Herrmann as Sleeping Beauty
Adelaide Scarcez (Scarsia)
|Died||February 19, 1932|
New York, NY
As a young woman, Adelaide studied aerial acrobatics and dance. She learned to ride the velocipede, a 19th-century bicycle, and traveled as a trick-rider with Professor Brown’s velocipede troupe. In 1874 she came to New York City as a dancer for Imre Kiralfy.
She began her magic career as assistant to her husband, magician Alexander Herrmann. They married in 1875 at City Hall, where New York City Mayor William H. Wickham performed their ceremony. Together, Alexander ("Professor Herrmann" or "Herrmann the Great") and Adelaide entertained audiences with a variety of magic tricks, including escape tricks and the bullet catch trick. Adelaide was a key part of many illusions, performing as a levitating sleeper, a human cannonball, a bicycle rider who carried a girl on her shoulders, and a dancer who spectrally swirled in red silk like a pillar of fire. The Herrmanns toured the United States, Mexico, South America, and Europe.
When Alexander died in 1896, Adelaide Herrmann decided to continued the show. She initially worked with her husband's nephew, Leon Herrmann, but a clash of personalities led them to part ways after only three seasons.
Afterwards, Adelaide Herrmann became extremely well-known as a magician in her own right, earning the moniker "The Queen of Magic." She toured as a headliner for over 25 years and performed internationally, touring London and Paris. In 1903, she made her Broadway debut at the Circle Theater. She performed often with other vaudeville acts and was frequently mentioned in the New York Times. In a November 2, 1899 article for Broadway Magazine entitled “The World’s Only Woman Magician,” Adelaide proclaimed, “I shall not be content until I am recognized by the public as a leader in my profession, and entirely irrespective of the question of sex.”
Herrmann was one of the few magicians to perform the infamous "bullet catch" trick, and possibly the only woman magician to perform the trick at the time. Despite reports that she had disliked watching her husband perform the dangerous trick, on January 19, 1897, a month after his death, she stood in his place in front of a firing squad at the Metropolitan Opera House in Chicago. Surviving publicity material describes her as catching six bullets fired at her by local militiamen.
Her favorite illusion was “The Phantom Bride,” which, perhaps meaningfully to Adelaide, had themes of loss and marriage. Through “hypnotism,” she made a bride’s body, draped in white, rise on a brightly lit stage. She passed a hoop over her hovering form, showing there were no wires, then pulled away the white silk — the bride was gone. In “The Witch” illusion, she stumbled onto the stage dressed as an old woman, trying to reach a fire burning in the darkness. When she finally arrived at the pyre, she dove into the flames. Unlike her older “Cremation” act, where she returned as a taunting ghost, she now emerged reborn and youthful.
Her “Noah’s Ark” was her greatest vaudevillian hit. At first an ark was shown empty, then buckets of water symbolizing the flood were poured down its chimney. Soon two cats, one black and one white, climbed from the chimney, while a gangplank emerged over which prowled a parade of birds, leopards, lions, tigers, zebras, and elephants. (All the mammals were dogs in costumes.) A flock of white doves flew from the windows, and the biblical boat opened to reveal a lounging woman dressed in white.
Herrmann continued performing into her 70s until 1926, when a deadly warehouse fire at a theatrical warehouse on West 46th Street in Manhattan destroyed her props and killed most of the animals used in the "Noah's Ark" illusion. She rebounded briefly with a pared-down show called “Magic, Grace and Music,” highlighting the three elements at which she’d excelled in her career. The National Vaudeville Artists’ Year Book from 1928 shows Herrmann in her final performing year.
- "Mme. Hermann, 79, Illusionist, is Dead [full article requires paid access]". New York Times. 20 Feb 1932. p. 15. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
- "She Caught Bullets with Her Bare Hands — and Made Magic's Glass Ceiling Disappear". Retrieved 18 February 2019.
- "Making Spirit Pictures: Herrmann's way of doing the Diss Debar Performance. [full article requires paid access]". New York Times. 28 May 1888. p. 5. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
- Dawes, Edwin A (1979). "The Great Illusionists". Chartwell Books (New Jersey). ISBN 0-89009-240-0.
- "Adelaide, Queen of Magic". Margaret Steele. Retrieved 2007-04-12.
- "Theatrical Gossip [full article requires paid access]". New York Times. 23 July 1898. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
- "Theaters are made ready for expected Hot Spell [full article requires paid access]". New York Times. 31 May 1903. p. 11. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
- "Fire kills one man, 200 Stage Animals [full article requires paid access]". New York Times. 8 Sep 1926. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
- "History: Great entertainers". Woodlawn Cemetery. Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-12.
- Margaret Steele (Editor), Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic - Memoirs, Published Writings and Collected Ephemera, Bramble Books (January 2012), ISBN 1-883647-19-3
- Mary Schendlinger, Prepare to Be Amazed: The Geniuses of Modern Magic, Annick Press (September 2005), ISBN 1-55037-927-5
- Mara Rockliff, Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann Queen of Magic, illus. by Iacopo Bruno, Candlewick Press (2016), ISBN 978-0-7636-6841-9