Percy Abbott

Percy Abbott lived an illusion most of his life. It wasn’t discovered until after his death. In 1960.

From a page clipped out of an Australian Magazine; no date or identification:

“Marjorie Abbott and her mother, Rose, strolled along the busy Oxford St., Sydney, sidewalk.

Passing by a newsagent, Rose glanced at a poster advertising the Pocket Book Weekly’s stories.

Australian starts wackiest town in America” It proclaimed.

‘That’d be your father,’ Rose remarked calmly.

‘You’re joking!’ Marjorie, 20, laughed. Her dad, magician Percy Abbott, had left Rose and moved to America when Marjorie was seven and her sister, Vida, eight.

Marjorie bought the book and opened it. ‘It is Dad!’ she gasped.

The story said Percy, 50, had turned the township of Colon in Michigan into an illusion trade fair, where magicians could buy and sell tricks ranging from a magic wand to a box that could make an elephant disappear.

It was the first time Marjorie had heard any news of Percy since he’d left 12 years earlier. The girls hadn’t missed him at all. Their doting mother had more than made up for his absence.

But, as she read in the article, the few memories she had of Percy flowed clearly into her mind. He was an eccentric magician and loved performing. He was always dreaming up a new illusion…

Marjorie, four, crouched inside the box with Vida, five. It was covered in thick chains.

Percy carefully wheeled the box onto the stage and opened it to show the crowd that it was empty.

‘When I clap three times, two girls will magically appear in the box,” Percy announced.

Vida and Marjorie were hidden in the box’s special compartment.

Then Percy turned back to face the audience and clapped once.

Using the secret door, Marjorie and Vida stuck their heads out of the box and appeared to the crowd.

The crowd cheered, but Percy swiveled round. “Wait until I clap three times,’ he reminded the girls.

This was the first time her father had used Marjorie in his magic act. He was touring from Sydney to Cairns, Qld, in a horse-drawn caravan. In every small town Percy found a hall to perform in. People flocked to see him.

After the show had finished, Percy said to Rose. ‘I won’t use them again. They’re too young.’

A few month later Percy winked at Marjorie. ‘The audience is quiet,’ he said. ‘I’ll give you three pence if you’ll go out there and sing Twenty-one Today.’

‘OK,’ Marjorie said, her eyes lighting up. Percy ushered her out onto the stage.

The crowd clapped as Marjorie shyly stepped forward and sang: “I’m 21 today …’

As she sang, the crowd threw coins onto the stage.

Elated, Marjorie picked up fistfuls of coins. Then she ran offstage with the delighted crowd’s cheers in her ears.

‘We’ll never see a cent of the money he’s making,’ Marjorie heard Rose say as they stood in the street. Her memories vanished and she turned to her mother. The Great Depression was at its height and Marjorie and Rose lived on Marjorie’s modest wage as a seamstress.

They walked home to their Paddington terrace. Marjorie tossed the book down and forgot all about it.

Marjorie’s boyfriend, Peter Rice, proposed three years later. At the small wedding her mum gave her away.

Over the next 10 years Marjorie had two daughters, Marilyn and Susan. With the years, Percy’s fame grew and Marjorie saw countless newsreels that featured Percy performing levitations and putting swords through women in boxes.

‘That’s your other grandpa there,’ Marjorie pointed to Marilyn and Susan. ‘He’s a famous magician.’ The girls would chuckle at his tricks and antics.

One morning, when the girls were teenagers, Marjorie read in the newspaper: Percy Abbott, 77, renowned magician, has died from natural causes in Colon, Michigan. The obituary gave the name of Percy’s solicitor.

‘Maybe he left something for Mum,’ Marjorie suggested to Vida that day. Neither woman felt any grief for the eccentric father they hadn’t seen for nearly 40 years.

‘Let’s find out,’ Vida agreed.

Marjorie wrote that week. The solicitor replied, saying Percy had left no provisions in his will for them … or for his four kids by his second wife, Gladys!

Marjorie and Vida stared at each other in amazement. ‘He’s got another family!’ they said almost in unison.

Neither had any idea Percy had remarried, but both were excited to learn they had half-siblings.

Soon after, Marjorie received a letter from Gladys: Percy told me he had no obligations in Australia. So I was surprised to hear about you and Vida. You have four half-sisters and half-brothers: Marilyn, Linda, Sydney and Jules.

Thrilled to have heard from Percy’s second wife, Marjorie wrote back without delay.

Soon the pair was exchanging long letters about Percy’s life in America and Australia. Marjorie learnt Percy’s other children had also participated in his illusions.

‘I corresponded with Gladys for many, many years,’ Marjorie, now 85, says from her Tuggerwong, NSW, home.

‘Gladys even visited us in Australia and, after she died, I began writing to my half-sisters.

‘Our father was a born magician – definitely the wackiest Australian in America!’