Abbott’s Get-Together 1967, Clarke Crandall

     Get-together in Colon!

 

 

From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, December 1967; by Clarke Crandall: ”There were several highlights to my August Colon visit. A short pause at Neil and Jeanne Foster’s homestead was most enjoyable. I would have liked more time to rest and relax there. Miss Merrillyn Merrill, a sweet child, took me to visit her parents at their lakeside home. Her mother makes good sandwiches and gave me several to keep my strength on the long trip back to Colon and Abbott’s. Her father is nice but he’s always hanging around trying to protect Merrilyn from me. Actually it’s me who needs protection. We talked to Teddy Strickler by phone. She was unhappy because business prevented her from attending the Get-Together. During my confinement she and Miss Merrill kept me happy with their many “get well” cards. In the late thirties I made an “arm off” illusion, which Percy Abbott bought to keep off the market. My departed friend, the genteel Howard Strickler, bought the original model and Teddy recently gave it back to me. She’s a good kid and I love her.

 

 

To me, the most enjoyable interval of the whole affair was the trip to the old Blackstone estate with the right guide, George Johnstone. We stopped to pick up Pete Bouton, Harry’s brother. He and George had traveled with the Blackstone road show and George’s “In” stories, the printable ones, would make an interesting book. Sentimentality has never been one of my most noticeable traits but it’s not easy to remain unaffected, standing at Pete’s side as he looks at his brother’s plainly marked grave. I was with a group at Colon when plans were made by friends to start a fund for a suitable stone for Harry’s grave. You will hear more of it later. I didn’t know Harry Blackstone as well as many but for over thirty-five years we were speaking friends. I met Junior Harry when he was a small piano-playing prodigy dressed in a sharp military school uniform. I was one of his guests when he premiered the Conrad Hilton. I watched him work in Colon a few years ago and he’s been out to the tavern to see me.

Recently I saw him on the Smothers Bros. TV show and I’m sorry I did. Had I missed it I could have taken the work of others as to the quality of the performance. Several of the fellows in the tavern liked it. That should be criteria enough. But I’m entitled to my own opinion. I thought the camera work was atrocious. That may not have been Junior’s fault. The ‘Dancing Hank’ done well, is a classic and he didn’t do it badly. The switch at the end of the routine with “Here’s one to take its place” is superfluous. I have always wondered why the vanishing birdcage, an opening effect, must be clutched like an escaping eel as the magician walks out as if he held a thin – shelled egg between his knees.” Shades of Bert Allerton!”  The folks from the audience who held the cage were placed in an awkward stretched-up position. The cage was so hidden from the viewer’s sight it could have been dropped on the floor and kicked into the footlights. The “Shirt Snatching Bit” at the finish was lost on TV. “Whatdee Do?” asked a customer in the bar. The “anyone from the audience” at Junior’s right giggled and snickered every time an article was lifted; perhaps it really tickled. A pickpocket routine comes off badly on TV. It’s an act in itself and suffers when squeezed between other effects of magic. Junior is not a Dominique but Dominique is not a Blackstone either. Harry Blackstone, Jr., is a tall, well dressed, good looking performer with a well-known name. The public, with the exception of only a few of us old times, have forgotten his father’s traits and mannerism. In my opinion it’s time Junior developed his own style, presentation and inflections. Senior’s effects and Junior’s personality can’t help but be a winner. It’s hard to walk in a famous father’s footsteps but Junior has long legs. He can do it.”

 

Abbott’s Get-Together 1964 by Monk Watson

    The 1964 Abbott’s Get Together

 

 

From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, October 1964; by Monk Watson: ”The big show is over, or was it the big shows … really I’m not back to normal yet, but I hope to be before I finish this October Column. Neil Foster has his whip out, even though he is too weak to use it. I’m just a chicken so he says, “Monk, how about the October column?”  That’s all it takes to make me give up golf and fishing and stuff like that and get busy. Here goes!

During the Get-Together so many came up to me and said, “What is this guy, ‘The Senator,’ trying to do to you Monk?” I just laughed, really not knowing too many Senators, until I gave it another thought and came up with the idea that they must be talking about a real nice guy, whom I used to know pretty well, by the name of Clarke, or was it Crandall, or perhaps Clarke Crandall. Then it dawned on me that in the past I had read some column, “It’s a Mystery to Me,” and in this column he had mentioned my name a couple of hundred times. Now I do recall some of his writings. I also picked up the September TOPS      and there it was again … “OBESITY” .. (see previous reference to Watson, Monk), I can recall where in the dear dead past I referred to my former friend as, “Fat something”. He never forgets.

