Colon, Michigan is a blip of a town in the midwest, with a population of about 1100 people (according to recent census estimates) and covers less than two square miles. And yet, this remote town somehow became the epicenter of the magic industry for a time during the 20th century. In a recent episode of Stateside on Michigan Public Radio, archivist Steve Ostrander and American Museum of Magic board member Jeff Taylor dig into the reason why Colon, Michigan is known as the “Magic Capital of the World”. The answer involves the legacy of Harry Blackstone, Sr. and his unlikely choice for a summer getaway.
Steve Ostrander explains: “The real renaissance of magic in Michigan began when Harry Blackstone [Sr.]…made the small town of Colon, Michigan in St. Joseph County…he made it his summer residence. He was from Chicago, and the city in the summertime is hot and people didn’t like to go to shows in the summer and sit in a hot theater. So they would take the whole summer off and go some place and relax and unwind from the road and do maintenance on their stage props.”
Blackstone’s presence in the small town was a boon to the economy there, especially when he partnered with Australian magician Percy Abbott to form the Blackstone Company. When the two split, Abbott renamed the outfit Abbott’s magic company, and stayed put in Colon.
“To have this going on in such an out of the way place,” Taylor explains, “if you’ve been to Colon, you know it is still very much a small town. It’s quite a distance from the nearest expressway exit. You can only imagine what it must have been when Blackstone first moved there, even smaller, even more remote. Magicians would come for this get-together, and they would come literally from all over the world. The list of names that have either been there, performed there, or purchased magic apparatus from the Abbott Company, you know, is really a who’s who of magicians in the last 70 years or so. It’s unique to see something like this in a small town.”
And even as small as the town remains, it’s still embracing its magical heritage, hosting summer camps and conventions every year. In fact, 2017 marked the 80th anniversary of the aforementioned Abbott Company’s Magic Get Together convention in the tiny town.
To listen to the rest of the interview with Taylor and Ostrander, head over to Michigan Radio’s official site, or subscribe to the Stateside podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or via their RSS feed.
Harry Blackstone, Sr. is synonymous with a certain vintage of magic. His expertise made him one of the preeminent performers of the early 1900s, appearing on stages across the country and even inspiring a series of comic books and radio shows portraying his (100% fictional) crime-fighting exploits. And on October 25-27, Potter & Potter Auctions will be selling a variety of relics from his personal collection, including items owned and worn by Blackstone himself, along with an assortment of antiques surrounding his career.
Here’s a bit of what you can expect from the description on the official auction page:
The auction features Blackstone memorabilia owned, used, and collected by the master, among them original oil paintings, show costumes, Blackstone’s famous Vanishing Birdcage (and other props), stone lithographs, photographs, correspondence and archival material, original cartoons and artwork, film footage and audio recordings of Blackstone and his troupe, and much more. Much of the material has been unseen for the last five decades. Complementing the Blackstone material will be objects related to the career of his son and successor, Harry Blackstone, Jr., as well as a selection of choice vintage magic posters, props, books, and ephemera.
Highlights from the listing include: a No. 1 issue of Super-Magic Comics signed by Blackstone, a modified set of handcuffs originally used by Harry Houdini that came into Blackstone’s possession, and the custom tailcoat and matching slacks and vest originally worn by Blackstone during his “1001 Wonders” show.
Check out a full digital catalog here (or even order a physical copy to keep for yourself), and if you want to snag one of these goodies for your own collection, you can find out how to bid on any of these pieces on Potter & Potter Auctions’ official website.