Adelaide’s Ocean Voyages

With today’s 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I’ve been wondering if Adelaide Herrmann knew passengers on that ill-fated ship. It seems likely. She was well-connected in many circles, counting among her friends people in the top tiers of the entertainment business, as well as a number of socialites for whom she had performed. She makes no mention of the Titanic in her memoir, but she does write about some of her many ocean crossings. She had crossed the Atlantic just a few months before the Titanic’s sinking, in the summer of 1911, returning from a series of European performances.

Instead of taking the time trying to find acquaintances and friends of Adelaide’s on the Titanic’s passenger list, I examined Adelaide’s own ocean travel history.  She made at least a dozen transatlantic voyages between 1868 and 1912 and several more voyages to South America.  I found her on few ships’ manifests using and

In reading about ocean travel in the 19th century I was surprised to learn that icebergs were a common and much-feared hazard when voyaging between New York and England. In order to minimize the distance traveled in open sea, ships hugged the U.S. coast, taking a route through the frigid North Atlantic. I found a fascinating article on steamships in 1870, which describes the danger of Atlantic icebergs in detail. It gives a wonderfully detailed description of ocean travel at a time when a number of magicians were plying their trade around the globe.

At first I had trouble finding Adelaide in passenger records because of the extent to which she lied about her age. She was aboard the passenger ship St. Louis, which arrived in at Ellis Island, New York in June of 1895. The ship’s manifest lists her age as 30. She was actually 41. She had traveled to Europe alone, without her husband, Alexander, to “transact some business.” This is mentioned in Burlingame’s Magician’s Handbook, but with no specifics as to the nature of that business. The St. Louis was a brand new ship in 1895. In World War I t was requisitioned as a troop ship. The Mystic Seaport has a web page on the St. Louis Louis1895

In 1910, Adelaide was aboard the four year-old steamship, Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, which sailed from Hamburg, disembarking at Ellis Island on April 4. Adelaide was returning from a European tour, accompanied by her nephew and assistant, John Kretschman. This time she gave her age as 50. She was actually 56. At the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, the ship was renamed RMS Empress of Scotland.

In June of 1912, only two months after the sinking of the Titanic, Adelaide may have been slightly nervous as she awaited the arrival of her 20 year-old niece, Eugenie S. Owles, who was sailing from England on the Cunard ship, RMS Campagnia. Eugenie arrived safely at Ellis Island on June 23rd.




Alexander Herrmann’s April Fool’s Joke

Alexander Herrmann was a great trickster. On April 1st, 1874, he played quite a joke on a new acquaintance, Mademoiselle Adelaide Scarcez.  They were shipboard, steaming across the Atlantic from England to New York. Both were under contract with Schumann’s Transatlantic Vaudeville Company, Alexander, at age 30, was an already-famous magician. Adelaide, then 20, was a trick bicyclist with Professor Brown’s Lady Velocipede Troupe. There was an immediate attraction between Alexander and Adelaide. They had met briefly once before, when Adelaide’s friend took her backstage after a performance of Alexander’s at London’s Egyptian Hall. They became slightly  better acquainted early in the voyage, as Adelaide was fluent in French, Alexander’s native and preferred language. He had already singled out Adelaide at dinner one night, having a waiter deliver her a glass of champagne and a plate of cracked nuts.  As always, Alexander was the center of attention, with a constant ring of admirers, including Adelaide, gathered around his deck chair.

On April 1st, Alexander did not appear at lunch, and the other passengers were concerned. A steward suddenly dashed in and announced that Alexander had slipped on the deck and had broken his leg. Adelaide, followed by the others, immediate ran up to the deck, only to find Alexander stretched out comfortably on his steamer chair, a wicked gleam in his eye. Adelaide couldn’t hide her concern and knew that she had betrayed her feelings for Alexander.

That seemed to be the confirmation he needed, and from that point on he sought out Adelaide continually. Their budding romance became the talk of the ship. When they arrived in New York, Alexander arranged a special dinner with Adelaide, the ship’s captain, and their employers Mr. and Mrs. Schumann.  Adelaide and Alexander were married the following spring, beginning one of the greatest partnerships in the history of Magic.