Baird trophy for manipulation went to Dale Salwak.

The Senator Crandall trophy for the best bit of comedy business in any of the shows went to Trevor Lewis.

 

The Grand Award, the Jack Gwynne trophy, went to Divad and Company and was presented by Stan Kramien, who was the winner last year.

I forgot to mention that there was music at the senior citizens brunch by the famous trio of Howard Bamman, Bob Lewis, and Alan Meldrum. Also we should credit the excellent organ playing of Connie Pelham and her son Chris at the drums. They added a lot to all of the evening shows.

We were then invited to an invitational party at the home of “The Amazing Conklins, Shirley and Jerry were not there but they opened their house to their friends and their son and daughter took good care of the big crowd. Later in the evening some beautiful slides of the previous Abbott Get-Togethers were shown on the front lawn by David Linsell.

 

 

 

The Display at the Auditorium

 

 

 

Heidi, Jackie and Erika

 

Then back to the Blackstone house for a couple of last hours of laughs and the following morning Stan drove us back to Kalamazoo Sunday, for our flight by way of Chicago to Los Angeles. By 5:30 that afternoon we were back home with our heads filled with memories of new experiences and friends.

Our sincere thanks to Stan and Kathy Kramien for arranging our visit so perfectly. We had a marvelous time.

Will we go back? You bet we will! It is something that is so very special that it must be witnessed to be appreciated.

 

 

 

The Display at the Auditorium

 

 

Colon Train Wreck 1930

     WORST WRECK IN YEARS; FORTY CARS IN CRASH ON

     AIR LINE HERE

 

 

From the Colon Express, May 8, 1930; Frank Damon, Publisher, Editor:” What is said to be the worst freight train wreck in the history of the Michigan Central Railroad Company occurred here at 11:30 Saturday forenoon, when 40 cars of a fast freight, westbound from New York to Chicago over the Air Line, piled up in a tangled mass about a mile east of the village. The exact location was at the old gravel pit owned by the railroad just west of DeWitt’s crossing.

The train was composed of 73 cars and the cars from the sixth to the 45th left the rails. While the cause of the wreck is not definitely determined, it is believed to have resulted from a broken part of one of the cars.

No one was injured as neither engine nor caboose left the rails. However, there was much rumor that three “hoboes” were riding the train but as yet no trace of them has been found. The wreck was witnessed by the bus driver who was driving in the same direction the freight was going and in plain view. Of course the crash was heard a half mile distant, and he said it seemed the rear cars would never stop piling up in that jam. In fact the topmost car was probably forty feet in the air.

Wrecker and large crews were hurriedly called to the scene from Jackson and Niles and together with all available section hands along the line worked continuously until Sunday afternoon to get a hole through the tangled mess and open the track. In fact they have been busy night and day since the wreck and are still at it, expecting to finish clearing the right of way today.

The damage from the wreck will mount into thousands of dollars. The 40 cars which left the rails included several cars of automobiles, coal, steel, food stuff, and a great variety of merchandise which was all transferred to other cars, excepting much of it which was crushed or strewn along the track and valueless. The coal was sold yesterday to the Colon Elevator.

Nelson Snyder, section foreman, and his men had a very narrow escape. They were working on the right of way at the point where the accident happened, and while standing at the side of the track while the train passed saw the first car leave the rails. They made a dash up the bank and over the fence just in time to escape being crushed by the crashing cars, which piled up right in front of them.

The wreck brought to Colon one of the greatest traffic jams ever experienced. Thousands of cars coming in from all directions Sunday, and continued to come Monday and Tuesday, and last evening several cars inquired the way to the wreck. Local stores were taxed to the limit to get foodstuff to the large working force, the restaurant did a thriving business all night and filling stations were kept busy. Hundreds of people remained at the wreck until after midnight to watch the wreckers.

Some enterprising stranger took advantage of the opportunity and opened a stand, selling candy, etc., to the crowd at the wreck.

Before the officials and detectives arrived on the job a man from Jackson, who was viewing the crash, could not resist the temptation to take a half-dozen fine shirts, which were among the many things scattered about. The local authorities “collared” him and took the shirts, and before he could be placed under arrest (he) broke away and scrambled over the fence, ran across the fields, waded a creek, and has not been seen since.

