Welcome to a town literally named after a punctuation mark … a town whose charm compels visitors to stay for life, even if they intended only to pass through … a town with more abracadabra per capita than anywhere else on the planet.
Welcome to Colon, Mich., the “Magic Capital of the World.”
The small municipality, population 1,159, located about 20 miles north of the Indiana border, acquired its moniker in the summer of 1926, when famed magician Harry Black-stone’s wife plunked down a deposit to purchase Angel Island in nearby Sturgeon Lake for an off-season retreat. Blackstone found the island ideal for refitting old equipment, building new effects and relaxing between performance seasons. The location, soon to be known as Black-stone Island, contained a frame house for a residence and a large barn for storing stage equipment and the animals used in Blackstone’s acts.
He lived in Colon until 1949, when he moved to California for health reasons; he remained there until his death in 1965. He said, however, “I would rather live in Colon than anywhere else in the world.” He got his wish, of sorts; he is one of more than 30 magicians buried at Lakeside Cemetery in Colon.
Blackstone enraptured the townspeople with lawn parties and magic shows, using the island venue as a warm-up before resuming his annual worldwide tours. The family instantly melded with the community.
In 1927 Australian magician Percy Abbott visited Blackstone Island en route to a United States tour. After a time of fishing and relaxation — and meeting his future wife — Abbott scrapped the tour and settled in Colon for a lifetime stay.
Blackstone and Colon partnered to open a magic shop in town. The arrangement was dissolved after 18 months due to a misunderstanding, however, and the shop closed.
Abbott reopened his own shop, which today remains the world’s largest outlet for magic props and related items. Two more internationally renowned magic stores — The FAB Magic Company and Sterlini Magic Manufacturing — have since joined Abbott as mainstays of the local commercial landscape. Every year the three companies and other sponsors host several events that draw thousands of magicians from six continents and double the size of the population for days at a time.
The Abbott Magic Get-Together is the largest of the festivals. Every August more than 1,000 magicians descend upon the “Magic Capital of the World” for four days of shows, seminars and competitions. The festival hosts close-up shows for magicians only, as well as public shows in the jam-packed high school gymnasium.
The FAB Magic Company employs woodworkers, seamstresses, artists and metal workers to produce quality magic props. Its annual festival in July features a magic camp for all ages. Th is year’s festival takes place July 20–23.
For the past two Aprils the third festival, a one-day 31 Flavors of Magic event, has been staged at the high school. Hosted by magician Ron Carnell, it includes public shows and magic lessons for every age.
Carnell and others also put on a Sharing of Magic every October. The event is a “big benefit show for the local food pantries,” said Edith Doenges, president of the local chamber of commerce. “It is magic giving back to Colon. The local Lions Club gets in on the act, too; it stages the popular Halloween Fest. It’s a Houdini-type thing.”
Every Saturday from May through October, magic shows attract tourists from around the country. The town even constructed a “walk of stars,” similar to Hollywood Walk of Fame in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
“Eventually we will have a star for everyone famous who has been in town,” said Doenges, citing such notables as Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
Though magic pervades the local culture — the school’s mascot is a top hat-doff ed white rabbit — magic is not the only draw. “People also come for the fishing,” said Doenges, who has plied the sporting good trade for half a century. “We have six or seven big lakes.”
The town trumpets the “family-friendly angle,” she added. “If dad and child or mom and child are into magic, you have to have something to entertain the rest of the family. You have to think about the whole family, and we are building on what we have.”