For the other side of this great guy, one would be so very happily surprised to learn that he is without a doubt one of the cleverest writers and speakers in the field of Magic or most any other subject you can think of. My good friend (of the Elsie Janis days) was pretty upset too, thinking how deeply I had been hurt by this brute of a Senator. I let Dorny continue to think so even during the shows (where Dorny had both hands full of hard work putting up with some of the greater STARS of the show business). I didn’t tell him that I had spent most of the day with Crandall, Bob Lewis, Mark Leddy and Milky, having more laughs than most men can handle. I’ve not had so many laughs in many, many years. Krandall, or is it Crandall, was in fine form during the whole four days and nights. He was “ON” all of the time while others were sleeping, fishing, buying tricks, or just visiting; this man was in a very easy chair having fun. As I said before, and I mean it, here is a real great guy with more talent (wish he had it) than any five men I know. One of these days he’ll bring out a Children’s Book and it will sell like hot cakes, or maybe like books. Some of the lines will have to be changed a bit, but I want the first one.

Back to the shows and some of the people I saw and visited with. First of all Russ Walsh and I closed the meeting, as we have for many years, on Sunday morning. After everyone has left we get together and talk about the other days and other conventions across the country, and when we finally finish we figure that the Get-together in Colon is the BEST of all Magical Conventions. The acts were all so good that one would use up a lot of time trying to review them, and I know that it will be covered in other columns, so all I want to say is, “This was a dilly of a convention, get-together, meeting, or just shows …” I’ve been to all of them across the country and with no meetings to attend it was a great success. Over 680 registered, another thousand found seats in the gym at the school, so what could be better.

The Night Before part that used to be just for the visiting Magicians, turned out to be a real Magic Show, with everyone on their toes outdoing themselves to please a packed house. Duke Stern was not too busy to help me along with Karrell Fox to bring back an act I did in the After Piece in Vaudeville with Bert Wheeler … (not the Bert Wheeler of Magic). The blow off of the act was that it had gone off well. Strange as it may seem the very acts that some of the Magicians thought a bit too long were the acts that the laymen are still talking about. We all know the answers to most of the tricks, but when you figure that you have another thousand people who are still fooled, one has to stop and think about his own act and the tricks that perhaps bore him … they’re new to your audience, so pull them out of the bag and do them over and over again.

The Tadlocks were here again, coming in on the same plane with Mark Leddy (who books most of the acts for the Ed Sullivan Shows). I had called them the night before they took the plane and told them that Mark would be on the same flight and for them to talk to him. They landed in Battle Creek and by that time they were good friends. Milky and I had just done a television show and with my Mary we picked up the trio. The trip to Colon was interesting, because I had arranged a room for Mark Leddy in a home on the Palmer Lake in Colon. Mark is a lover of nature and proved it by walking around in the yard of this home after the shows were over. He got a big kick out of the shows, and I believe he’ll come back again next year.

One didn’t have to go to the shows to see real Magic. There was more Magic to be seen at the Abbott showroom than a person could dream about. With Foster and several others showing the newest in Magic, one could spend hours just watching. Foster did the Zombie every hour, and each time it was the great masterpiece in his hands. Doves could have been on every show, because they’ll talk about them as long as Magic is shown. Sherm put a girl into a cabinet and that alone was a bit of magic. He put girl filled every inch and yet he put more swords and knives through that darn cabinet than I could count. A Six Footer cut into sixths was simply out of this world. The girl at the Hammond, Wilma Rench, never missed a cue and believe me that is Magic in itself.

I’ve gotta say a few kind words about my godson, Harry Blackstone Jr. He is a tall, fine looking man of thirty with every move of a seasoned actor. Hi voice (he can throw away Magic) was fine, and he could very nicely take over a lead in a Broadway show. However, I’m sure he’ll never throw away the thing he loves; Magic. One could close his eyes and see and hear his great father in every move. The cage at the tips of his fingers, the dancing handkerchief, the floating light bulb, were done with the same Professional Touch as his father had used for so many years. I’m mighty proud of the boy.

So Neil, here it is, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I’ve talked too much. I wanted to say more about my run with Bob Lewis and the midnight gang, but they know how much I enjoyed them. Mark, I’ll be calling when I get to New York, and we’ll hash over the ACTS again. I wish more of the boys from New York could have been here. Felix Greenfield was here and was thrilled over our shows, I’m sure. Now I’m going fishing, and I wish you all could come along.”

