It’s a tradition that simply won’t disappear.
Beginning Wednesday, 1,000 magicians will come together in a tiny village surrounded by farm fields and nestled next to Palmer Lake in the southwest corner of Michigan. Colon is the self-proclaimed Magic Capital of the World.
The community of 1,200 people will live up to this billing next week when magicians gather for the 80th Magic Get Together, an annual event that gives amateur and professional magicians from as far away as Australia an opportunity to share their favorite tricks and entertain residents and curious visitors — all the while paying homage to Harry Blackstone, the world-famous stage magician who moved to Colon in 1926.
“Magic week in Colon really is unique,” said Don Wiberg, 81, past president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and a veteran of 50 Get Together events. “They attract some of the best talent in the world, many of the top magicians around. What’s neat is they come back each year. It’s not like your typical magic convention in a hotel in Vegas — it’s more like a family reunion.”
Blackstone and his wife bought property in the area to escape the summer heat of Chicago and build stage sets and props for their traveling magic show. He opened a magic shop in Colon with friend Percy Abbott in the 1930s. The two had a falling out and Abbott decided to open his own store with partner Recil Bordner in 1934. Later that year, they hosted their first gathering of 80 magicians and a tradition was born. The only years the Magic Get Together has not been held were during World War II.
Abbott Magic Company and two other magic shops still operate in Colon today. Greg Bordner, 65, Recil’s son and one of Colon’s handful of permanent magicians, now runs the business. Sales are fueled by the internet, but customers still visit the brick-and-mortar businesses year round.
Bordner said his team makes all of the tricks that are sold in the store and online to customers across the globe.
“We’ve benefited from 80 years of advertising at the Get Together,” he said.
He admits most of his magic is now done behind the store counter, especially during the Get Together.
“There are so many talented magicians, I just enjoy watching them when they come into town,” Bordner said.
Anything a magician needs
Being located in the “Magic Capital” undoubtedly helps attract curious customers to visit Colon’s magic shops, agreed Rick Fisher, 58, owner of Fab Magic, which opened in 2003. The business enjoyed its best sales ever in 2016, with 2017 tracking even better, he said.
“We have a loyal group of customers and fill a lot of custom orders from magicians,” Fisher said. “We can make just about anything a magician needs for a show.”
Earlier this summer, Fab Magic hosted its third annual Colon Magic Camp, which sold out. More than 100 aspiring magicians who traveled from as far away as Oregon spent two days learning tricks and more.
“It was great watching the kids with ropes, cards and coins in their hands, not just learning how to perform tricks, but also how to entertain a crowd,” Fisher said. “This is the next generation of magicians. They take it very serious.”
Next week, Fab Magic will be unveiling architectural plans to open a new magic shop on the west side of Colon, just off M-86. It will combine Fab Magic’s storefront, showroom, manufacturing operation and a new magic theater. The plan is to open the new facility late next summer.
“I had the opportunity to relocate my business to Arizona a few years ago, but Colon is my home,” he said. “This is where we belong. For those who come here, it’s all about the history of magic.”
John Sterlini, 52, owns the Sterlini Magic Theater and Sterlini Magic Manufacturing in Colon. He also is the president of the local Chamber of Commerce.
Magic is big moneymaker
Sterlini said the typical magician spends about $1,000-$1,500 during his or her visit to the Get Together. This figure, combined with what magic fans spend in town, makes the magic festival the biggest event of the year for the rural community.
“It obviously has a huge economic impact,” said Sterlini, noting his store sales increase 500 percent during the Get Together. “In addition to our magic stores, there’s a lot of money spent in our markets, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses.”
The hardest trick is finding places for all the magicians to stay during the event, Sterlini said. With no hotels in Colon, some stay in nearby Coldwater, Three Rivers and Sturgis.
Others stay at campgrounds. But a lot of the performers and their families actually stay in homes with adopted families.
“They come back year after year,” he said. “One family sold their house not long ago and told the new owners they would inherit a magician.”
Magician Keith Stickley, 37, of Royal Oak has been coming to the Colon event for 28 years and is one of those who will stay with a host family.
He fell in love with magic as a child and performed on cruise ships and in resorts for 12 years before attending law school.
Today, the practicing lawyer also owns the Great American Sideshow, which will be making its debut this year in Colon. It travels throughout the summer to events in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Stickley said it features a lady in an electric chair, world-record sword swallower, headless woman and other shocking attractions. A different sideshow will take place each night in conjunction with the Magic Get Together’s evening variety show at Colon High School.
“I’ve always been a fan of circuses and side show history,” Stickley said. “Running this show has been a lot of fun. The crowds love it.”
“Pretty much anybody who is serious about magic in Michigan — hobbyists and professionals — goes to magic week in Colon,” Stickley said.
The evening variety show at the high school, which attracts 1,000 people each performance, is the highlight of each day, Bordner said. A special matinee performance also takes place on Saturday. The show is different each night and tickets often sell out, he noted.
This year’s lineup of acts features magicians, illusionists and mentalists that work in Las Vegas and other popular clubs across the country.
Other magic performances, some free, take place each day at the magic shops, community center and local restaurants. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a group of street performers to entertain visitors at various intersections downtown during the week.
“People get to see a free 20-minute show with new magicians each day,” said Sterlini, the Chamber president. “Plus it generates a lot of foot traffic for the downtown businesses.”
One of the more macabre attractions during the annual event in Colon is the tour of Lakeside Cemetery, where Blackstone Sr. and Jr. are buried, along with 30 other notable magicians from around the country.
“They wanted to be buried with their friends,” Bordner said. “Other magicians have already bought plots there.”
Before they perform their last shows, however, many of these magicians will have visited Colon, to entertain each other and magic fans of all ages and walks of life.
“Magic breaks down barriers,” Bordner said. “You can be rich or poor, smart or stupid — it’s just fun. Everyone enjoys a new trick, or even an old one done well.”
Magic Get Together
For more information, visit www.magicgettogether.com.