Grant Farrand Diary Notes

     By Mrs. W. H. Judd


     March 7, 1949,Sturgis Journal: ”A peek into the personal diary of Grant

     Farrand of Colon reveals many interesting events that otherwise have

     been long forgotten – or perhaps never known.

This modest gentleman celebrated his 85th birthday anniversary last September, and ever since he could write has kept a daily diary, neatly indexed and filed; not by the years, but by events. There would be but few incidents during the past 80 years that Farrand could not find an account of in his memoranda.

Farrand’s father and grandfather must have had considerable faith in Colon, for in the year 1837, they left their native New York, came to Colon and cleared a section of forest land just northwest of the village limits. This was to become their home and in later years become know familiarly as “Farrand” land.

Ownership of Farrand property gradually expanded through generations and it now extends on both side of the St. Joseph River.


Built Bridge in 1840


One of the interesting events describe in the pages is construction of the “Farrand” bridge, which crosses the St. Joseph River a mile west and a mile north of this village.

But first it should be explained that the present bridge is not the original. After the father and grandfather became settled in their new home they forded the river in 1838 and 1840, and a crude wooden bridge was completed and named “Farrand” bridge.

Set up on piles, it was the first bridge to be built across this river in Colon Township, and was the third bridge to be built across the river. After giving the horse and buggy faithful service for more than 20 years, it collapsed, and it is interesting to know that some of its wood still rests at the bottom of the river. Wood kept under water lasts as long as wood kept entirely free from moisture.




Present Bridge in 1868


In 1868 work was begun on construction of the new Farrand bridge and during its process a ferry boat furnished transportation across the river. Farrand vividly recalls that at the age of five he was old enough to accompany his father Phineas Farrand, a highway commissioner, on his many trips around the county.

The bridge material was purchased from a company in Syracuse, N. Y., and construction was under the direction of Simon DeGraff, also of that place. He roomed and boarded with the Farrands, and employed local help.

First step was the building of a foundation – which consists of two abutments and two piers. The abutments were no problem – but that cannot be said for the piers and in case anyone wonders how the task was accomplished, here is the answer.


Sink Scows For Piers


Workmen first built the abutments on both sides of the river; then measuring 80 feet towards the center of the river, they sank a scow by filling it full of rock and stone. After placing  it in exactly the correct  position, they poured it full of water-lime and quck-lime (cement was unpopular in those days).

The base of the pier was an approximate 20 by 9 feet and was built to graduate to an approximate 16 by 6 foot top. Then another scow was taken another 80 feet into the river, and the same procedure was followed, making a second pier. On this foundation they erected three 80-foot spans of cast-iron bridge, which stands today.

The driveway across the bridge is only about 12 feet wide, since it accommodates only one-way traffic for horse and buggy.

Material Hauled By Team

Completion of the bridge took about eight months, and one of the handicaps was that every piece of material that was used in the bridge had to be shipped to Burr Oak via the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad and then hauled to Colon by team. There was no railroad here at that time.

One year later still under the supervision of DeGraff, the Leland Bridge was built across the river at a point about five miles east of the Farrand bridge. Both bridges were struck by automobiles and collapsed within the last seven years. While the Leland Bridge has never been replaced, the Bennett Bridge is now being rebuilt.

Bulk of traffic from here to M-60 now passes over Farrand bridge and although it has not been officially condemned by the highway department, the increased volume of traffic has forced the department to place a restricted load limit here.


Only One Left


Although another bridge of this type was built at Constantine by DeGraff, it has since collapsed and has been replaced, and as far as can be determined, the Farrand Bridge is the only cast-iron bridge of this kind remaining.

One off the unique chapters of this diary gives an account of a family whose members are buried on the banks of the St. Joe on the back lot of one of the Farrand farms.

One by one, the members of the McAuley family, who rented this farm died and today there are five tombstones bearing the names of John McAuley who died in 1835, Margaret McAuley who died in 1847, John McAuley who died in  1836, Ellen McAuley Wallace who died in 1868, and Eliza McAuley who died in 1878.

The little private cemetery is marked off by a arm fence which was built by a group of neighbors in 1889. the project was sponsored by John Bennett, who subscribed funds from those most interested. Incidentally, this John Bennet was the neighbor for whom the Bennett bridge was named.