 

1942 Get=together by Monk Watson

The 1942 Get-Together

 

 

From TOPS Magazine, November 1942, by Monk Watson: “This is one month I’m more than happy to be able to give out in my column.

First of all, before I go any further I want to say a few nice things about my very good friends, Jimmy and Mildred Mulcay. I have known Jimmy Mulcay for a number of years, first when he played for me in my presentation at the Rialto Theatre in Omaha, then in Decatur at the Lincoln Square, later in Detroit at both La Salle Gardens and at the Riveria. Jimmy was known as Gus Mulcay then and he did a show-stopping act playing the harmonica and dancing.

Well, Jimmy ups and marries a lovely girl from out in California, and she learned to play the harmonica too, so today she is the greatest on the stage. She plays harmony parts with Jimmy, and can stop a show with her solos.

They have a cute little home at the Lake-of-the-Woods, Indiana

Their home is only thirty-seven miles from Colon, and I didn’t know it ’til a week before the Abbott Get-Together. I hurried over and after visiting with Jimmy about the coming season (he still gives me credit for being able to build a show) I asked him if they would come to Colon and look over a couple of ideas in Magic to put in their act. After visiting with Abbott until the wee hours in the morning (which Percy doesn’t do for anyone) he told Percy to build him a table and some other tricks.

The opening night of the convention at the Friday night show in walks both Jimmy and Mildred with his little case under his arm, and came back stage and said, “Monk, if there is anything we can do to help you in the show tonight, we’ll do it.?? How do you like that, and me with a full show and acting as M. C. Here is a showstopper that has played every large theatre in the country, yes, in the world, and is willing to come on and help me out. I said. “You’re in.” Percy Abbott just stood there and said, “What a guy you are Jimmy.” He was just as happy to see them on the show as I was. Well, those who saw the show know the answer. They were a riot and were not stingy with their talent.

Thanks a lot, Jimmy and Mildred, and may your trip to Los Angeles, where you are meeting Cagney with your story, turn out to be the success that you both have earned. Now for a bit of review of the Houdini Club Fifth Annual Convention held in Whitewater,

Wis., September 25th to 27th. I received a wire and a call from Mike Zens, asking me if I could do an M. C. job for them on the big show Sunday. I told him I’d be able to. I arrived in time for their night-before party in the tap room of the local hotel, which proved to be too small for the show, but we had lots of fun regardless.

Saturday found the dealers displaying their tricks, and I did the best I could showing how some of Abbott’s worked, and I would have been a flop if it had not been for Bill Williston who helped me in his own way.

The show Saturday night was under the direction of Don White, who did his regular outstanding job of M C. I had never seen Don work, but I’ll go on record as saying that he is great. What an entertainer he is, and he never needs anything off color to put him over.  He can stop any show with his cleverness. It was a swell show, and I would like to cover the acts in this show, but the list was never given to me and I was back stage most of the time trying to hold down Bill Williston long enough to build up a mind reading act (no code used, much) in case an act didn’t show up. An act didn’t show up, so we went on, and I guess they liked it by the way they applauded.

Special mention should go to Frances Ireland for her act, along with the other Magigals.

Mrs. Ireland was very much at home on the stage and her own version of Ladies Hats, via the Chapeaugraphy route, was swell. There was only one act that couldn’t cut — Gene Bernstein, with his hypnotism feats. I wish I could see him often, because he put me to sleep early in his act, and I slept through the whole thing.

Sunday and the big show is on at two-thirty at the Auditorium of State Teachers College. I was introduced in front of the curtain by Judge Frank Carter, and M. C’ed. the show from there on. Joseph Irving of Chicago, who had done a show for the kids on Friday afternoon, opened the show in his own beautiful setting, which the rest of the show used. Joe always does a fine act, and he gave the show the fine start that any show needs to put it over. Second act was a command performance by Don White, doing his egg bag, as only he can do it. After coughing up hundreds of eggs and stopping the show it was my duty to go out and try to top it, so I also coughed up an egg. It’s a grand feeling to be able to lay an egg on the stage and get a hand for doing it.

Act Three, Douglas McKay and the “Mysterious Sphere.” I’m still dizzy after watching the ball float all over the place, and beautiful work by McKay (Vice-Pres., Chi S. A. M.).