 

Recil Bordner on Magic Capital of the World

From TOPS Magazine, January 1961, by Recil Bordner: “I am assuming that everyone knows how Lester Lake came to give Colon the title of THE MAGIC CAPITOL OF THE WORLD, and how I came to buy half interest in this business from Percy Abbott back in 1934.

What has not been told about this Magic Co. is the identity and story of the many people who have and still work here.

Among those who have worked for us were: Jesse Thornton, who was in vaudeville and built magical apparatus in Chicago. “Bill” Brema from Philadelphia – the master machinist – with all the Precision Brass Tricks of the old Brema Line; Lyman Hug who had been on the Harry Thurston Show with Percy as electrician and technician. Also Ted Banks, Frank Luckner and Neil Sweet were from the Blackstone Show. Gen. Grant, Winston Freer and Nardini of “Nardini and Nadine” each spent a couple of years with us. And Eddie Joseph, who came over from India to perform at one of our Get Togethers, stayed several months, writing and developing tricks before going on to London. All the above and many more helped us here, right down to the latest celebrities, Neal and Jeanne Foster, who are now members of the ‘Magic Family’ here in Colon.

The first day I come to Colon to stay, Percy introduced me to all the places in town where he had been doing any business: The first place he took me was to the home of Charles Elliot a man interested in magic in an amateur way. “Chuck” always produced all the minstrel shows and any other dramatic productions that were attempted locally. So it was only natural that he was the “contact” man with the local people on all our magical Get Togethers until his death in 1942. Chuck’s wife Irene was doing some sewing for the Magic Co; Spring Sausages, Carrots etc. She is the same lady who is working today in our sewing department making the same things plus, of course, many more products. She continued to do the sewing in her home until her three children were grown before she came to the shop to work.

During that first year after we had moved into our own building, another man came to see us from the Blackstone Show. This time it was from the advance personnel in the person of a juggler named Fred Merrill or just “Freddie” as everyone called him. He came to help in our paint department, and started on what was to be a part time basis, but today he is still our painter and has finished and painted, I would say, more Magical Apparatus than any other man in the world today.

Before the First World War, Fred was with the Merrill Brothers, a juggling team, and “Morris Cronnin and his Merry Men”, a comedy European Juggler Act. He is the immediate Past President of the International Jugglers Association and those of you who read the OLD TOPS, will remember that he had a series of articles, on the art of juggling, published several years ago. He has promised to write some articles for the NEW TOPS as the months roll along, so if any of you juggling fans have any news, questions or suggestions that you would like to see in print, send them along to Fred Merrill, Colon, Michigan.

In August 1943 Fred’s wife, Caroline, came to help us in the sewing department for a few hours each day. It was not long before she was working full time. When we took over the feather flower making from the DeWitt sisters, she mastered the art of converting the grimy white imported swan and goose feathers to the soft brilliant petals seen on the finished white flowers. Later she become skillful at dyeing them to the bright, even iridescent colors that makes our feather flowers so outstanding. She is especially proud of her fresh carnations, and rightfully so for they are the most realistic in appearance.

If I wrote about all the things concerning all the people who have worked here, this column would be as long as a novel, so I will have to continue it in another issue.”

Abbott’s Magic in 1936

Abbott’s Magic in 1936

 

 

From The “TOPS” Magazine, December 1936, by Sid Lorraine: “ The first thing I must rave about, this month, is the Abbott Canadian Branch. This is the first time in many, many years the Canadian magicians have been given a break. To the many who have written asking for information about Percy’s Branch store, here’s the dope: Yes, you can order anything advertised by the Abbot Magic Novelty Company and will receive it without any Customs trouble. Thanks to this enterprising Abbott fellow, Canadians can now buy the most up-to-date, finest quality magic in the world and the Abbott Branch will take care of Customs clearance. Send your orders to the head office in Colon, Michigan, or to Mr. Stewart James, the Abbott Magic Novelty Company, Courtright, Ontario, Canada. Establishing a branch of this nature requires a lot of extra work on the part of the head office and the Canadian manager so it is up to all Canadian magicians to show Percy that you are behind him 100% by sending him your orders.”

