Percy Abbott Obituary

     Percy Abbot, Dean of Magicians Passed Away Suddenly Last Friday

 

 

From the files of The Colon Community Historical Society, newspaper clipping, August 31, 1960, unknown source: “Percy Abbott, 74, the dean of Magicians, and the world’s greatest producer and manufacturer of illusions and magic tricks, died unexpectedly at his home, 326 S. Main St., Colon, last
Friday evening.

He lived “magic” all his life and was internationally known, having toured the world twice as a magician, then manufacturing magic products that became world famous to build Colon as the magic capitol of the world. He started many novices off in the magic profession and he was referred to as “the professor”, Mr. Abbott was born in Sydney, Australia on May 3, 1886. Following the footsteps of his father he started performing magic at an early age. While on a world tour in 1925 he first came to the United States and while attending a meeting of the International Brotherhood of Magicians he accompanied Blackstone, the famous magician, to his summer home in Colon. While here he met Gladys Goodrich, whom he married on August 10, 1929, in LaGrange, Ind. The couple made a world tour performing magic before they settled in Colon in 1934 and founded the Abbott Magic Company with Recil Bordner as his partner, which grew to be the world’s largest company producing apparatus and equipment for magic.

Percy Abbott retired from active work last fall after his last Magic Get-Together show held in Coldwater. These shows, which have been held down through the years, attracted nearly all the magicians in the country and many from abroad. Each year there were from four to five hundred magicians and from a thousand to two thousand spectators at each show. These Get-Togethers was the magician’s show of shows as the best talent of the world was obtained by Abbott, who was satisfied only with the best.

Abbott was a genius in the magic business. Few will ever attain the prestige and respect that he held throughout the world of magic.

He was a member of the Society of American Magicians, the International Brotherhood of Magicians and many other magician societies.

Survivors

Besides his wife he leaves two daughters, Mrs. John (Marilyn) Boyd of Kalamazoo and Mrs. Larry (Linda) Bonnell of Colon; two sons, Jules of Kalamazoo and Sydney, serving with the U. S. Army in Germany; and three grandsons.

Gladys Abbott Obituary

Obituary For Gladys M. Abbott

 

 

From TOPS Magazine, April 1990: “Gladys M. Abbott passed away March 6, 1990, in Upland, California, following a lingering illness. She was born in Colon, Michigan, February 25, 1907, the daughter of William and Luella (VanVorst) Goodrich. A graduate of Colon High School, she received her teaching certificate from Western Michigan College.

On August 11, 1929 she was married to Percy Abbott (who preceded her in death in 1960). She and Percy had toured the Midwest for several years, performing magic shows, until their family started, at which time they settled back in Colon.

 

 

 

They continued performing and during this time the Abbott Magic Company was created; in which Gladys played an active role for many years.

In addition, she was a pianist and then organist for the Colon Methodist Church for many years. After Percy’s death, she moved to California, but her heart always remained in Colon. She was preceded in death by her son Jules and is survived by her daughters; Mrs. Virgil (Marilyn) Richards of Kalamazoo, MI., Mrs. Paul (Linda) Huff of Upland, CA., and son Sydney J. Abbott of Lawton, OK. In addition there are seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and several cousins, including Dorothy Woldring and Glenn Whitehead of Colon. In accordance with Gladys’ wishes, cremation has taken place. The family requests that memorials be made to the American Cancer Society (or the charity of your choice).  — Marilyn Abbott Richards.

Percy Abbott is Festival Founder

    Colon festival founder was master showman and trick artist!

 

 

From the Kalamazoo Gazette, August 7, 1982: by Robert Warner: “Magic is imagination

What an imagination Percy Abbott had.

Abbott died in 1960, but his magic tricks are still on sale at the Abbott Magic Co. the firm he founded on his way to making Colon famous as the “Magic Capitol of the World.”

A native of Sydney, Australia, Abbott came her in 1925 at the invitation of top magician Harry Blackstone, who summered in Colon. There he met his future wife, Gladys, with whom he toured the world performing magic after their marriage in 1929. When Gladys was expecting the couple’s first child, they decided to come back to Colon and settle down – a little.

