The Cave Hill Cemetery at Louisville, Kentucky, is a rolling, beautifully landscaped rural garden cemetery in the finest tradition. At every turn through the cemetery there are monuments that catch the eye and draw in the viewer to wonder about the person buried underneath. None any more than that of the monument dedicated to Harry Leon Collins (April 27, 1920 – May 3, 1985). The bronze statue marking his grave is a life-size likeness of Harry Leon Collins in a tuxedo standing in front of a trunk. Collin’s hand is extended in a gesture of welcoming.
Collins was well known in Louisville for his magic. So well-known for it, that he became known by the moniker, Mr. Magic. What had started out as a teenage fascination with magic became an avocation and then a vocation later in life. Collins’ interest in magic started when a local attorney in his hometown of Glasgow, Kentucky, showed him some magic and slight-of-hand tricks. From that point on, Collins was hooked and practiced his craft until he was quite good. Good enough, in fact, to get a part in the Bob Crosby USO show during his stint in the Pacific Theater while he was serving in the Marines in World War II.
After the war, Collins moved to the big cosmopolitan city of Louisville, Kentucky, where he got a job with the Frito-Lay Company as a salesperson. Though he was working full-time during the day selling Lays potato chips (my personal favorite chip!) and Fritos, he was still practicing his craft as a magician at night. He was so good he gained the nickname as Mr. Magic and gained a large following as one of the city’s favorite entertainers. The Frito-Lay management realized that they could have Collins combine his love for magic with his sales acumen and Collins became known as the Frito-Lay Magician. Now instead of using the phrase hocus pocus or voila or abracadabra, Collins would say, “Frito-Lay” when he pulled the proverbial rabbit out of his hat!
While the statue is a fitting tribute to his skill and passion as a magician, and his 45 years at the Frito-Lay Company, it only tells part of the story about who Harry Leon Collins was. He was also the son of Paul and Sadie Emerson Collins. Harry was only 15 when his father died and took over the awesome family responsibility of running the tobacco farm while finishing high school. He continued to take care of his brothers and sisters even after high school. He sent money home to take care of them after he entered the Marines. And he never forgot his obligation to them—sending each of them to college.
When Harry Leon Collins died suddenly in 1985, his wife, Maxine Warner Lewis Collins, commissioned famed sculptor, Barney Bright, to create the bronze statue of him that marks his grave.