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DETROIT & MICHIGAN - A MAGICAL LAND

We (Detroit and Michigan) are a bigger part of Magic History than you might think, let's go on a brief little tour through magic's history with Dynamike as your tour guide!



Those of us who live in the Detroit/Michigan area are well aware of our history and contributions to the world. Our history is certainly one of great accomplishments and wonderful inventions in all fields of endeavor. From Henry Ford's automobile to Motown Music, there is hardly a subject where Detroit (and Michigan) has not played a significant role.

The same is true about our Magic History.

Houdini ExhibitLet’s begin in late November (November 27th to be exact) of 1906. As anyone from Detroit can tell you it is pretty cold in November on our rivers and great lakes. It was during this time that one of the most famous of all magic events took place – Houdini’s Packing Box Escape from the Belle Isle Bridge. In this escape, Houdini was handcuffed and sealed in a packing box and lowered off the Belle Isle Bridge into the Detroit river. After successfully escaping, he was picked up in a boat that was standing by. The event was reported by the Detroit newspapers the next day and the legend of Houdini and the box escape in Detroit began. In fact, the story became so popular that it became a tale of legend. In the 1953 movie “Houdini” starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh (Jamie Lee Curtis’s parents), this event is portrayed as a significant moment in the film. In the movie, the rope breaks and the crate (with Houdini in it) falls through a hole in the frozen Detroit river. He survives by finding pockets of air between the ice and water and makes his way back to the hole in the ice, being guided by his Mother’s voice. This is almost all Hollywood and while the escape did happen, the river was not frozen that day so Houdini could not have survived by breathing trapped air because there was not any ice to trap him. None the less, it’s an incredible escape and it happened right here in Detroit Michigan.

Houdini ExhibitHoudini and Detroit shared other moments but none as big as his final performance and his death – both which happened in Detroit in 1926. Houdini often used to demonstrate that punches in the stomach did not hurt him and would allow people to hit him in the stomach to prove this. However one fateful day in Montreal Houdini did not have a chance to prepare as a student punched Houdini in the stomach which caused his appendix to rupture. Houdini continued on his tour, ignoring doctors advice to seek medical attention, and did his final performance – with a 104 degree temperature – at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit Oct 24th, 1926. Houdini died on October 31 (Halloween), 1926 in Room 401 at Detroit's Grace Hospital. This date has been honored by magicians across the world and the final week in October is now known as National Magic Week and Oct 31st as National Magic Day. During this National Magic Week, magicians not only in Detroit and Michigan but across the country are encouraged to perform shows for people who are handicapped, shut in, or unable to attend a magic show by visiting them and performing for them. Truly a great tribute in memory of a great performer, Harry Houdini.

National Magic Day, October 31st, is a day the American Museum of Magic is never opened in honor of Houdini and his death. The American Museum of Magic is not located in New York, or Las Vegas, it is located right here in Marshall Michigan, about an hour and a half drive from Detroit.

Marshall Museum StageAt this museum you will see the most comprehensive collection of magic anywhere in the Western Hemisphere – and remember its right here in Michigan. The museum cost only $5 per person and inside you will see a wealth of information of magic from across the world. It’s a combination of old and new, the old being the tremendous amount of magic posters and magic props (everything from Houdini’s milk can escape to “Twin Pines" Milky the Clown props are on display here). The new being a computer generated program which teaches you a magic trick as you perform (with the props) in front of a mirror to see how the effect looks to others.

The American Museum of Magic also is doing its part for the future of magic. They sponsor a “Magic Camp” called Camp Abracadabra and it is designed for kids ages 7 to 14. The Magic Camp lasts 3 and a half days and takes place usually in late June and Late July … and the location … where else but Michigan. The first camp in July is in Battle Creek Michigan and the second camp in August is in Marshall Michigan. This report on Michigan history is being done in 2014 so for future generations who want to attend the magic camp I would suggest contacting the American Museum of Magic for dates and times.

Outside the Magic MuseumThe American Museum of Magic in Marshall is a tough act to beat and it has been here in Michigan for over thirty years. During this time they have built a wonderful tribute to magic, complete with a magic stage where magicians today can perform and have meetings. When you think about the American Museum of Magic, with the stage for live magic, along with the magic camps, and artifacts from Blackstone, Houdini, Kellar, Thurston, Dunninger, Copperfield, Henning, and almost every other magician of magical lore there surely cannot be a more magical place in the United States than the American Museum of Magic right here in Marshall Michigan. Am I right, is there any place in America more magical than Marshall Michigan?

Outside Abbott MagicActually there is, it’s known as the “Magic Capital of the World” and where is this magical beacon located? Vegas right, maybe Manhattan New York, or how about in Disney World in Orlando. The answer to these questions are No, No, and No. It’s located here, in Michigan. And while the American Museum of Magic has been operating for over 30 years, the Magic Capital has been in business over 80 years. Yes, a city right here in Michigan is the official “Magic Capital of the World”, declared so by the U.S. Congress and dozens of other references including Michigan Historical site. Surely a city with so much magic hardware must be a bustling metropolis like Detroit. Maybe Grand Rapids? One of the Detroit suburbs. Again, the answer is No, No, and no. The official Magic Capital of the World – as recognized by Congress and most magicians in the civilized world is … Colon Michigan.