Number Four found the stage empty ’til a low down sneaking tramp came on to do one of the best pantomime acts I have ever seen.

Loads of laughs and a nice style of working. Oh, yes, the tramp was Sam Berman, also of Chicago. I might say a fine chap off stage, too.

Bob Lotz was Number Five with his original act, “Snow White’s Christmas.” Bob is always good regardless of what he does, so he was very good.

On Number Six, Bill Williston cluttered up the stage with junk and stuff and made them love it. Bill is crazy from the start of his act

‘til he closes. Hellz-a-poppin is a Sunday school picnic compared to this guy’s act. I had to dress with him, and from the early morning hours, when he went around the hotel waking people to tell them they were asleep, ’til he went on the stage, he was doing his act. I drove him to Chicago and had a grand visit with him, and, take it from me, you’ll have to go a long way to find a better fellow. I’m invited to visit him in New York, where he is the only bright spot during the dim outs, and I’m going just to see if he’s always that way. ‘Tain’t possible. Next act

— Let’s skip that, because I just can’t tell you folks that the Great Watson did his wire act again. I don’t know why they laugh because there ain’t any wire to start with. ‘Twas fun and I’m glad they asked me to do it.

Act Eight was one that I had waited for. I had heard about Slyter from Gen. Grant and others. Nothing that they could tell me would be too good for this fellow’s act, “A Magician’s Night Out.” He is an artist and should be in a big New York show, and if I ever get to an agent there, I’ll do my best to place him. Comes the next and last act — Kumu of Korea, Oriental Magic to the last word. I’ve seen him in big-time houses all over the country and he is the best act of his kind on the stage today.

Hey, whoa, there! I’ve got to get out and save my car — they are having a scrap drive and they’re after it. I’m sorry Mel, but you said

I could have the space this month . . . Bye, Frank Carter, and thanks for a nice time, Mike Zens.”

 

 

A Tribute to Alice Grimes

A Tribute to Miss Grimes

 

The 1968 colon High School Alumni Association Tribute To Miss Alice Grimes   by Abraham Jaffe

 

Alice is a graduate of Colon high school, and after giving 51 years of your good life to helping boys and girls, we are happy to honor you this evening. Fifty-one years of teaching service is a remarkable accomplishment.

A summary of your teaching service includes: 34 years in Colon and in nearby rural schools; 10 years in England; four years in India; three years on the Hawaiian islands.

Would you believe that while in all these foreign lands, Alice was looking for or seeking that near perfect husband? Some man lost a good wife when she declined that proposal on the island of Hawaii. However, all turned out well for the Colon area. Upon returning to the United States she accepted a teaching school in the nearby Babcock rural school.

In 1943, Alice accepted a teaching position in Colon school under my supervision. I left the Colon school in 1961. Alice remained on for a total service in Colon for 25 years.

Alice was the kind of teacher that every principal, superintendent, and school board seeks. I do not need to tell those of you who had Alice as a teacher that she is gifted with a discipline of par excellence. Still with this discipline she loved her boys and girls. Her goal was to be of service to them. She insisted that 1. They give her their complete attention. 2. That they master, all fundamentals: 3. That they study the subjects she taught.

Alice had another quality that school administrators appreciate. She always enjoyed helping and counseling that new teacher in the next classroom who was just starting a shaky and trying teaching career.

I recall visiting Alice in her classrooms where, as I have mentioned, she had the complete attention of every pupil. She did not accomplish this by threatening to send the to the principal. She took care of her own discipline problems. She always personally corrected every written lesson or examination. She did not throw them in the waste paper basket without correction as I have heard has been done by some other teachers. Returning the papers to the students, she attempted in class discussion and personal conference in order to help the student correct his errors.

Her teaching and travel experiences in foreign lands gave her a wonderful background for her teaching of geography,
English, history, government, and all subjects.

