Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Time Travel Tuesday- Magical Michigan

In my imagination, I walk up and down the streets of the beautiful old Michigan town where I grew up. It is full of Victorian Mansions and history. It would work on the creative mind of any kid.
-John Bellairs, children's book novelist 

Blackstone The Great
-Genius. That is what my hard to impress grizzled 12- year old son called me when I came home from Michigan. I read his mind. Not in the “my mom knows everything, I can't get away with anything” kind of way. It was a magic trick. For this Time Travel Tuesday, I am practicing the art of illusion. The props and tutorials came from a guy who has worked at the famous Abbott Magic Company in Colon, Michigan for 44 years. Gordon Miller, my magic teacher, first learned magic from the Harry Blackstone Sr., the great 20th Century illusionist who put Abbott’s and Colon on the map. Three hours away from the Detroit airport, Colon is  known as the Magic Capital of the World. Every year, one thousand magicians from all over the globe appear in Colon for a magic convention  that has been going on since the 1930’s.

"We have only missed one in all these years. These get togethers, this store are very special to the people who live around here. Being known as the most magical city means a lot to us." Miller said while having us pick a card out of his deck.

Miller claims Penn and Teller and Zigfried and Roy have made the journey to the middle-of-nowhere capital. Mesmerized by Colon's bold title, my daughter and I made the trip this past weekend. Colon’s reputation is a testament to the magic in publicity. With a population of 1,200, it is a one blinking yellow light town. The library had an Amish horse and buggy parked outside. Other than Abbott’s, you can pay your respects at the magician’s cemetery where Blackstone and his entourage are buried. That’s about it. Still, it is something worth seeing. Every square inch of Abbott’s is covered with autographed pictures of performers. Grab a bleacher seat in the center of the store to face a small stage tucked behind counters stuffed with gadgets. If you look up, the sagging ceiling is papered with show bills. If it were a bar, there would be no frozen cocktails or fruit garnishes. The slightly intimidating bartender would serve hard liquor to real drinkers only.

Sadly, most of our less than $10 purchases are stamped with Made in China. The big stage show equipment is still manufactured in Colon, though.  Harry Blackstone Sr. called Colon home when he wasn’t touring. The Great Blackstone was an old school illusionist, who wore a white tux with tails on stage. He had an orchestra performing the sound effects and mood music. He traveled by train in his private car. Audiences watched him saw beautiful women in half and make people float or even disappear. One of the kids in one of those audiences was Robert Lunde. Lunde grew up to be a Detroit-based reporter who spent every spare nickel on going to see magical performances. If Blackstone’s fame put Colon on the map, it was Lunde’s love and appreciation for magic that gave Marshall, Michigan a place in history. Marshall, population 7,500, is almost halfway between Colon and Detroit. It is home to the American Museum of Magic.

As the story goes, Lunde was too shy to perform, so he collected. Harry Houdini’s milk can. Blackstone’s metamorphosis trunk. He has some famous tools of the trade as well as thousands of heralds, handbills and programs. You like historical pictures? There are more than 46,000. How about books? Spells, incantations, how-to manuals, you name it. His collection includes 10,000 books, 24,000 magazines and many personal letters. Lunde turned his lifelong passion into the largest magic museum in the United States. David Copperfield calls it his “favorite place on Earth.” For $5, we got a personal tour. Our docent, Candy Putnam, pointed out a first edition book written by Robert Houdin that was reviewed by Charles Dickens. I was intrigued by Houdin, who was a French clockmaker who dabbled in magic and had his name stolen from Houdini. Meanwhile,the teenager on our tour was fascinated by “Pepper’s Ghost”. 

This same trick used in the mid-1800’s was recently used to bring Tupac Shakur to life on stage at a rap concert. It is the same trick used through out the Haunted Mansion at Disney.” Jeff Taylor, the director of the American Museum of Magic told us.

House that inspired "House With The Clock In It's Walls"
 mystery novel by John Bellairs.
The magic didn’t end with the tour. Outside the 1868 Victorian building where the American Museum of Magic collection is located, there is possibly the World’s Most Adorable City. Okay, I just made that title up. But as author John Bellairs' said about his hometown, it has everything your imagination can think up.  There is a combination flower and wine shop, a vintage guitar store and an old fashioned toy store nestled between places filled with affordable antique finds.  I especially liked the Dentist office with fake teeth on the store front and the original Rexall Drugstore with a Halloween window display to rival something you would expect to see at Macy's in New York.  We had arguably the best prime rib dinner in the history of prime rib dinners at a place called Shuler’s. When we walked outside Schuler’s, there was a horse drawn carriage that happened to be loading people up for a ghost tour. For $45 a person, the tour winds through a neighborhood filled with elegant historic homes. Each house had widow's walks, wrap around front porches and tales of mystery peaking out from behind lace curtains. The horses slowly made their way to the town cemetery that dates back to the 1830's. It was pitch black.

"Take lots of pictures. You may pick up some paranormal activity." Summer Katz, a high school senior and part time ghost hunter with Marshall Carriage Company told us.

Katz was right. My iPhone photos show some unexplainable shadows. But there was still more to see. We returned the next day to find piles of leaves to jump in and a combination ice cream candy shop near a lake.  If I wasn't ready to call a realtor before this stop, I was after. In Marshall, they serve their ice cream cones with goofy faces. Sold! We took our bags of butter flavored popcorn Jelly Bellies and googly-eyed ice cream for a stroll along the lake. The crisp October air smelled like burning leaves.. My four-year old daughter thought the bright yellow and red trees along the banks were Truffala trees from The Lorax. Being a Florida girl, she has never experienced Fall. To her, the change of season was the most magical part of our trip.

If we had more time, I would have liked to take in a play at the Marshall community theater and visit the Honolulu House, the nineteenth century mansion of a state supreme court justice who designed it to replicate an  island estate. It would have been nice to visit one of the haunted hayrides, corn mazes or apple cider festivals going on through out Michigan in October. But that will have to wait for our next trip. Hopefully next time, I will have mastered the Learning to Levitate video I bought at Abott's and will be ready for another lesson that will inspire my son's sense of wonder.

Where do you find magic?

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