Inside the Abbott Magic Showroom“Where is this town?” says Frank Beckman as the staff at WJR pull out maps during an interview with Greg Bordner of Abbott's Magic on the eve of their 75th Magic Get Together several years back. This is a very common question regarding the Magic Capital. Most magicians know about this place and it is not a city, it is a small village located in Michigan almost exactly between Detroit and Chicago. There are two lakes in the village which makes it look like a : on a map, thus the name Colon. But it is the location of this village, with the lakes and great fishing, that made it a magical place. You see, during the Great Depression years of the late 1920’s through the 1930’s, magicians would travel from town to town as they made their way from one major city to another. Colon, being the dead center stop between Detroit and Chicago became the perfect “retreat” for magicians traveling on this circuit. One of those magicians, Harry Blackstone, a rival of Houdini and quite possibly the most popular magician in America during these times, was one of those who enjoyed stopping in Colon and taking a break from the road by … fishing. It was during one of those stops in 1927 when Blackstone decided to perform a feat of magic for the people of Colon. As Houdini had done in the Detroit river in 1906, Blackstone duplicated this effect in one of the two Colon lakes. Blackstone was placed in the box and it was nailed shut and lowered into the river. Blackstone appeared on the dock a short time later and the event was well publicized with two motion picture crews documenting it. Blackstone and the people in the small village instantly hit it off and it became a place where Blackstone could relax with his entire troupe, and work on their acts with the citizens of Colon as a willing audience – away from the press of Detroit and Chicago.

The Magic FactoryBlackstone often invited his magician friends to join him in Colon Michigan for relaxation and fishing (to this day, Colon remains a place to have a house or cabin on the lake due to the nature around it). One of those magicians was Percy Abbott who, like Blackstone, fell for the magical charm of the small village. Percy and Blackstone decided to open a magic store called the Blackstone Magic shop, but had disagreements as partners sometimes do and the shop closed after one year. Then in 1934 Percy decided to try again with a magic shop in Colon, this time calling it the Abbott Magic shop. He partnered with a young man named Recil Bordner who bought into the partnership for $1,000 (a lot of money during the great depression and nothing to sneeze at today). They invited magicians to join them once a year in the summer time to enjoy magic in the small village between two lakes and the Abbott Magic Get Together became a magic event probably unparalleled in magic history. While other magic conventions take place in hotels in large cities, this one took place in a small village where the local citizens would share their homes (for a small fee of course) with the magicians who would travel to this event.

Dove effects at Abbott MagicIn 1935 an escape artist who was attending one of the “Magic Get Together” brought to the attention of people that Abbott's Magic and Colon were fast becoming the "Magic Capital of the World". He said not only do you have Abbott's Magic producing magic for the world, you also have Tops magazine which was a magic magazine printed in Colon, you also had Blackstone who now made his home in Colon, and finally you had this great magic convention called the Magic Get Together. The phrase Magic Capital took off and the rest is history. Today you can still buy magic made at the Abbott Magic Co. online through their website and you can attend their annual Magic Get Together convention where some of the best magicians in the world perform and attend in evening shows for the public and lectures for the magicians. The Abbott Magic Shop and Colon continue to be leaders in today’s magic as Abbott's Magic is one of the largest suppliers and providers of digital downloads where magicians can buy eBooks and/or videos on how to perform certain magic. They also continue to make and manufacture magic that they send to all parts of the world and the shop is run by one of the descendants of the original partners (Greg Bordner, son of Recil). In addition to it being one of the largest manufacturers of magic in the world, it is the longest running family owned magic shop in the United States and is right here in Michigan.

Production Effect at Abbott MagicToday the village of Colon (aka The Magic Capital of the World) has grown with the magic as well over the past 80 years. The high school football team is called “The Colon Magi”, the streets are lined with flower pots on them shaped like a magicians top hat, and the sidewalks have stars on them to help create a magic walk of fame. Should you be traveling through you could stop at their “magic park”, complete with pavilion, boardwalk, volleyball pits, and a playground for the kids. It is in this park that that you will find the Michigan Historical Marker (Site P24712) which honors Colon's contribution to magic & the work of Harry Blackstone Senior. The small village to this day retains its charm and while many magicians throughout history decided to make it their home, many others decided to make it their final home – for eternity. The Colon Lakeside Cemetery has tours (during the Magic Get Together and other events) where magicians and fans alike meet and visit the graves of many of the great magicians of the past. Blackstone, Karrell Fox, Jack Gwynne, Hank Moorehouse, Roy Huston, Recil Bordner, Duke Stern, and many other great – and some not so great – magicians are buried in the Magic Capital cemetery.

Closeup Magic Winner DynamikeDynamike, in a small way, is a part of the history of the Magic Capital. For the past few years Dynamike has performed as a paid performer (through the Colon Chamber of Commerce) during their Magic Festival which takes place during the Abbott Magic Get Together. Dynamike also takes part in the magic activities around town which include magic competitions. Last year (2013 at the time of this writing) Dynamike won the 22nd Curly’s Close-up Contest at the Magic Capital. This year, August 7th 2014, Dynamike will be the host of this event and I would love to see and meet you there. And to save you (and Frank Beckman and WJR radio) the headache of trying to find the Magic Capital, simply draw a line between Detroit and Chicago and pick the point in the middle.

And best of all – you got it – the Magic Capital and all its events are right here in Michigan, about two hours away from Detroit. So the next time you plan an event or party and think about entertainment, please consider Magic and Magicians. Detroit, Michigan, and Magic go back a long way together and the reason is really simple - because the people of this area are magical and always have been. From magical carriages that do not require horses to the magic effects made at Abbott's, we are indeed a magical people living in a magical place.