You might be interested in an incident that took place while I was in the school here. You may know that we were privileged to have the present great stage and television star and magician, Harry Blackstone Jr. as a pupil in our Colon school. Harry junior and his dad lived on the lower lake on what we called Blackstone’s island. Harry junior was considered a problem child. He did not like to study, spending most of his time cutting up in the classroom and pulling the pigtails of the girl sitting in front of him. In Alice’s room he spent most of his time reading everything he could find dealing with magic. Alice went to see Harry Blackstone senior, telling his that if Harry junior id not get down to business in her subjects that he would fail to pass the sixth grade. The outcome was that Harry junior failed to pass the sixth grade. Today, when Harry junior comes to Colon to visit his dear friends, he always includes Alice and mentions this incident in his life.

I will close with this, my personal tribute to Alice:

 

An Orchid for Miss Alice P. Grimes

 

An orchid is the most exquisite thing Nature has provided for mankind, so it has become the symbol of appreciation for good work or outstanding merit. Who in our American life deserves orchids more than Alice?

Alice you deserve an orchid for your faithfulness. Day in and day out, month in and month out, you worked, never complaining about your lot, seldom receiving the credit you deserved. Here’s an orchid for your faithfulness.

You deserve an orchid for your patience. The work that you did tries patience. Those who sometimes criticized you, how long would they have had the patience to have done your work? Here is an orchid for your patience. You deserve an orchid for your vision. It’s sometime easy, unless you have vision, to wonder whether teaching after all is worthwhile. The work is hard; rewards have been small. But you saw more than a room full of faces when you taught; you saw tomorrow’s generation. Here’s an orchid for your vision. You deserve an orchid for your fortitude. It takes courage to withstand criticism, the trials, and the changing world. You have had it. So you deserve an orchid for your courage.

Finally, you deserve an orchid for your contribution to civilization. Often you were not appreciated. Often the results of your work were not apparent. But somewhere this evening in the world and within this room there is a former pupil of yours who is doing a little better work, living a little better life, because of what you and your personality meant to him. And for this, you deserve your bigger orchid.

 

 

 

 

 

Wattles Find Bones to Pick

They Found some bones to pick

 

Discovery of mastodon remains prompts research by farm family

 

By VIRGINIA GUST

COLON – If there is one thing that can draw a family together with a single purpose, it’s a bunch of old bones.

Old bones have sent the Ansel Wattles family to museums, prompted talks with paleontologists and caused a search for information about prehistoric creatures ever since the skeletal remains of a mastodon were discovered on the family farm.

“We’ve been studying up on mastodons,” said Wattles, looking at the rows of weary brown bones arranged on boards in a building behind the family’s home on Jackson Road. “When Spring comes, we’re going back to the field and look for more bones.”

Digs to date have turned up 10,000 year old teeth, leg bones, ribs, vertebrae and pieces of skull and tusk that once belonged to the elephant-like vegetarian.

It was a seven-inch-long tooth that started it all. Wattles found it last fall while combining in a field of soybeans.

“I saw some white showing against the green soybeans, it was sticking up among the plants,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it belong to something that hadn’t been around for quite a while.”

Wattles brought the relic to the house and his son, Evan, 12, took it to school. The ball started rolling, when Evan’s teacher, Paul Blake, took the tooth to Kingman Museum of Natural History in Battle Creek, where it was verified as having belonged to a mastodon.

Carbon-14 test of other mastodon remains found in Michigan date them as being at least 10,000 years old.

Mastodons were a sturdy lot. They roamed in herds more that a million years ago, but by the time of the Ice Age rolled around only a few herds remained.

They were formidable-looking creatures with great curved tusks and long hair covering their six-ton frames. From the mastodons developed the mammoth and, much later, the elephant.

Their remains have been found in postglacial swamps, peat bogs and muck.

After the Wattles’ initial find, they returned to the field to search for more. Six more teeth and other bones were uncovered only two feet below the surface in an area bout eight feet in diameter.

Many of the bones had been broken into fragments by plows that had worked the field for more that a half century. “The bones were close to the surface and that’s why the tillage over the years wrecked much of the find,” he said.

He believes the4 animal drowned while walking in a swamp, which is now muck land that covers much of the Wattles 520-acre farm.

The teeth of the Wattles’ mastodon have heavy grinding surfaces. They are badly wore from chewing the vast amounts of prehistoric shrubs and grasses needed to satisfy the tummy of the ancient creature, whose heritage goes back some 40 million years to the first mastodons, who were the size of pigs.

Wattles learned to identify the bones during a visit to the museum at the University of Michigan, where a complete skeleton is mounted  “That’s how I got to know what we had,” he said.