Recalls 1894 Murder


There were murders in these days, too. Farrand relates the story of one Willard Johnson who resided somewhere between Factoryville and Athens. He was murdered and his body thrown in the river on Farrand property. The body was discovered by Ward E. Farrand on Saturday, October 13, 1894,who called for his brother, Joe Farrand. One of the brothers kept a vigil over the body while the other went to notify authorities.

In 1832 a single acre of ground was purchased from the Farrand family and thus was Lakeside Cemetery established.  In 1838, the cemetery was regularly laid out and an additional piece of land purchased.

In 1876 the cemetery again was enlarged to eight acres and additional purchases have brought to a present 13-acre area, which extends from the shores of Sturgeon Lake to the road. The first body to be buried in this cemetery was that of Mrs. Emily Noyes in 1833.





Ferry On Sturgeon Lake


However, when citizens became dissatisfied with the location of the cemetery in Colon, several bodies were exhumed and transferred to Lakeside Cemetery. In this location now stands the Baptist Church, the Baptist parsonage and the Methodist Church. Farrand is a member of the present cemetery board.

For the convenience of those who wished to visit the cemetery in olden days, A boat furnished transportation from the east to the west shore of Sturgeon Lake, which joins the east section of the cemetery.

The first school in Colon Township was built on the Farrand property, and when the log structure became unusable a more suitable location was found for rebuilding the school which is now known as the Deno School, located about two miles west of Colon.


Records All Fires


Since fires at one time or another destroyed most of Colon’s business district, Farrand has witnessed the construction of every business establishment here with the exception of one – the business block where the Perry hardware store is located.

Farrand has an accurate account of each major fire in his diary, and also remembers the building of five village churches, as well as the Michigan Central Railroad, which was built through here in 1871.

While residents of this community are familiar with some of the homes belonging to the Farrand estate, there is one home that in its day attracted more than an unusual amount of attention.

The home, located just outside of the village limits, is now occupied by a son, Roy Farrand, and his family. The large cement home was built by a family by the name of Kinne in the late 1850’s and purchased later by the Farrand family.


House Said Haunted


Rumors claimed that the place was haunted and that a secret tunnel led from the cellar of the house across to the cemetery. According to other rumors, the cupola built on the second story of the house was to have been for the occupants to get in to shoot at Indians.

Farrand says that there is no passageway to his knowledge and the cupola was built purely for design and sightseeing. He does not know whether or not the place was haunted, leaving that phase entirely to one’s own judgment.

However, he added that a series of weird event there would explain some of the rumors. Colon was once inhabited by a group of spiritualists and on several occasions the group met at this home for their séance and on several occasions the group claimed to have received spiritual communications from the graves of their loved ones. On one occasion one of the members was sure that the arms of a relative were outstretched during one of the sessions.

“Witch” Appears At House

The house also had a freak door, which for no reason at all would open and close, and as it did so a mournful sound escaped from it. Farrand attributes such incidents as this to a draft or breeze that does the same to any swinging door.

But then, there is the true story of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Goodrich who later resided there. One morning while Mrs. Goodrich was preparing breakfast she was summoned to the back door by a rap, only to find standing in front of her a witch like, black-clothed woman.

Raising long bony fingers, the figure asked Mrs. Goodrich needed any help, explaining she had returned to earth good will and assistance where needed.

When the astonished mistress of the house said she needed nothing, the weird creature simply vanished in thin air, according to Mrs. Goodrich, who was horrified. Goodrich lives today to verify the story.


Didn’t Hurt Renting


Farrand says that the rumor about the house being haunted did not present much difficulty in renting it and recalls on one occasion when a prospective tenant was viewing the surroundings Farrand said, “I think I should tell you that this house has the reputation for being haunted,” to which the man replied, “Good, then it is just the place we want.” That’s the story of Colon’s haunted house.

Every personal diary contains weather reports, and so it is with Farrand’s diary. According to his records, we had the mildest winter in 1894, just 55 years ago.

There was no snow and neither was the any frost in the ground during the months of January and February.