His daughter, Marilyn Richards of Kalamazoo, remembers the days of constant excitement that accompanied Abbott’s annual Magic Get-Together, a combination magic convention and all-star show. Magicians still swarm to Colon each year to be part of the biggest event in the kingdom of magic.

“The Get-Together was the wildest time,” said Mrs. Richards. “It used to be in September, so we kids used to skip the first week of school to help out.”

Mrs. Richards and her sister and two brothers would participate in stage shows featuring the top Magic stars of the day. Together, they shared in their father’s love for the entertainer’s life, complete with its many surprises.

“Our house was never locked,” she said, “and one day I came home from school and saw state police cars and a limousine parked in front of the house. Unimpressed, I walked right past Edgar Bergen sitting on the porch, and my mother had to tell me he was here.”

Bergen, a Decatur native then at the peak of his career as a ventriloquist, had come to Colon to see his old friend Percy Abbott. He decided to stay long enough to perform at the Get-Together, and Abbott worked up an introduction for the surprise guest star that had the unsuspecting audience completely snowed.

“My father stood up and told the audience he had a young local man who had been working hard to put an act together.” Mrs. Richards said. Abbott told the crowd to take it easy on the new kid, and out came Bergen, stunning the audience.

Bergen also took time to entertain the neighbor children with his sidekicks Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, and put on a show for a group of wounded World War II veterans.

Mrs. Richards, named after vaudevillian toe dance Marilyn Miller, a family friend, recalled the scene of the first Get-Together in 1937. “The shows were held on the second floor of a buggy factory. The audience could use the inside stairway to get to their seats, but the performers made their entrances by going up a ladder and climbing in a window.”

The Get-Together quickly gained national prominence among magic enthusiasts, and the gatherings were soon moved to a huge tent, where the shows were held until a fire destroyed the Abbott factory and the tent in 1952.

After the fire, the Get-Together was held in Sturgis, Three Rivers, Battle Creek, and Coldwater. But the magicians were really thrilled when we brought it back to Colon. It’s a lovely old town as appealing to the magicians as the Get-Together is. It was the place they went for a vacation.

This will be the first Get-together without the familiar presence of Recil Bordner, Abbott’s sidekick for the last 21 years. The man who tuned the difficult trick of making the Get-Together work. He was the president of the Abbott company at the time of his death. Greg Bordner took over the company after his father’s death.

 

 

 

“They were complementary personalities,” Mrs. Richards said of the 30-year relationship between Abbott and Recil Bordner. “My father was the boisterous showman, and Recil was quiet – but the wheels were always turning.”

Not as successful was the partnership between Abbott and magic king Harry Blackstone. “That was short-lived operation.” Mrs. Richards said of that team’s fledgling trick-production business.

Abbott began his magic business with a trick called “Squash,” I which a shot glass disappeared. Soon, Bordner arrived with the financial backing, and the two moved their business to a rented shop over a grocery store in downtown Colon.

Ever since those days Abbott Magic Co. has been recognized as the world’s largest maker of magic paraphernalia. The Get-Together serves as an opportunity to display the company’s wares for its best customers.

After the evening show, Mrs. Richards said, her father and the managers of Abbott retail outlets in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and Hollywood would demonstrate new tricks for the professional magicians in the crowd until 2 a.m.

The hijinks were hardly limited to the Get-Together stage, however. “There was magic on every street corner,” said Mrs. Richards. Magicians are die-hard showmen, she said, and are always obliging those who would thrill to their feats of prestidigitations. School kids were easy prey for the masters of illusion, but one amateur met with a cruel fate when he tried his stuff on the pros.

The rookie was hypnotizing everyone in sight, a practice resented as unprofessional by the veteran hypnotists on the street. They set up the amateur, siccing him on another hypnotist who pretended to slip under his spell. The amateur found he was unable to rouse his victim, and left town in a panic, never to be seen again.

“It’s interesting that hypnotism, see as ‘magi’ in the old days, today can be put to such good use,” said Mrs. Richards.

“The thing I’ve always appreciated about magic is that it is universal.” Mrs. Richards said. “There are no language or race barriers. You’re either a good entertainer or you’re bad.”

