Abbott Magic Fire 1938, Percy Abbott

Abbott Magic Company Fire

 

From the TOPS Magazine, January 1953, by Percy Abbott “WITH THE EDITOR”: “No doubt by this time many of our friends and Magicians have learned of the happening at our plant here – the fire which destroyed our metal shop on November 15th.

Those of you tat have visited us here in Colon know that our buildings are separated, the metal shop being approximately 300 feet from the main building. At 4:00 a. m. on the date mentioned a fire broke out and, although the local and out-of-town fire brigades worked to save it, the building was completely demolished. The building housed all our lathes, milling machines, and equipment, partly completed stock, supplies of metal, etc. – in fact, it was a complete loss. Fortunately the fire brigades were able to save the nearby buildings and, best of all, no one was hurt.

 

 

I was out of town at the time and a long distance call at 5 o’clock in the morning cut my out-of-town visit short. When I got back here nothing could be done.

But these things happen, and within a week we had started reorganizing the metal shop in part of the wood shop. Of course it will take some time before the machinery and supplies are replaced but to date there has been very little delay on orders received. We fortunately carry large stocks and we also have our branch stores to help us out.

 

Abbott Magic Company

JACKSON CITIZEN PATRIOT newspaper, April 6, 1936

 

Thriving Industry Wins Colon “City of Magic” Title

 

Abbot Firm is Magician’s Aid

 

Produces All Types of Wars for Art.

 

Magic Master and His “Gadget” Factory

 

Colon – Figuring out new and better ways to saw off a girl’s legs and chop off her head is really quite fascinating after you get used to the idea.

Most people might not see any fun in dismembering bodies but it makes a highly entertaining relaxation for tired nerves.

There’s an art to it, too. You can’t just go out and chop the head off without any advance preparations. That would be much too crude. You’ve got to do it with a finesse which takes a great deal of planning and practice but it’s great fun after you get the hang of it.

Ask Percy Abbott of Colon. He’s doing it right along and making genuine success out of it. The little town of Colon is scarcely a place where you’d look for this kind of business but that’s why Mr. Abbott likes it here. He has far fewer interruptions while at work than he would have in the cities for that reason can concentrate much better on the subject at hand.

That place where Mr. Abbott conducts the unique industry is called the Abbott Magic Novelty Co., the most versatile business of its kind in the United States and the only one of three. Approach to the Abbott plant may be a little disconcerting for the easily startled because of the skeletons seen in various poses on the outside walls of the building which is entirely black, but closer inspection reveals that these are only painted skeletons.

Romance

   Strangely enough, romance was the medium through which Mr. Abbott happened to get into the business of inventing and manufacturing head chopping and leg sawing boxes, among many other things. Born in Australia as the son of an English magician who believed in having his boy practice magic eight hours a day, Mr. Abbot spent all of his life until two years of age wandering across the stages of Europe, China, India and other lands making things vanish and appear to the mystification of black, yellow and white audiences. Then he came to the United States intending to stay but a short time and while here visited Colon to do a little vacation fishing. While there he met a girl and it was Mr. Abbott’s turn to erase himself from the stage.

 

 

To one who has no yen to associate with “spooks” a first glimpse of the Abbott magic factory at Colon might be rather disconcerting.

 

Today Mr. Abbott’s company is shipping the paraphernalia which magicians use to every land in the world as for example the head chopping, leg sawing box now under construction for a customer in the Straits Settlement at Singapore, this one being an improvement on the type long familiar in that act during which the magician seems to dismember the body of the girl inside, but of course really doesn’t.

Inside Mr. Abbot’s plant there’s everything from disappearing water glasses, collapsible flowers and multiplying golf balls to phony funnels, displayed in long counters on the first floor. On the same floor of the building also is located the machine shop. Mr. Abbott and his staff of 11 specially trained employees doing all of their own machine work and upstairs if a miniature theatre for demonstrations.

Memoirs

 

The bizarre decorations, featuring the skeletons on the outside of the place, which incidentally was formally a buggy factory, are carried out inside as well, predominated by curling, crawling lines of black which are almost as dizzying as the music going round and round, except that the lines don’t seem to come out anywhere. In Mr. Abbott’s office strange bill posters cover almost the entire wall space and among them are many in foreign languages even to Chinese, memoirs from his years of trouping here and there across the face of the globe.

Mrs. Abbott was the first spectator too the trick that led Mr. Abbott into the manufacture of magic. It’s called the “squash” and if you can figure it out you’re a magi yourself.  Mr. Abbott demonstrated it by placing a small liquor glass half full of water – and it’s really water – on a table. Then he places his hand, which you have seen nothing whatever over the glass and presses hard and there’s a squishy sound after which there isn’t any glass. No, it wasn’t under the table or up Mr. Abbott’s sleeve, because in a minute he pulls it from his pants leg. The next time he made it vanish in the palm of his hand, not more than two feet from the goggle eyed reporter’s nose and found it later in his pocket. Strange, isn’t it, how a glass will wander?”