He well remembers that winter too, for the family was preparing to build a new barn from timber that they cut in their own woodlot east of the road. After waiting most of the winter for some snow in order to sled the logs into Colon’s sawmill, they finally had to haul the logs by truck, as the snow did not come.






William Broker

William Broker, St.

COLON – William Broker St., 86, 135 S. St. Joseph St.., Colon,  died November 14, 1966, at the home of his son, William F. Broker , with whom he had made his home for the last three years.

He was born in Meckleaburg, Germany, Apr. 15, 1881, a son of Christian and Helmine (Ahlgrim) Broker. He came to the United States at the age of three months, and had lived in and around this area ever since.

On  Oct. 28, 1915, he was married to Olive E. Sams. She died in August of 1951.

At the age of 13, Mr. Broker was accidently shot by a neighbor, causing him to lose his sight in both eyes. During that year (1894), he entered the Scholl for the Blind, in Lansing.

He left the school in 1906 and went into the music business with a friend, Mr. Sisson, in Imlay City.

Mr. Broker returned to Colon in 1908, and established the William Broker Music House, which he owned, and in later years operated with his son, William F., until retiring 10 years ago. Mr. Broker had been well known for his fine tenor voice and had been asked to sing many solos in the area.

He attended the Assembly of God Church in Colon.

Surviving are four sons, William F., John H., and Lewis J., all of Colon, and Andrew C., of Three Rivers; one daughter, Mrs. Herman (Helmina) Oldenburg, of Colon; a stepson, Harold Dougherty, of Hillsdale; and several nieces and nephews.

Besides his wife, twin daughters, three sisters and three brothers preceded him in death.

Friends may call at the Schipper Funeral Home here until noon Thursday, after which the body of Mr. Broker will bne taken to the First Methodist Church, where services will be held at 2:30 p.m. The Rev. Norman Horton and the Rev. H. C. Mulvaney, pastors of the Colon God Churches,

Interment will take place in Lakeside Cemetery here.

Robert Lamar Bryan

Sergeant E5 Robert Lamarr Bryan was born on October 18, 1949 to Riley and Vera Arlene Bryan. He had two older brothers Larry and Roger, an older sister Ginger and a twin sister Rebecca. When Robert was four weeks old, his parents took the twins to northern Michigan deer hunting for two weeks because they were too young to be left behind. Perhaps this partially explains why Robert grew up adventurous and loving the outdoors. Robert’s parents lived on a farm near Colon, which is a small community of 1,000 people in southwestern Michigan. When each child reached a certain age, they got volunteered to milk the cows and help bale hay. Many a hot summer day ended down at their favorite swimming hole. The family went on numerous camping and fishing trips to northern Michigan and Minnesota. Robert was fortunate to have his Grandma living just next door and she would be the first person packed and ready to go on these family vacations. Robert was a happy, fun loving person and developed a great sense of humor. He attended Colon Community Schools. If you were a blonde, you stood a much better chance of getting a date with Robert. He graduated from Colon High School in 1967 winning the Most Valuable Player trophy for the varsity baseball team. Like his father he was a talented baseball player. Robert met his military obligations head on by enlisting in the Army in January I 968. The family appreciated his bravery in such perilous times. Robert came home for a visit after completing his first tour of combat in Vietnam and informed the family he planned to return for a second tour. Family members couldn’t understand why he would volunteer for another tour, but he said, “They need me” He certainly was a man of dreams, passion, strength and loyalty.