Mrs. Richards observes the code of ethics among professional magicians, refusing to explain any trade secrets behind magic illusions. Under pressure, however, she revealed that the secret of the old sword-through-the-body trick is no illusion, but rather a combination of well-aimed swords and luck.

“My father used to do that trick with me, and tell me to really scream,” she said. “So I really screamed my head off and one time when I came out of the box, I was bleeding. He’d grazed me with a sword.”

Percy Abbott by Neil Foster

Percy Abbott “The Caliph of Colon” 1886 – 1960

 

 

From The “TOPS” Magazine, December 1964. By Neil Foster: “Tragedy struck a family in Sydney, Australia in 1894 when a young mother passed away followed six month later by the father, leaving a family of five small boys in the care of an aunt. This is the story about one of these boys who was but eight years old at the time and who left home at fourteen, on his own, to seek his way in the world. This boy was Percy Abbott.

Percy became interested in magic at the age of twelve, an interest which fired into a lifetime of magic. He toured the vaudeville circuits and was the first magician to perform the sawing a woman in haves illusion in Australia. He was also the first to do a Mind-Reading Act selling horoscopes “down under”. There were many “firsts” he was to accomplish during his lifetime in magical activities, innovations and inventions. He was the first ventriloquist to tour Java and the first foreign magician to appear in may cities of the Far East. He appeared in American vaudeville in 1917 performing as a singer and monologist. He joined the Ferari Carnival with Harry Jansen (Dante).

It was after this that Percy Abbot did most of his extensive touring through the Orient. From the Far East he went to Africa for a long tour, then on to London where he played variety. He returned to Australia and opened the first Abbott’s Magic Novelty Company. It was located at 437 Pitt Street, “One door from Campbell Street”, Haymarket, Sydney. In his first catalog he listed “American and Continental Puzzles, Surprises, Jokes and Novelty Notions”. Later he opened two more shops in Sydney.

Abbott returned to America and was associated with Harry Blackstone for eighteen months in the magic business. He then toured for several years playing under auspices. In 1934 the Abbott Magic Novelty Company was reborn in the small village of Colon, Michigan, and has since become know as “The Magic Capital of the World”. With his partner, Recil Bordner, the company grew tremendously, a factory, unique in that it is the only one of its kind in the world. He inaugurated years ago an affair that has become famous in the annals of Magic … The Abbott Magic Get-Togethers. In the years before World War II Abbott’s opened retail stores in Indianapolis, Detroit, New York, Chicago and Hollywood, California. When war restrictions made it impossible to secure certain raw materials those stores were closed.

One of his proudest accomplishments was the TOPS magazine, which he edited and published in 1936. Percy turned the editorial responsibilities over to Howard “Mel” Melson when he joined the Abbot staff in 1940.

 

 

 

After “Mel’s passing the magazine ceased for two years and nine months. In 1960 the NEW TOPS was published with Recil Bordner and Neil Foster as its publisher and editor. During the early Get-Togethers Percy installed a fire-alarm-siren in the showroom and every time a magician would subscribe to TOPS this siren was blown. Regardless of what was going on at the time, a new subscriber meant an ear-shattering screech of the siren. Many subscriptions were sold as the magicians caught on to the idea and when someone was demonstrating or performing, at the apropos moment, the wail would be sounded. This went on for several years until the late Lloyd Chambers talked Percy into selling him the siren. He didn’t tell Percy he hated the thing. When he bought it he promptly marched two blocks from the factory and threw the siren into the lake!

Percy Abbot had a comprehensive knowledge of magic and a vast amount of practical experience as well as being an excellent showman. His lifetime was true to the axiom of show business and he “quit” and “left us wanting more”. His colorful career combined with his dynamic personality has left and indelible mark on Magic.”

 

Neil Foster (1921 – 1988) was editor of TOPS Magazine and appeared at Abbott’s Get-Together in 1952, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1971, and 1973. Percy Abbott appeared at the Get-Together in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1946, 1952, and 1955.