 

Percy Abbott

 

More magic, thought the reporter who was now thoroughly convinced that Mr. Abbott would make the moon vanish if he was disposed against it.

“Fire”

But no, the whistle proved to be the fire alarm, and Mr. Abbott’s partner and first assistant rushed out to the building. “He’s the fire chief,” explained Mr. Abbott between counting the number of whistles to tell the location to which the towns’ volunteer fire department was being summoned.

The incident added to the incongruity of finding a magician in a small town far removed from the bright lights, but Mr. Abbott says he doesn’t miss the stage. One reason perhaps is a two-year-old son who already plays with a handkerchief and gurgles “tricks.”

“This is an ideal location,” Mr. Abbott said, “We don’t have the interruptions we would have in the city where we would be within easy reach of everybody. Our customers like to come here because it’s a change from metropolitan hubbub and they can do their buying in a leisurely fashion, chatting and exchanging ideas in the meantime as magicians like to do.”

But the magicians have no monopoly on magic. Many an ordinary dignified business man might be seen if you could surprise him in the privacy of his den, doing funny things with what looks like a lemon, or with some other gadget. You’d be judging him too hastily if you sent for a straightjacket before you determined whether he’s one of the thousands of businessmen, doctors, lawyers and others who have taken up magic as a hobby. The Abbott Company does not sell only to professional magicians, but also to hundreds of amateurs and semi-amateurs.

 

Skill

 

   The number of people learning the tricks of magic is increasingly astonishingly,” Mr. Abbott said. That’s good for our business, of course, and tends to give the magicians larger audiences. At the same time it demands more skill from us. Audiences are more keener than they used to be.”

Proof of how widespread the magic virus is was manifest a time ago when a minister visited Mr. Abbott asking for advice on ways and means of exposing spiritualists. He became so interested in the art of magic that he took it up, forsook the pulpit and is now trouping and doing quite well at it.

Besides his own plant the only manufacturing magic in this country, which Mr. Abbott knows about, are two small concerns, one in Chicago and the other in California. But Mr. Abbott is more than a manufacturer. He also is an inventor and anyone who thinks that magic is a standardized thing doesn’t know his Houdini. There are fads in it the same as in any line of business and a constant need for improvement.

For instance, Mr. Abbott explained, “The repeal of prohibition brought a revival of the night club and popularized the floor show. Working magic in the center of a floor with your audience seated all around you is decidedly more difficult that doing it on a stage where you have the advantage of background drapery and other effects. Floor show magic calls for what is known as self-contained illusions – that is, illusions which will be concealing and deceiving from any angle of view. Many card tricks and other slight of hand manipulations had to be eliminated.

 

Improvement

Mr. Abbott’s art is expressed in improving upon the equipment used in the past and to developing new tricks and new kinds of illusions. Last year he had under manufacture and development about 500 different kinds of tricks at one time and he is now in direct contact with approximately 5,000 magicians in all parts of the world who look to him for the creation of new ideas or the practical interpretation of their own suggestions.

The magicians who gather at Mr. Abbott’s place each fall – last year more than 250 attended – for an annual get-together, named Colon “the magic capital of the world.” And since Mr. Abbott gives periodical shows at which he experiments with his latest tricks on fellow residents of the town, Colon is no place to try the old shell game. The magic wise Colonites would laugh you back to the hinterland where they’re still chopping off heads and sawing off limbs in the old fashioned way.

 

The Abbott Magic Company. Recil Bordner became a partner in the Abbott Magic Novelty Company in 1934.

934.

 

Abbott Fire 1938

Disaster

 

From the Sturgis Daily Journal, September 19. 1938.

Fire Destroys Colon Magic Factory – OVER $10,000 DAMAGE DONE: SAVE SECRETS

 

Colon, Sept. 19 – There was no illusion about the flames that blazed from the home of Abbott’s Magic Novelty Company Saturday night at 9 o’clock resulting in an estimated $10,000 loss. Mystery does overshadow the destruction, however, as no on can trace the origin of the fire which started at the rear of the factory. Percy Abbott, head of the magic center, stated this morning the actual loss amounted to over $10,000, but that he was fortunate in that all of his records, secrets, and valuable manuscripts had been saved.

Though Mr. Abbott was out of the village at the time of the fire, employees of the factory saved all the documents in the office. The scene in Colon, the Magic Capital of the World, was considerably different Saturday night from that of a week previous when 500 magicians from all over the world gathered here for their annual convention and frolic. About 9 o’clock Saturday evening flames were seen at the rear of the Abbot factory. According to the report Mrs. Audrey Eggstaff, an employee at the magic institute, who resides next door, and several other residents of Colon discovered the fire at about the same time. A general alarm was given.

