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 Ancestry.com and Ellisisland.org.
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. http://www.gjenvick.com/SteamshipArticles/TransatlanticShipsAndVoyages/1870-08-TheOceanSteamer-HarpersMagazine.html. 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 http://www.library.mysticseaport.org/immigration/steamshipDetail.cfm?Expr1=St. 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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Kaiserin_Auguste_Victoria
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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Campania