Percy Abbott by Rev. Donald Bodley

Percy Abbott, In Memoriam

 

From TOPS Magazine, January 1961:

“On August 30, 1960, it was my sad duty to officiate at the funeral rites of a great friend and faithful citizen, Percy Abbott. The sermon which was preached on the occasion is here reproduced as a tribute to his life and work:

The Reverend Donald E. Bodley

“Words are poor tools with which to fashion the appreciation which all our hearts would like to express today. To speak abstractly of a man who lived intimately with us and who gave much of his life to some of us presents a problem of baffling proportions. In one way or another, we have all known the man, Percy Abbott and to each of us, in varying degrees and in diverse ways, a little bit of himself has been imparted to us.

I suppose the question comes to all our minds at one time or another: What are we put here on earth for? What are we to do? How is our life to be lived? What is the contribution we are expected to make? … and each one of us in our own way and experience makes an answer consistent with what we believe about the basic purpose of life.

Some spend countless years and hundreds of pages of writing in defining the meaning of life and its ultimate purpose. Others, only a moment and a few words. Not because the people of few words are careless with life; but that life to them has a peculiarly clear direction and channel to it and the only logical thing to do is to pursue it with energy and zest.

The writer of the book of Proverbs put it most succinctly when he penned; “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord”

This simple thought of the writer of Proverbs suggests what I want to say about Percy Abbott this morning – and perhaps your experience will attest with mine, that Percy was a man who was like a mighty fire – willing to ignite all with his energy and zest – willing to share his light with all who would come close to it.

His light has been seen by and ignited many; as a husband, a father, a business associate, a community servant, a tutor, a confident, a warm and generous friend.

I remember well my first contact with Percy Abbott. I came to Colon to see if I could purchase a “Crazy Mummy” for a cousin of mine whose partially paralyzed hands from a siege of Polio got exercise and enjoyment from trying to manipulate the “Mummy”. On that visit I met Percy, and someway, somehow, I caught his fire.

This I’m certain is the story of many of us who are here today to pay him tribute. His willing and generous giving of himself, his skill, his talent, has lighted a light in our lives that cannot be extinguished. Many of us here must say, “He helped me get going.” – “He gave me the breaks.”

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Words are poor tools with which to fashion the appreciation which our hearts would like to express today … in one way or another, we have all known, and in our own way loved, Percy Abbott, the man. And to each one of us in varying degrees and in diverse ways, a little bit of himself has been imparted to us … I know! Because some of his light lives in me!”

 

“Yet love will dream, and Faith will trust,

(Since he who knows our need is just.)

That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.”

 

 

Percy Abbott by Frances Marshall

     Percy Abbott

 

By Frances Ireland Marshall

”Did you ever notice that the people who stand out in history aren’t the most beloved, the gentlest, or the meekest? Those are the ones who will inherit the earth. The folks who brighten history’s pages with their deeds are generally the battlers, the strong in heart, the Alamo type, the Napoleons. Magic has its own small history, of which we are all a part, and the pages of the last 30 years have caught fire a number of times from the conflagrations set by that man with a purpose, Percy Abbott. We say, as a mourning gesture over many a friend, “his place cannot be filled.” I put it to you; all of you who knew him well, can his place be filled?

Percy had enough drive, enough strategy, and enough singleness of purpose to have led an army. He began a small business without funds, without stock, with a young family to provide for, in a remote town with neither past nor future (or so it seemed then). He had a trick, a trifle involving a whiskey glass and a ball, and he parlayed it into a business worth a fortune. The sleepy Colon, Michigan post office handled about a dozen letters a week; he caused it to spring to life with mailbags of correspondence and packages.

The big national magical organizations went to great trouble and expense to put on conventions that drew a few hundred people to big city centers. Percy, almost single-handed launched a series of “Get-Togethers” in a town with one restaurant and no hotel, exceeding the attendance of the official conventions almost from the first. He led in bringing “big names” from far off places; coaxed celebrities to Colon who wouldn’t accept money to go elsewhere and when he had all this great mass of magical humanity together, he sold them magic by the barrelful.

He had the “Big” catalogs long before any one else. He advertised that he paid the postage, a clever move, while all the stupid rest of us just paid it and said nothing. Manufacturing on a large scale, he sometimes took short cuts on equipment that caused a few yips, but nowhere could you see a show without seeing Abbott tricks. He had the new ones, he had the exciting ones, he had his own September showcase every year to show them off. And he had name performers doing the showing. Ah, but Percy was a shrewd one!