Wattles said museum officials told him there have been about 160 mastodons found in Michigan, but none was a whole skeleton.

At first, a section of a tusk measuring about six feet long was found by a youth in Assyria. Two years later, mastodon bones were found at Fort Custer’s Eagle Lake by workers digging a ditch.  In 1954, several bones were found in a marl pit near Spring port, and in 1960 a 13-year-old boy hunting turtles at Sherman Lake came across a jawbone where a channel had been dug two years earlier.

The largest bones in the Wattles’ collection are those of a front leg, and the longest bones are a pair of ribs. There is a bone the size of a large platter that Wattles said is a vertebra.

In a candy box are fragments of the mastodon’s great tusks, reduced over the centuries to nothing more than layers of curved bark.

There are several pieces of skull, surprisingly thin, which are smooth on one side and riddled with channels on the underside. Parts of the skull still are at the site, Wattles said.

Elsewhere in the storage building is a washtub filled with smaller bones about the size of tennis balls.

When weather permits it will be back in the mastodon digs for the Wattles, “We’ve got to go back and fool around there again,” Wattles said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donald “Monk” Watson 1919

Donald “Monk” Watson “Cheer-Up” Boy of 32nd May Enter the Movies

From the Jackson, Michigan Citizen Patriot, circa 1919.

Jackson Soldier, Back From Overseas, Praised by Army Officials As An Entertainer; Was a “Gloom Lifter” Among the Soldiers.

When a full-fledged colonel and a lieutenant colonel praise a humble corporal as being one of the biggest contributors to the morale of the men of the 32nd division, why one must naturally have a look at the man who caused all the comment. So when word reached Jackson that Colonel Edward J. Heckle, of the 125th infantry had said in a speech down at Battle Creek, “There’s only one ‘Monk’ Watson,” and after the praises given him by Lieutenant Colonel Gansser at the Elk’s temple Wednesday evening, a Citizen-Patriot reporter decided to get the high spots of Watson’s career from his own lips.

When the Citizen-Patriot’s representative reached the home of Donald Watson at 105 North Van Dorn street he found “Monk” just packing up his theatrical belonging preparatory to making a trip. Just at the moment he arrived “Monk” was standing in the hall regarding a Boche bayonet with a rather wistful look in his eyes.

“Say,” Watson confided, “did you ever use one of these for a candle stick? They make dandies. Just stick your candle on the end, and when a Hun airplane comes over – Whoosh – and your lights go out.”

Then, with a more earned expression hiding the merry twinkle which habitually plays in his eyes, Watson sat down and told some of his unique army experiences, as an actor, a musician, and general gloom lifter, that caused him to get the name in the 32nd division of the “Skylark, who had guts.”

When Watson was in Texas he organized a jazz band and played at the different “Y” huts and auditoriums of Waco and Camp MacArthur. But it remained for him to demonstrate his real worth in later days to follow, when the 32nd division was piercing all points and when it at last emerged a victor to take-up its position as one of the division in the Army, of occupation.

But those glorious days when the 32nd was fighting all the time were not then as grand as now, looking back, and the “Buddies” used to get pretty blue after they had just taken a town. They would be sitting around a fire if they had one, or in a damp old barn, grousing quite a bit, until one would yell, “Here’s Monk.” And then Monk would come in and perform some of his “darn foolishness” as he calls it, until the gloom would be lifted and the Germans would wonder next day what made those Americans fight so.

During the Soissons drive Monk found an old battered piano in a little town just as it had been abandoned by its owners. It was lying in the water so that it had to be propped up by boards before he could play it. But they fixed it up and the “cheer up boy” played “The Strutter’s Ball” on the rusty piano, practically in the water.

In July, 1918, Watson had the pleasure of meeting Miss Elsie Janis and appearing with her in a skit in which he did some of this pantomime wire walking. A friendship sprung up between the two “morale” builders and now Watson is the proud owner of several autographed photographs and quite a few letters from Miss Janis. She has recommended him to her American manager in New York.

During the five months the 125th infantry was stationed at Horhosen, Germany, in the army of occupation, Watson went around to all the towns where the division was stationed giving his pantomimes and musical stunts. He appeared in the Hohenzollern Hotel at Neweid, one of the larger of the German music halls, and also in places so small the entertainers had to perform on tables, which often broke under them.