Robert Bryan commenced his tour in Vietnam on 14 Oct 1968 serving with Co A 4/47th Inf, 9th Inf Div as an indirect fire crewman on an 81mm mortar crew. He then served with HHC 4/47THInf, Co A 3/39th Inf, Co F 2/60th and Co A 2/60th, 9th Inf Div. Having volunteered for Co E (Ranger) 75th Inf 3/9th Inf Div. Robert joined the company of Rangers in Tan An, Long An Province in Nov. 1969 and became a team member on an Airborne Ranger Team engaging in combat operations against hostile forces in the Mekong Delta. Robert came to the Ranger Company with combat experience and skills, having been awarded his Combat Infantryman Badge in 1968. During his time in the Ranger Company Robert exhibited exceptional leadership and was a tenacious Warrior who gained the respect of his comrades. Robert quickly adapted to unconventional warfare tactics and gained a reputation as an aggressive and innovative Team Leader both on land and on water. Having been decorated for bravery on several occasions with the Army Commendation Medal for valor and the Bronze Star Medal for heroism as well as having received the Purple Heart for wounds, he would on the 30th of April receive the Silver Star for Gallantry in action. The circumstances of the action leading to this award are as follows: While serving as Team Leaderl-70n an overnight ambush operation assisted by U.S. Navy Patrol Boats. Sergeant Bryan positioned a three man element of the team about 75 meters from the shore, leaving the remaining members in the boat. Spotting approximately five enemy soldiers 200 meters from his location, Sgt Bryan immediately exposed himself to initiate contact with the enemy, eliminating one instantly. Sergeant Bryan while leading his men through the intense hostile fire heard someone whistle. Again spotting another enemy soldier twenty meters from his position, he exposed himself to hurl a grenade at the insurgent, eliminating him. Sergeant Bryan then directed his team back to the boat. Upon reaching the craft, two enemy sampans were observed on the river coming toward them. As the insurgents initiated contact, Sergeant Bryan once again exposed himself to the enemy fusillade to direct the fire of his team.

The four enemy personnel aboard the sampans were eliminated. Later, while sweeping the contact area, the team again received intense fire from an enemy soldier concealed in the nipe palm within ten meters of the ranger team. Reacting instantly to the critical danger, Sergeant Bryan charged forward and eliminated the insurgent at point blank range with rifle fire. Sergeant Bryan’s actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

On 11 June 1970 Sergeant Bryan was again to be honored with a second Silver Star for Gallantry. in action. The details of this action are as follows: Sergeant Bryan distinguished himself by heroism in connection with ground operations against a hostile force while serving as a Team Leader with Co E (Ranger) 75th Inf3/9th Inf Div in RVN. While his element was proceeding along a river bank, Sergeant Bryan observed an enemy soldier to his front. The enemy attempted to react, but Sgt Bryan immediately eliminated him. As the team moved further along, Sgt Bryan observed two more enemy soldiers on the opposite shore. Without regard for his personal safety, he immediately moved to an exposed position and eliminated one while another team member fatally wounded the other. Shortly thereafter, the team encountered three more enemy soldiers about fifteen meters to their front. Sgt Bryan and other team members immediately rushed the enemy, eliminating them before they could fire back. When a bobby trap detonated, causing several members of the team to receive fragmentation wounds, Sergeant Bryan, without hesitation, applied first aid, then directed a helicopter to pick up the wounded. Sergeant Bryan’s actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army. Sergeant Bryan continued to lead his Ranger Team 1-7 in the warrior tradition, leading by example, encouraging and inspiring his fellow rangers to give 100% and then some. His dedication to his fellow Rangers, duty and mission directly contributed to the high rate of efficiency and success of the Ranger Operations conducted against enemy forces by Echo Rangers.

On 13 July 1970, just 24 days away from Robert’s departure from Vietnam, he was killed in action by enemy ground fire, while conducting a visual reconnaissance from a light observation helicopter preparing for yet another mission.

Robert was killed within three weeks of completing his second tour in Vietnam. He was so close to coming home again. The American Flag that covered his casket was flown for one year over Colon Elementary School, where Robert had attended and where his two nephews were attending. Robert took time to visit this school when he was home on leave and talked with the children. The students in turn wrote letters to Robert while he was serving his country. Memorial contributions were used to purchase equipment for Colon Elementary and Colon High School.

No one who is remembered is ever truly gone. Robert will live on in the hearts of many who will never forget. Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come. His Warrior Spirit lives on!! RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!!!!



Betty Lowther Weds Kieth Drake 1949

Betty Lowther and Keith Drake Married

The Colon Express, August 11, 1949: “Miss Betty Lowther, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Grover Lowther of Leonidas, and Keith Drake, son of Mrs. Viola Harding of Colon, were united in marriage Saturday, Aug. 6, at 4 o’clock in the home of the bride’s parents. The double ring ceremony was read by Rev. Burnson of Leonidas, in the presence of the immediate family.