None of us left in the magic dealing business has the outright courage to attempt things on the scale Percy did; none of us has the business brains to think thru. We don’t think big; we tread much too softly. My old friend Percy (because he was my friend, although we sparked at one another now and then) – once afire with an idea, let nothing stop him. He was not one for worrying about what people thought, but a man out founding a small magical empire has no time for such as that.

I go on record saying I think Percy did a great deal to keep magic alive and active during those years when others felt it was a dying art. When vaudeville was fading into oblivion, when live shows were getting fewer, Percy was creating more and more magicians – and if they had no place else to play, then by Heaven, they went to Colon and worked on the Get-Together! We dealers owe him a great tribute for his part in our long battle to keep magics a living art.

No other dealer, anywhere, ever managed to have five branch stores. Yet Percy, standing with a squash string under his coat, ended up with stores in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Indianapolis and Chicago. They were all business enterprises that were sold intact eventually to others, but he did it, and that’s the big thing. I remember writing in this column, when he opened his Chicago Branch in April, 1947; “For three weeks Chicago magicdom had watched with delight or alarm (depending on who was doing the watching) the preparations for the opening of magic tycoon Percy Abbott’s fourth emporium … Chicago dealers (Berg, Berland, Sherman, Miller, Ireland) wondered how much further the counter business could be divided and still pay off. Jim Sherman lengthened his Mexico stay, Sam Berland took on a new line of printing, Ed Miller moved after 15 years in one place, Laurie Ireland arranged a fishing trip, and Joe Berg said: “Let’s be real quiet and maybe he’ll go away.’”

That was a long while ago, and as the years went by, Percy mellowed. He still dearly loved the excitement of performing; showed his really great ability by stopping the show in Chicago during the last Combined Convention, a show loaded with stars. I think he still dearly loved a challenge and a battle, and the only one he ever lost was the last one, a few weeks ago. He lived a full, dedicated life, did all the things he set out to do, and made a name for himself from one end of this earth to the other. What showman could ask more? My deepest sympathy to his family, and to all the magic world, because it has lost one of its most outstanding characters.”

Percy Abbott on Himself

Percy’s Story

Percy Abbott

 

 

From an article contained in the records of the Colon Community Historical Society Museum; written by Percy Abbott in 1957:  “There have been many stories from various walks of life on “starting from scratch” and “building a successful business.” This is my own personal and intimate story in that respect and I trust that you will find in it, not only a general interest, but the knowledge that there are always the heights to climb.

There are many times in life when through what we accept as an unfortunate occurrence, if rightfully used, can become our greatest asset. I believe this to be true with most misfortunes of life, if we but knew how to make use of them. They are a prod to greater achievements.

This occurrence in my life was not misfortune, merely a change in my way of life, but one that required adjustment. I had been in show business for many years, had traveled over much of the world’s surface, seeking, not alone business and money, but adventure and knowledge as well. Then suddenly, my life changed and another person became important in my scheme of things. In a small village in Michigan where I had gone for a lazy carefree fishing trip, I met the lady who was to be the future Mrs. Abbott. We were married two years later, but already I was enjoying, for the first time in my life, the lazy luxury of a small town. After our marriage, for a period of nearly five years, we were quite content to work a few shows (she became part of the act), in not too distant pastures and to return again to the “home town”. Money was not an easy commodity to obtain – these were the depression years – but we were happy and healthy and there were few requirements. Then, I learned that I was to become a father! Needless to say, this was a responsibility that would require more effort, time and money, so what was “papa” to do.

Show business was all I had ever really known and I was convinced that I did not want to attempt the difficult task of raising a child while trouping. Neither did I wish to leave what was now my world to travel around alone, missing much of the companionship which I had enjoyed.

