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Mel Babcock
Woodworker Extraordinaire
by Carrie Anne Keenan

Margaret and Mel Babcock
Melvin L. Babcock, Jr. was born July 10, 1931 in the small Eastern Washington town of Cashmere. As the only child of Melvin Sr. and Mamie, his childhood was spent in their twenty acre orchard, which (though I'm sure was quite idyllic and peaceful) was probably relatively uneventful. But sometime toward the end of the late 1940's, Mel ordered a two dollar magic set from the back of a comic book and changed the course of his life forever.

Mel didn't always know that magic was to be his forte. In fact, after graduating from Cashmere High School, he went on to Washington State University where, among other things, he studied pharmacological sciences, geology, and general business. And following that was a three year stint in the Army as a guided missile electronics repairman! Once Mel got out of the Army in 1957, he realized that magic sounded like fun. He says his inspiration came from that fact, and that he could do something that most other people can't. He proceeded to teach himself from every magic book he could lay his hands on.

Club and banquet shows seemed to be the right place to start, but since money was tight, Mel began to make his own props. This continued for about 10 years, and Mel's woodworking skills improved dramatically. A stroke of luck had provided Mel a fabulous workshop. During the early 1900's his grandfather had built a thirty by sixty foot, insulated building for fruit storage (which a later commercial warehouse eventually made obsolete), so space was available for storage and machinery. This way he was able to remain completely self-sufficient in the production process.

Syd Brockman, a Seattle magic dealer in the market for used props, noticed the quality of Mel's work and requested that he make some "used stuff" for him. It began as one or two items every so often, but quickly boomed into five or six at a time! Then other magicians began noticing Mel's work, and wanted custom work from him. Mel wasn't one to refuse them, and he filled these orders as well.

It might be good to add here that all the while this was going on, Mel was also attempting to run that very same twenty acre orchard he had grown up on, as a third generation family farmer. He had also found time to get married and have two children, Sheri and Jay, who, during their high school years, were Mel's assistants for shows. Sheri made costumes, and with Mel's props they toured the local service clubs, business conventions, schools and churches, and traveled as far as Spokane to appear (and disappear, as it be) on television a couple times. Sadly enough, in the late 1970's Sheri and Jay graduated from high school, and that was the end of their show biz careers.

Syd Brockman passed away in the early 80ís, but a dealer on the East Coast picked up on Mel the Magician and his marvelous props. The early Eighties also brought a chainsaw mill, and people started cutting shade trees, and Mel got free lumber in all varieties... walnut, apple, Russian olive, all of which were virtually unavailable in stores. Mel could make all sorts of props now, in different and unique beautiful woods and finishes. He gathered so much wood at that time that he still has enough stock to last him many, many years to come. Not only did he now make his props in different woods, but he also came to the conclusion that differing sizes would be interesting as well; and as it stands today, customers can choose between about four sizes of many props.

The early eighties also saw Mel getting remarried to Margaret, and adopting her twin daughters, Erin and Carrie Anne (that would be me, the author), who were then seven year old twins.

By this time Mel had created a small inventory and was attending swap meets and mini-conventions in the Northwest, where his work was well accepted. The first real magic convention was the 1989 Phoenix Magic Convention, in which Mel was almost completely wiped out of stock. Only two weeks later, at the Desert Magic Seminar, Joe Stevens asked Mel to build a few things for him. A great amount of exposure resulted from this, and more orders were coming in than Mel could handle. After all, magic building was a hobby; a part-time involvement during spare time and the winter months! It was time to make a decision.

Mel retired from the orchard operation business, and is spending his time building magic props. He and Margaret plan to keep doing about four to six conventions a year, as well as try to keep up with the mail order business that began with a two dollar magic set advertised on the back of a comic book.

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