The bride was attired in seamoss satin and wore a corsage of yellow roses. Her diamond set gold locket was a gift of the groom. The groom wore a dark business suit, with a white carnation boutonniere.

Their only attendants were Mrs. Harold Phelps of Colon and James Lowther of Dearborn, sister and brother of the bride. A reception followed the ceremony.

Mr. and Mrs. Drake left on a short motor trip through Michigan. For going away, the new Mrs. Drake changed to a blue and gray sport suit. Upon their return they will reside in their newly furnished home on Palmer Lake in Colon.

The bride was graduated from Colon high school with the class of 1942 and from Argubright’s Business college of Battle Creek in 1945. for the past 2 years she has been bookkeeper for the Preston Shoe Company in Battle
Creek and will continue with her work. The groom graduated from Colon high school in 1940. He served in the U. S. Navy thirty-four months, twenty-two of which were in the South Pacific. He too, attended Argubright’s Business College and graduated in 1949 and at the present is employed as bookkeeper for the A. H. Perfect Company in Battle Creek.”



Potawatomi Powwow Peace

Potawatomi Powwow Peace

From the 1870 County Gazetteer: When “whites” first settled along the St. Joseph River in the Michigan Territory in the 1830’s, the Nottawa tribe of the Potawatomis was settled on the prairie a few miles west of today’s Centreville. Black Hawk and his Sauk and Fox tribes had recently crossed into Illinois into an area they had already sold to the United States. This resulted in the “Black Hawk War” of 1832. Black Hawk and his band had been reduced to a shadow of what it had been. They were now made up mostly of the elderly, women and children. That didn’t matter. The worry was that the two forces would combine. Those white settlers scattered in the area just north of what is now the Indian-Michigan border some 25 miles northwest of Elkhart became greatly alarmed. They had thoughts of being assaulted in their cabins by hordes of intoxicated savages. Some fled in haste, while others prepared to defend their homes. Despite their alarm, based on little but wild rumors, there were prominent individuals who did not believe that their settlements were in any immediate danger from Black Hawk’s ragged band. Soon, however, some were heard calling on the local militia to play a part in what was certain to be a deadly conflict. Truth was, the Potowatomi could muster only about 50 light-armed warriors. Fears of an invasion by Black Hawk’s forces from Illinois led to a meeting which initially called for a messenger to travel the 30 miles to Niles and plead for a detachment of the militia to come to the aid of the setters in the area. Benjamin Sherman, of Elkhart County agreed to take a message to Niles. Over the objection of Captain Thomas Powers, head of the militia, Cyrus Schellhous wanted to hold a meeting with the Nottawa chief to learn of their intentions. At the meeting, Schellhous, Powers, and Chief Cush-ee-wes and an interpreter talked for a while and the chief asked, “what does the white man want?” Powers asked why were the Indians planning to attack them and kill and scalp their women and children? He accused the chief of having agreed to join forces with Black Hawk to attack the settlers. Chief Cush-ee-wes’ reply silenced Powers and brought a shout of relief from his followers. “The Sauk is the enemy of the Potawatomi,” declared the chief. “There never was any friendship between our nations. The Potawatomi hates the Sauk as the eagle hates the filthy crow.” The once-militant crowd dispersed after learning of the deep division between the tribes. Not long afterward, Squire Sherman brought word from Niles that Black Hawk had been captured. And that, Virginia, is how war on the Nottawa Prairie was averted, just a simple powwow.

Midlakes Owner Dorothy Cook Obituary


Dorothy A. Cook


Obituary for Dorothy A. Cook, (from the February issue of TOPS Magazine). “Mrs. Dorothy A. Cook, 74, of Colon, died January 17, 1991, in Borgess Medical Center, Kalamazoo, MI. She was born November 30, 1916 in Webster City, IA., the daughter of Walter E. and Alice (Burton) Ambrose. She graduated from the Dayton, OH. school system in 1936.

On May 19, 1946 she married James W. Cook, in Montgomery, AL. He died January 23, 1978. Mrs. Cook and her husband owned and operated Midlakes Tavern in Colon for several years. She was a member of the Colon United Methodist Church; Order of the Eastern Star; and the Colon American Legion Auxiliary. She also worked for many years in the accounting department of the Abbott Magic Company.