 

Walls are saved

With surprising rapidity, the volunteer firemen of Colon reached the scene of activity and despite the fact that the fire had a big start, the exterior of the building was saved. On the interior fire, smoke, and water resulted in complete destruction. On the first floor of the two-story frame building fire destroyed small tricks, materials used in their manufacture, and a considerable amount of expensive machinery, including a printing press. The press, except for rubber rollers and other combustible parts, can be salvaged and put back into use. On the second floor was a stage and auditorium where the illusions and stage routine was performed and practiced. In addition to this, fire destroyed stage properties, an upright piano, and an expensive stock of illusion cabinets and sense-befuddling  mechanisms.

 

Other Property Threatened

 

Because of the proximity of the Colon Hatchery on one side and the Eggstaff dwelling on the other, the fire threatened the entire resident block. P. W. Keesler, owner of the hatchery, stated that when the fire was first discovered it looked as though all the buildings were doomed. It took several hours for the firemen using water and chemicals to bring the conflagration under control and several times during the night small flames broke out anew and made it necessary for firemen to return.

 

To Rebuild Structure

 

Mr. Abbott is making plans for the construction of another factory building on the same location. It will be modern in every respect except for the front where the illuminated skeletons, used as the trademark, will be painted as on the old building. The work of cleaning out and salvaging has begun and the wrecking of the old building will start soon. Through the courtesy of Charles Correll, manager of the Lamb Knit Mills, the Abbott Magic Company has a temporary home in one of the warehouses where a showroom and office is being arranged. On the east side of Colon a temporary workshop has been set up where the printing press will be repaired. “Tops,” the magazine of magic, which is printed by the Abbott Company will be published as usual the first of the month, stated Mr. Abbott this morning. The magazine has over 3,500 circulation and is sent only to magicians as their regular trade journal.

 

Cause of Fire Unknown

 

Ted Ward, chief of the Colon fire department, and officials of the factory were unable to explain the cause of the fire. Smoking regulations inside the plant are very strict and Mr. Abbott, personally, closed up and inspected the shop at 5 o’clock, only four hours before the fire was discovered. A tank of gasoline exploded while the volunteers were extinguishing the fire giving the stubborn blaze added impetus. The building which was burned on the inside and scorched on the outside was insured at $1,000. This was the only insurance carried.

 

 

 

Colon is Capital

Colon is “Magic Capital of America”

 

From Historical Society records; a newspaper clipping, June 1946, source unknown: “town of 780 citizens is Famous for Equipment for Amateur and Professional Magicians. Very few people in Michigan know it, but the town of Colon, down near the Indiana border, has become famous all over the world as the “Home of Hocus Pocus” where articles and equipment for magicians are manufactured for sale all over the universe, to amateurs and professional disciples of legerdemain.

This village, 18 miles from a railroad, is the location of the Abbott Magic Novelty Company.

Percy Abbott, an Australian born magician, started it 18 years ago.

Here five busy workshops manufacture almost 1,800 different articles for magicians and sold mostly by mail. Volume of business is over $160,000 annually.

Percy Abbott, who founded the firm, is himself an old-time magician. He has performed before audiences in China, India, England, Egypt and many other countries.

After he had opened a supply shop for magicians in Australia in 1923, he traveled to America for a rest, and, liking to fish, came to Michigan. Here he met a Colon girl and they were married. Abbott decided to remain in Colon and so established his business there.

More than 50 residents of Colon are employed in the Abbott workshops, the other principle industry in the town being the Lamb Knit Goods Company.

At times, Abbott is so rushed to fill orders that Colon families are hired as sub-contractors to assemble bouquets of feather flowers and other handwork items.

Abbott invented many of the tricks he sells. He has a knack for adapting everyday objects to magical purposes. For inspiration he goes to Detroit or Chicago and shops in dime stores. Some of his most successful tricks, from the point of sales, use 10-cent gadgets from Woolworth’s.

Magicians seldom patent their tricks depending more on professional ethics for protection. To steal another man’s stunt would mean speedy ostracism in the magical world. If he particularly likes some effect trick another magicians is using, Abbott my offer to buy the manufacturing rights. Several topflight amateur magicians – one of them the millionaire presided of a locomotive concern – hand over to Abbott the exclusive distribution of their magical innovations in return for nothing more substantial than a line of acknowledgment in the catalogue.

Manufacture of magic calls for woodworking, blacksmith, paint and machine shops, plus a printing department and a sewing and silk-dyeing room. The business is conducted like almost any other factory, with workmen fabrication small parts in metal and wood while deft-fingered girls assemble and package them. Only in the shipping department does the gaudy glamour of magic become apparent. Stacked in tiers to the ceiling are boxes of nickel-plated, dyed, and painted apparatus – the stuff that baffles people from coast to coast and keeps young and old standing hypnotized before “magic stores.”

Abbott himself is a small, bespecled, graying man who wears a perpetually worried look and claims to go without sleep for days at a time.

In the showroom adjoining his factory is a full-sized stage where visiting wizards can try out a trick before buying it and where Abbott himself can keep in magical trim by occasionally sawing a woman in half.”