It has always been my habit, when required to do any deep thinking, to play around with ideas in Magic. For me, this has been a beneficial way of clearing my mind. So, having something to think through, I went alone to our bedroom and there proceeded to look over an accumulation of odds and ends – bits of string, rope, playing cards, thimbles, and safety pins – all those little gadgets with which all Magicians are familiar. Suddenly an idea struck! I saw the idea for a new trick – in fact, a new principle in Magic. Hurriedly I set about constructing “the thing”.  It soon emerged in a very crude state. Now, to try it out. My good wife was, of course, the chosen victim for this ordeal. If I could fool her, I really had a good trick. I located her in the kitchen, preparing a meal, and I am certain that when I suggested she cease her labors “to look at a trick”, she could have gleefully thrown straight at me the skillet which she was holding. However, being a fairly amicable individual, she stopped and watched the “miracle”. AND SHE WAS FOOLED! My conversation went something like this, “We’re going to start a Magic business, manufacturing tricks, and THIS is the first one”. The trick was named “Squash”. It consisted of the instantaneous disappearance of a glass of liquid. Many people have asked me, why the name “Squash”? the naming of the effect was a snap decision, as have been all my decisions through the years, in this crazy business. The name had sprung up from the recesses of my mind – a hangover from my childhood, for in my native country of Australia, I had had many times as a child partaken of a soft drink known as “Squash”.

Thus, a business was born. Our bank account was well under a hundred dollars and I could see many future bills looming, but in small quantities we purchase the needed articles to produce the little trick. Another and another trick was added from my mental storehouse. (Now I knew the reason for the many years of traveling the world, of seeing Magic in India, China, of going into out-of-the-way places to see Magic never seen by white men before.) This coupled with the kindness of other people made it possible for us to hold on until the business started to build up. In passing, I want especially here to mention the kindness of a good friend, one I had met and known in many countries throughout the world, a great Magician and a great man. Will Nicola. It was to Will I wrote for a small loan to tide me over a short period. Needless to say, my request was immediately granted. His loan gave me not only money, but courage and faith as well.

The business had been started only a short time when a young man, interested in this strange thing called Magic, came to me and asked to toss in his lot with mine to further the interests of this new venture. Thus, the partnership between Recil Bordner and myself got its start, and together, without ever an argument or a critical word, we have operated this unique factory for twenty-three years. His patience and ability have been a great balance wheel for my rather stormy and rapid-fire nature.”

 

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HISTORY OF GET-TOGETHER

 

In another portion of this program you have read about the starting of this unique business. It all happened in the year 1934. Originally the business was conducted in upstairs quarters, rented at a very nominal fee. After Recil Bordner joined forces and expansion was the aim, we began looking around hopefully for more space. Within a very short time a building of sorts was available. It was a building in which had been housed for many years, a Buggy factory. The “buggy” referred to here is the horse-drawn vehicle of the B. A. (Before Automobiles) era. In fact, when we took over the building there still remained, wrapped and stored up against the uppermost rafters, a fancy “cutter”, the winter substitute for the buggy. The renovating and moving to this building, an operation which took a great deal of OUR labor and efforts, was accomplished during the early summer months.

Already, news of this new venture had reached the ears of the initiated and we were beginning to see the arrival of many interested Magicians.

Because we were proud of our accomplishment and our expansion we wanted to celebrate, so it was decided to invite a number, those followers of the Art, to view our handiwork. The week of Labor Day was chosen for the occasion and that first year the great number of approximately fifty persons arrived. Shows were planned for their entertainment. Gayety, laughter, comradeship and enthusiasm were the order of the day.

That initial affair was such a happy success from the viewpoint of the guests as well as the hosts that, on the spur of the moment, a suggestion was voiced, “Let’s make this a yearly affair.” So came the Get-Together.

Like a tiny child, nurtured by happy associations, memories, the bond of true brotherhood, it grew and grew and grew, until in recent years, despite constant improvements, changes, etc., it was impossible to contain itself in the cramped environment of a small town. Housing facilities, eating problems became acute, and thus it has moved on seeking the most desirable atmosphere. It shall always seek for its guests the most that can be offered.

Throughout the many years of it existence THE GET-TOGETHER has remained nonpolitical, non-partisan, and very much non-conformist. There are no barriers erected here. All are welcome – the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the black and white, dwellers all, for a short time each year in the sharing of secrets, friendships and memories.

Both Recil and myself have established homes in this community. (Recil has two boys and I have two boys and two girls.) We have been able to provide a good living for our families, but most of all we have found delight and happiness in the thing we were doing and we have, I believe, given much to Magic and its followers throughout the world.”