The word “magic” may conjure images of witches and wizards casting spells in a bygone era, long before the rise of science and modern civilization.
However, there is a spot in Michigan where magic still thrives.
“The truth is there’s been magicians in Michigan almost as long as Michigan has been a state,” said Steve Ostrander, an archivist at the Michigan History Center. “But the real renaissance of magic in Michigan, I would say, began when Harry Blackstone,” who was father to another famous Michigan magician, Harry Jr., “made the small town of Colon, Mich. in St. Joseph County, which is by Three Rivers, he made it his summer residence.”
Blackstone was from Chicago, a city with summers so sweltering that populations came in droves to Michigan every year to escape the heat.
“Like most magicians, he saw a magician when he was a kid,” said Jeff Taylor, a board member of the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Mich. That magician was Harry Kellar, one of the most foundational American magicians. Blackstone started with small tricks for his friends, but he began to grow his tricks and his show, using his woodworking skills to create larger props and illusions.
Magicians can get by with all their props in a suitcase. Not so with Blackstone. “He traveled with his own railway car filled with equipment that he moved into a stage. He traveled with dozens and dozens of assistants,” said Taylor.
Blackstone reached the pinnacle of his career beginning in the 1930s, and his superstar fame lasted into the 1950s. He might be seen as the David Copperfield of his day, said Taylor.
Blackstone and his crew were welcomed in Colon: their residency in the small town helped boost its economy, said Ostrander. Blackstone also started a company called the Blackstone Company in a partnership with an Australian magician, Percy Abbott, and when the partnership dissolved, Abbott and the company, then renamed Abbott’s Magic Company, remained in Colon.
Abbott also started an annual magic convention in his new home, with magicians from all over the world, and the convention still occurs every August in Colon, said Ostrander.
“Magicians would come for this get-together, and they would come literally from all over the world,” said Taylor. “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.”
Listen above for the full conversation.
This segment is produced in partnership with the Michigan History Center.