Survivors: a sister, Mrs. Gladys C. Williams of Delton, MI. Mrs. Cook was preceded in death by her brother Walter E. Ambrose.

Services were held at Schipper Funeral Home, with Rev. Larry Hubley officiating. The Eastern Star memorial services followed. Internment was made in Woodlawn Cemetery in Dayton, OH.

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.”


Duke Stern by “A Magic Nut”



Important to Abbott Magic Company history and the village of Colon, Michigan is a man by the name of Duke Stern (1913 – 1973). I never had the pleasure of meeting Duke or knew much about him except knowing that he was buried at Colon’s Lakeside cemetery. The following is taken from the September 1965 issue of TOP’s Magazine. It appears in a column titled “Magic Nuts I Have Known” By One Of Them: “Again we take you to Colon, Michigan, where the subject of this month’s article now resides. Although he has been living in many places since he took up the magic wand, he seems to be happy in his present location. A comparatively young man, he has many years of experience in various branches of the entertainment world. Fundamentally of course, he is a magician. And a very clever one, too. Has a great sense of humor and manages to tie up his magical effects with clever comedy routines that are always productive of my laughter and many return engagements. He is also an expert musician and his favorite instrument is the violin. Has appeared in pit bands in theatres and with small intimate combos in nite clubs. Is a skilled cartoonist as well and likes to leave his calling cards with a clever caricature for his booking agents. At one time he was manager of a prosperous magic shop in Indianapolis. And for a while he was a clothing salesman below the Mason and Dixon line. He likes to work as a “stooge” for other magicians at magical affairs, especially with Monk Watson and Karrell Fox. He is now one of the staff of the Abbott Magic Co. in Colon. He appeared as emcee on one of the 1965 Abbott Get-Together shows and made an indelible impression with his clever magic and comedy. Has made quite a name for himself, although his parents had already made the name of DUKE STERN for him.”

In 1993 Karrell Fox did a cemetery tour and tells the story that after Duke’s death he was cremated. Putting the urn in the box they decided to wrap it so it wouldn’t rattle around. They took some newspapers of Recil Border’s desk and wrapped the urn in them. A few weeks later Recil wanted to know who had been fooling around with the papers on his desk. Turns out that Recil had placed stencils of Abbott’s price list between sheets of the newspaper to dry. So, Duke Stern is buried with Abbott’s price list. Duke had requested that he be cremated and some of his ashes put in a vase on the counter at Abbott’s Magic so he could still work for them! Duke was legally blind at the time of his death but that did not appear to slow him down!


Neil Foster by Dorny

Neil Foster by “Dorny”



Important to Abbott Magic Company history and the village of Colon, Michigan is a man by the name of Neil Foster (1921 – 1988). Dorny writes about Neil in his Entre Nous Column in the February 1965 issue of TOPS magazine. Neil Foster was editor at the time. “Altho it is the right and privilege of a magazine or newspaper editor to eliminate, change or entirely omit any of his contributor’s efforts, I sincerely hope that Neil Foster will NOT exercise this royal right in this particular article for I feel that one should issue forth with the bouquets while his subject is still living. And to make it easier for our general editor to cooperate with me in this request I will save the name of the aforementioned subject for the end of the column.

Let me begin by saying that our hero this month is one of the latter day’s most modern performers. Born and raised in Aurora, Illinois, he became addicted to the practice and presentation of magical finger flinging at a very early age. But he never essayed a public appearance until AFTER he had spent many arduous hours practicing and developing any and all trix he presented. Altho he was exceptionally clever with playing card manipulations, he was never quite satisfied. To further develop his latent talents he enrolled in the Chaves School of Magic in Los Angeles. Here he graduated cum laude and was immediately hired by Ben Chaves to become one of his teachers. In this way he not only was one of the most proficient of all digital dexterity exponents but helped a great many others who subsequently went on to becoming recognized standard theatrical artistes. After a spell of magical “Pedagogging” he came back to the old hometown and for a time worked as a clerk in his brother’s grocery store. Although he was now eating regularly, he was never happy “in trade”. So he began to work casual club dates, nite clubs, etc. and while in Florida he met and married his wife, Jeanne. She became his assistant and after showing his wares to a flock of agents he landed a long contract to play the so-called University Lyceum Courses. This being a very rugged way of making a living, it affected Jeanne’s health and reluctantly they had to give up all this lengthy booking. “Our hero” now went to work in the Ireland Magic Company’s Chicago Magic shop. Here he demonstrated and sold tricks to the aspiring tyros of the Windy City. Then, receiving a very fine offer from Recil Bordner, the owner and former partner of the late Percy Abbott, he moved to Colon where he was, and still is gainfully employed as super salesman and vice president of the Abbott Magic Co. Here he revived the long defunct “TOPS” magazine, which in a very short time has become one of the very best of all good contributions to magical journalism.

