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Fire eating and ventriloquism in the "Magic Capital of the World"

A street displays Magic Capital of the World flags. A large magic wand stands on the sidewalk.
Asher Wertheimer
/
Michigan Radio
Downtown Colon displays the town's love of magic.

In southwest Michigan, just north of Sturgis, sits the small town of Colon. It’s a charming spot with bike trails, a cozy park, and a downtown spotted with family owned businesses and cafes.

But observant pedestrians might notice there’s something special about Colon. Read the plaque in the park or pay attention to the flags adorning downtown, and you will learn Colon’s other title: Magic Capital of the World.

The story behind this moniker is interesting, involving Australian Percy Abbott and famous American magician Harry Blackstone.

How Colon maintains its name, however, is far more compelling.

Every year, the town hosts Magic Week, a four-day festival featuring street performers, talent shows, lectures, and acts straight out of the old days of magic. Visitors can stroll from one building to the next, catching unique shows from long-time professionals as well as young up-and-comers.

Jay Blackwell has been performing professionally for 15 years, working in circuses and sideshows in nearly every state. Despite his love for the road, Blackwell said that he is happy where he is — right here in Colon.

"My favorite type of performance is in the theater," Blackwell explained. "This is where I really like to be."

A man onstage puts a flaming baton into his mouth.
Asher Wertheimer
/
Michigan Radio
Jay Blackwell demonstrates his fire eating skills.

At Blackwell's show, you might witness him attempt the bold tradition of fire eating, or perform the classic "disappearing ball" trick.

The Sterlini Theatre, where Blackwell performs, feels of another time. Were it not for the TVs providing close-ups of the act, the small, dark space could convince you this was a sideshow attraction in 1904.

Just down the street, 11-year-old Brynn Cummings is putting on a show, too. She does not have the experience Blackwell does, but she has been performing for nearly a third of her life.

"I've been doing [magic] for almost four years now, so it's been a long time," said Cummings.

An audience sits in a small theatre. A young girl stands onstage with the puppet of a pink skunk.
Asher Wertheimer
/
Michigan Radio
Brynn Cummings performs ventriloquism with her dummy, Penelope.

Despite her young age, Cummings already gives the impression of a professional. Her specialty is ventriloquism and magic tricks, and has even given a local TED Talk about her love of the craft.

Magic Week attracts professionals and amateurs alike from all over the state, and, sometimes, the world.

Anton is from Berlin, Germany. While he did not fly to Michigan just to visit the festival, he did make sure to squeeze it into his last day in the U.S.

"I'm visiting family in Lansing, and I heard about this magic capital," Anton said. "I do a little bit of card magic, and so I made a point on the day before I fly home to stop by and take some of this in."

A man holds a rope horizontally with one hand. The rope stays rigid and parallel to the ground.
Asher Wertheimer
/
Michigan Radio
Jay Blackwell concentrates on his rope trick.

While Magic Week does its disappearing act after four days, Colon's commitment to its title as “Magic Capital of the World” persists.

"That's why we do shows here every weekend," Blackwell said. "If there's only two people that come in, we're going to do a show for those two people because we want them to see the magic. It's really important to us, and it means a lot."

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Asher Wertheimer is a junior at Olivet College studying Journalism and Mass Communication.
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