The Magic Capital of the World
From The “TOPS” Magazine, February 1963. By Monk Watson: “Surely Magic was used when naming the town of Colon, back in 1830, by Lorancie Shellhous, one of the three men who named the town. I’d like to quote from a letter written in that year.
“Three men put together, George and Lorancie Shellhous, and a man named Hatch, took into their heads to lay out a city plot on the land owned by Lorancie Shellhous. Finally arrangements were made, got a surveyor, laid it out, in lots. When completed we wished to give a name … could not find one to suit. Finally I took up an old dictionary and the first word I put my eyes on was colon. Looking to see the definition we will call the name of it Colon.” The definition is: Colon … a mark of punctuation indicating a pause almost as long as a period. Here they paused.
Back in 1900 I remember seeing a medicine show come to town and the owner lighting his jack light and placing it on the tail gate of his wagon. He did a few tricks of magic to get the crowd around the wagon, then he’d sell the medicine. The local druggist, Charles Niendorf, learned some of the tricks, done with chemicals, and he delighted his customers by doing the changing of water to wine and back again to water. His protégé was a very young boy named Donald Watson, known today as “Monk”. Monk along with a friend Neil Sweet, put on many magic shows at the drop of a hat. Monk’s first show (in tails) was in 1902 in a local church. He had not been warned not to drink the wine that had been changed from water, so he almost died during the first show.
Now we jump ahead to 1925 when the great Blackstone paused on one of his trips through Colon. He looked around, found an island, and said, “This is for me!” On the island were several houses, cottages, and a big red barn. This barn was soon to see many of the best illusions take shape to go out on the road with “The Greatest Show On Earth”. Peter Bouton was one of the finest builders in magic and between the two brothers, Peter Bouton and Blackstone, many tricks were invented and built.
Percy Abbott arrived on the scene in 1927 when he was invited by Blackstone to come and enjoy some fishing on the Colon lakes. He was also asked to join up with Blackstone in the manufacturing of magic tricks. This was the first magic factory in Colon. Because Blackstone had to be on the road so much of the time the partnership lasted but two years. In 1934, Percy Abbott had invited a very tall, nice looking young man, Recil Bordner, from Ohio, to come to Colon. Bordner had the magic bug and wanted to build a little show. It didn’t take Mr. Abbott long to realize that Recil Bordner had a good talent for making and inventing magic tricks, so he was asked to join up in what is known as “The Abbott Magic Company.” This friendship between Abbott and Bordner was to last to the day Mr. Abbott died. However, one year before Mr. Abbott died, Mr. Bordner took over the business. Several branches had been set up in large cities across the country selling only the tricks made by Abbott Magic Company.
In 1934 the Magic Get-Together was started. The shows were held in the barn that was the Magic Company, at that time. Magicians from all over the country came to Colon to meet with other magicians just to look at shows, talk magic and enjoy several days of fun in Colon. In 1938 a fire burned the barn, but in just a few months a new building was built and the magic tricks were again sold in every country in the world. The Get-Together was held in Colon, and the shows were put on, then in the Opera House, later in a big tent. Another fire burned the building where the tent was stored, so the shows were held in the high school. Crowds came every year to join with the magicians to look as some of the Stars of Magic walk the stage of the high school. In 1961, a new high school was to see the Get-Together shows held on its stage. With thirteen hundred seats filled every night and several hundred people turned away, the Magic Get-Together had really become big time. Stars from the highest rated television shows were on the program. 1962 found the largest Get-Together of all times with over seven hundred magicians coming again to meet with old friends, talk and invent magic tricks ‘til all hours of the night.
With the finest staff in magic, Neil Foster, who has played in London, New York, Boston, Paris, Chicago, etc. is Vice President of the company, going out from time to time playing big dates, and also teaming up with Monk Watson to make one of the finest evening entertainments to be had, but Foster’s first love is “TOPS” where he can put together the finest magic magazine in the magic world.
The staff of builders sounds like a Who’s Who in Magic: Peter Bouton, Arturo, Jerry Conklin, the finest wood workers, plastic and metal men, several ladies, busy on sewing machines; Fred Merrill, one of the greatest jugglers, does all of the painting, while Mrs. Merrill (a lovely lady) makes the feathered flowers and birds for the world’s greatest magicians. Mrs. Foster, Jeanne, runs the office and Mike Miller is in charge of the show room and shipping. I almost forgot, Monk Watson drops in daily for a chat on: What’s New in Magic.”