Has a nice home in Colon and besides having agile fingers he also has a “Green Thumb”. His flower garden is one of the show places of the town.

To see him perform at any kind of a public show is to witness an exhibition of the excellence of stage magic. Albeit he employs no big effects or illusions, his every effort with cards, cigarettes, etc., can be seen and enjoyed in the largest of modern show shops. Has a magnificent sense of timing and a most pleasing personality as well. Has taken up one of the more recent magical effects and made it a masterpiece of beautiful mystery. This of course, is his version of the much-abused “Zombie”. This stunt, unless handled by a master performer can be a total loss to a mediocre magician’s reputation. But when it is shown by a real artiste it can make the reputation of anyone who has the ability, showmanship, skill and charm of this month’s subject, NEIL FOSTER. And I KNOW that anyone who ever has see Neil in action will agree with me that I am right.”

When Ben Chavez died in 1961, Marian Chavez continued to operate the school. When she died in 1978, it was her wish that Neil Foster and Dale Salwak become the co-owners of the Chavez school. Together over the next nine years they made every effort to carry on the training school. When Neil died in 1988, it left Chris Jakway Dean of the Midwest Studio (along with instructor Larry Wirtz) and the East Coast. Dale Salwak still continues the tradition at the west coast branch.


Leslie Hartman by Monk Watson

     Leslie “Peeny” Hartman!


Newspaper clipping from March 17, 1965: “Dear Monk;

Speaking of entertainers of yesterday, I wish you would put in a word for “Peeny” (not sure of the spelling) Hartman. I believe his name is Leslie. There were many, including myself, who thought he was the greatest on the saxophone. I have never heard anyone who could compare with him and those magical notes he produced.”

Answer by Monk Watson: “I never called Leslie “Peeny” that I can remember, and I never heard him call me “Monk”. Funny, but that was the way it was, perhaps because we grew up together in the days of going to Sunday School, making music together in the front room of his home (the red brick house where the former policeman lives on South Blackstone). Leslie’s father played string bass, and his brother played piano. Leslie played clarinet at that time and so did I.

When I returned from France he had taken up the sax and was making real great music with it. When I say music I mean the kind you could sing to and remember overnight. He could fake anything that people asked for, as well as read any music put in front of him. He didn’t get away from the melody, but played it from his heart. I’m sorry that the kids coming up are not hearing much of that kind of music these days. Leslie, known as Peeny, played at the Mid Lakes for years and people danced to his music. That’s another thing to remember; when they went to a dance they knew whom they were dancing with.

Back to the Sunday School days. I remember when I was 15 years old, and my mother gave me 15 cents for my birthday box. I stopped at Hartman’s store and gave Leslie one cent and he gave me gumdrops and jawbreakers that would cost half a bank today. I didn’t think that his father minded one bit. Leslie and I would walk off to church and all was right with the world. Sure he made mistakes, and during his last four years he didn’t seem to care much about anything. I’d look at him and remember the best-dressed young man in Colon, bringing joy to everyone with his horn. If all the people had asked him to work into the night on their radios or motors had attended his funeral, the room couldn’t have held them. Maybe we forget too soon. I made him happy in the hospital when I took our lovely singer, Kathy Walters, over to sing for his friends. I did my full act, too. Peeny was too tired to stay for the whole show, but excused himself with, “Don, please tell the girl I’m real sick and had to leave.” A real nice guy, Peeny, in my book.”