From a 1976 thesis by Patrick West: “The 1936 Get-Together was held Sept. 12th at the Abbott factory and was referred to as the Third Annual Get-together. The partners counted the open house of 1934 as having been the first. The Saturday night show had been increased to 14 acts and the theater was enlarged. Some of the more famous magicians of the day were present in 1936, including the “Great Nichola Marvelo”, Lester Lake, who had the “biggest show in America” that year. Lake, a good friend of Abbott, directed an impromptu performance outside the magic shop on Saturday afternoon, which the public was allowed to view. The following acts appeared: Geo. Paxton, Ed Little, Bob Gysel, Al Saal, John Skinta, Percy Abbott, F. W., Thomas, Dr. Zola, Jimmy Trimble, L. L. Ireland, Joe Bert, C. L. Breindenstien, Mahendra, and Dave Coleman. In that year another aspect of the Get-Together developed when there was an extemporaneous performance for early arrivals on Friday evening. This became a standard feature of the Get-Together and is now called the Night Before Party. Two hundred and fifty magicians registered for the 1936 convention. The Saturday night show, the largest yet, included the following acts: Sid Loraine, emcee; Bob Wedertz, Recil Bordner and Percy Abbott, creations; Harry Cecil, George Paxton, illusions: Ralph W. Hull, cards; Lyman, originalities; Kathryn Elliott and Marvelo of “Burned Alive” fame; Doc Coleman in Hokum; Jimmy Trumble, artist magician; The Great Nicola.”

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.”

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.”

 

 

Opera House Remembered, Alberta Hacker-Frost

Memorable Moments

 

 

 

From the Sturgis Journal, 2006, by Terry Katz: “COLON – Alberta Hacker-Frost was 16 when she stepped inside Hill’s Opera House in Colon for the first time.

That was in the spring of 1934.

Now, it’s still difficult for her to picture what’s left of the Opera House that was destroyed by fire October 12, 2006.

She lives in Sturgis and hasn’t returned to Colon since the firs. She does plan to make a trip when she’s feeling better.

Thoughts of the fire stirred many memories. Hacker-Frost was a member of the Colon class of 1934 that held its commencement, baccalaureate service and senior class play on stage at the opera house.

 

Reminiscence

 

As Hacker-Frost began to reminisce, she found the original high school programs and newspaper clippings from her class of 42 years ago.

She was the class salutatorian and on June 7, 1934, her class of 24 members was graduated.

The class valedictorian was Margaret Loudenslager, who maintained a four year average of 94.5 percent.

Commencement activities began on May 24 with the annual junior-senior banquet. The Reverend L. A. Townsend delivered the baccalaureate service on “The Highway of Life” Dean David Trout of Hillsdale College gave the commencement address. She recalled that part of the class night program June 6 was a review of the 1934 class history as narrated by Max Groth and Jack Damon. They were only two students who attended grades K-12 with the class. Many students started their education in Colon, but either moved or dropped out before graduation.

She joined the class from Foote School east of Leonidas. Other students came from Coldwater, Burr Oak, Matteson, Riverside, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Indiana.

The senior class play presented at Hill’s Opera House on May 11 was a four-act comedy drama of small town life called “Windy Willows.”

Members of the class of 1934 at Colon High School were: Dale Adams, Max Whitmore, Lewis Brandt, Rose Mary Cooper, Lyman Decker, John Eberhard, Max Goth, Donald Hobday, Majorie Loudenslager, Irene Rosenberry,
Richard Sager, LeRoy Whitford, John Ware, Spencer Bower, Gerald Brooks, Jack Damon, Hilda Decker, Mary Elezroth, Alberta Hacker, Herman Kessler, Margaret Loudenslager, Phil Rudd, Kathryn Sprowl and Helen Wood.

LeRoy Whitford and Marjorie Loudenslader were seen in the leading roles.

An old program shows that Max Auten carried the chief comedy role in the portrayal of the rustic constable and storekeeper.

The comedy featured Mrs. DePuyster, a city visitor whose love affair with the village constable furnished much merriment. Margaret Loudenslager played the role. Hilda Decker had the part of Carrie Tibbs, whose love for her brother brought out in this story of small town life.

Donald Hobday and Jack Damon played the village banker and his son. Herman Kessler portrayed Billy Fortuen, who does much to upset their plans.

Tickets were sold at several locations in Colon. General admission was 15 cents.

For Alberta Hacker-Frost, the loss of the Opera House felt like a death in the family.

“I felt sad about it,” she said, “I’m still here but today there’s not too many of us class members left.”

Hacker-Frost also remembers the dentist office located upstairs of the bank.

“That’s where I had my first tooth pulled!” she exclaimed.