Some time before the division returned Watson went down in Aixles Bains and took part there in a show entitled “The Pirates.” Miss Grace Sherwood of Providence, R. I. a Y.M.C.A worker, was the author and manager of the production. The entertainment was even in the casino, formerly the property of Harry K. Thaw, which had been gambled away over the roulette table.

Even on the way home the Jackson boy continued to make the men merry. He put on some of his stunts while on board the Great Northern, which so pleased the captain of the ship that he asked “Monk” to repeat them up in the officers’ cabin.
This optimist confided the fact that he sort of hated to leave the army. “They were just like a big family. Everybody would do anything he could for the other fellow.” And then he proceeded to tell another story of how he used to help the boys cut wood by getting out and playing for them and having them keep time to the music with their saws.

Just at present Watson’s ambition lean towards vaudeville or the movies. He has an offer from the World Film Company of New York to join its list of entertainers. “But,” he added, and polished the little medal given him for being a prize entertainer in the division, “First I’m going to stay and have a talk with dad, here, and tell him some about army life.” And dad seemed perfectly willing to listen.

 

 

Hugh Frisbie on Monk Watson

     My Time With Monk Watson!

 

By Hugh Frisbie: ”Like most boys in Colon, Michigan after WWII we biked, fished, swam, played baseball and watched or sold popcorn at magic shows. But mostly knew “Monk” as the magician that traveled in the “Casite” decorated station wagon. In the fall of 1948 I was a high school freshman and my less than 90-pound weight made it foolish to join my friends in going out for the football team. With time alone I started to learn to juggle some rubber balls after watching someone on those early TV shows. With about 5 weeks of after school practice in the backyard I could juggle three balls and practice continued with plates, knives, and 4 solid wooden clubs that would crack my knuckles if I didn’t catch them right. My classmates in Colon High were putting on a school carnival and to advertise it they put signs on a truck to drive around town. My contribution was to ride on the top of the truck cab juggling the wooden clubs. “Monk” saw this and came over to our house to talk to me. First about not riding around on the roof of a truck and then about juggling. I have since read “Monk’s biography of some dangerous things he did as a kid and I thank that may have been our initial connection.

Young Hugh Frisbie and Neil Sweet

With “Monk’s advice to my parents about where they could send for 3 real professional juggling clubs for my birthday, more practice and help from Monk and Fred Merrill, the former vaudeville juggler who worked in the paint shop at Abbott’s Magic, I had the start of a juggling act for high school events. Monk saw one and came by with a costume and asked if I would come along on his shows. So in 1951, 1952, & 1953 I went with him to Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Fort Wayne, Sturgis and places in between in his now “Miracle Power” decorated station wagon for all kinds of shows: Lion’s Clubs, American Legion, Company picnics and some for his sponsors A-P Parts Corp., Miracle Power clients or potential customers. The audiences were from after dinner shows on a stage the size of a table or several thousands in auditoriums. I sometimes did 4-6 minutes of juggling and sometimes I only helped bring his props and set-up for his 45 to 75 minute show. Although I liked showing off my juggling of 3 & 4 balls, knives, plates and tennis rackets, the best part was watching Monk’s show as no two were ever the same. Sometimes there was 10-15 minutes of jokes, music, pantomime or magic I had never seen before.

The Monk Watson Show was so much more than magic because of the comedy pantomime and Monk’s unique ability of adapting to any audience from farmers, little old ladies, businessmen and waitresses with the result being a true standing ovation at the end of every show. The jokes about his time in the military were as funny and as rapid as any big time comedian and the unique pauses and facial expressions in the delivery were enough to incite laughs well before the punch line. The facial expressions during his pantomime of a lady putting on her make-up while driving a car would always cause some lady in the audience to go into uncontrolled laughing spells, thus doubling the enjoyment to the rest of the audience. There were laughs in all the magic sequences, but the comedy and pantomime segments were so well placed throughout the show that the result was that the audience had no idea what to expect next. This element of surprise was also displayed in magical effects thus increasing the “ooh’s” and applause that many other magicians would not receive.

Absolutely nothing about Monk’s show was unrehearsed, thought about and re-practiced. In fact, right up to show time his whole thinking was about entertaining that audience. My first real “lesson in showbiz” occurred when Monk was nervously pacing backstage before the show and I told him, “Why don’t you just relax, you know you’ll be a big hit.”  Monk paused and let me know that if you don’t think about doing everything for your audience, you should not be in showbiz.

One night we arrived to set-up on stage and a 5-piece orchestra that was hired to play before and during the banquet dinner was on break behind the curtain and Monk talked to the leader and asked if they would also provide opening music for the magic show. The answer being a definite “No, we were only hired to play until the end of dinner.” Monk said, “Well I hate to have to play myself on stage.”  He picked up a clarinet and played the heck out of it to the obvious amazement of the leader and the band members who then agreed to do anything he wanted.

Certainly one of the toughest shows I saw was for a national salesmen’s meeting for Kirsch Curtain Company at Klinger Lake Country Club near

Sturgis, Michigan. The printed schedule stated 5:30 to 6:30 for drinks, 6:30 to 7:30 dinner, 7:30 Sales Manager’s Review, 8:00 entertainer Monk Watson, Magic.

We arrived around 6:30 and found a very small stage in one corner of the room, which was mostly filled with drinking, talking and laughing. We were set-up and ready at 7:30 with drinks and laughing the only thing happening in the room, same thing at 8:00, 8:30 and 9:00. at 9:00 dinner was served with more drinks and around 10:30 many were under the tables or had a face in their plate.

The manager strode up and with less than 25% of them listening said he would be brief so we could start with the entertainment. He said a few things and introduced “Monk” at a little before 11:00.

“Monk” stood up, put his fingers in his mouth and blew the loudest, shrillest, longest whistle I have ever heard. Some heads rose from plates and some came out from under tables. In a loud clear voice he said, “Hi!, I’m Monk Watson and I’m here to give you the best show you have ever seen.”

He started and continued at a very fast pace but as he went on more and more were applauding to the tricks and by the end of a shorter than normal show, 90% of the audience gave him a resounding applause and the manager came around to sign up for another show next month. WOW!

As good as Monk was a performer, he was also one of the first to be fully sponsored by a product company. First by Casite, then by A. P. Parts, and then my Miracle Power. These appearances consisted of a rented auditorium, advertising for an audience of 1,000 to 5,000. The shows would start with a raffle of cases of the products and proceed with Monk’s solo 70 – 90 minute magic show, which included about 10 minutes of magic with direct reference to Miracle Power and improved performance to your automobile. Think about it. Monk was the only person on stage. Most of the time there were no assistants, no orchestra, no scenery, lights “on or off”, no sound man, no curtain openings/closings, and no props from the back of a station wagon.

Monk’s use of some standard magic effects like “Linking Rings” and “
Free Card Repeat” while boring by many magicians, his perfect execution and pauses as thou something had gone wrong always increased the impact of the tricks. The main reason he perfected the execution of magic effects was not to show off his skill, but to allow him to watch and interact with the audience during every effect. This became a very important element in my later development of kid’s shows. The most difficult effect was probably the “Think Of Any Card” trick that even the most skilled magician can’t always be effective. He used it mostly in small offstage gatherings to impress potential clients, businessmen or my college fraternity brothers who talked about it a long time afterwards.

To this day, I have never seen a performer better than Monk Watson who had the multi-talents of Jackie Gleason, got an audience’s attention and response as quickly as the Las Vegas show of Sammy Davis, Jr., or had the music and miming comedy of Victor Borge. In addition to profiting from his advice to go to college, then helping me get my first engineering job in San Diego with Convair working on the Atlas Missile, which would put the first U. S. Astronaut into space. His inspiration provided much benefit in turning my part time Southern California juggling into over 3,000 clown, magic and juggling kids shows, many from my own designed, fully portable McDonaldland stage.”

 

Hugh Frisbie has appeared with T.V. stars Jerry Vail, Mr. Rogers, and Bozo the clown. He was recognized by the San Diego Fire Department for his in-school Fire Safety Shows as well as the San Diego City & County award for outstanding contribution to San Diego schools, hospitals and special events.

Hugh is one of the few clown acts that have appeared at the Abbott’s Get together (1955 and 1994).