Alexander and Adelaide Herrmann had no children. However, the three other Scarcez daughters – Adelaide’s older sisters Frances, Janet & Matilda – produced a total of eleven children. In the early and mid-1890s, many of the kids traveled from England to America during the summers to frolic on the Herrmann estate in Whitestone, NY while their famous aunt and uncle rested between tours. At least six of these nieces and nephews eventually emigrated to the U.S., and at least four of them worked in the Herrmann show. One nephew – Janet’s son Herrman Pallme – toured several seasons with the show and wrote a book called Entertaining with Magic. Another nephew – Frances’ son Felix Kretschman – changed his name to Felix Herrmann and broke away to create his own magic act, infuriating his Aunt Adelaide. Felix’s brother – John Kretschman – stayed loyal to his aunt. After Alexander Herrmann died, John assisted his aunt for her entire remaining three-decade career. John Kretschman stayed out of the spotlight, and I’d like to know more about him.
Of even keener interest to me is Adele Owles, daughter of Adelaide’s sister Matilda. Born in 1877, Adele performed as an onstage assistant first in the magnificent Herrmann show, then in her Aunt Adelaide’s vaudeville act which debuted in 1899. Her stage name, Adele Dewey, was derived from her family nickname – “Dewey” – referring to her beautiful milky complexion. In the few photos of her, she is indeed beautiful, kneeling at Adelaide’s feet dressed in a spectacular kimono, or suspended in the air looking graceful and relaxed. (The photo of Adele performing the aerial suspension is almost universally misidentified as Adelaide.)
Adele toured with her Aunt Adelaide until marrying Charles Wellesley Smith, an architect, in 1908. The Smiths moved to Newark, New Jersey. Four years later, Adele’s younger sister Eugenie came from England, following the death of their mother, Matilda. In 1915, after just seven years of marriage, Adele was widowed at age thirty-seven. Adele and Eugenie went to work as department store clerks in Newark. Eugenie eventually married. Adele stayed on at Bambergers Department Store for many years.
Meanwhile, Adelaide Herrmann continued to tour in American vaudeville and in Europe. Since I have never seen any family correspondence of Mme. Herrmann’s, I don’t know of the relationship between Adelaide and Adele during those years. Adele lived in Newark, and Adelaide, when not touring, lived in Manhattan, a fairly easy trip by train and ferry.
Adele surfaces again at the time of Adelaide’s death in 1932. Adele handled the details of her aunt’s estate and correspondence, writing a note to the Society of American Magicians thanking them for Adelaide Herrmann’s broken wand ceremony. Adele also wrote to a number of Adelaide’s friends and acquaintances, informing them of her aunt’s death and sharing details of Adelaide’s last days. We also now know that she inherited all of her aunt Adelaide’s effects, including the manuscript of her memoir, for which (at the height of the Great Depression) she was never able to find a publisher.
In 1934 Adele’s sister Eugenie gave birth to a son. A few years later Eugenie became ill, but she never sought treatment. At some point both Eugenie and Adele had become Christian Scientists. Their religion forbade medical intervention. When her son was only six, Eugenie died. For the next four years Adele visited her nephew regularly and took him on excursions. The nephew (who is still alive) remembers trips to Radio City Music Hall and other NYC attractions. Yet Adele never told him about his grandmother’s famous sister, Adelaide Herrmann, or her own experiences with the spectacular Herrmann show. She knew all the great magicians of her time – Herrmann, Robinson, Kellar and probably Houdini – yet she never mentioned them. When her nephew was ten, his father remarried, and he never saw his “Auntie Del” again.
Eugenie, infant son Alfred, and Adele at the Herrmann Gravesite – Woodlawn Cemetery, circa 1935
Adele and Nephew Alfred in New York City
For the next two decades, Adele lived in Newark and stayed out of the public eye, with one notable exception. She was a ferocious campaigner and fund raiser for President Herbert Hoover from whom she received and saved a number of letters of gratitude.
In 1958 Adele contributed a number of Herrmann photos and costumes to an exhibit entitled, The Satin Lady of Legerdemain at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. The Hartford Courant ran a full page article on the exhibit. If these costumes and photos still exist, their whereabouts are unknown.
Satin Lady of Legerdemain – Courtesy of the George and Sandy Daily Collection
In 1965, Adele died at age eighty-eight in a nursing home in Saddle River, New Jersey. She’s buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, NJ. Her effects, including Adelaide Herrmann’s unpublished memoir, some family photos, her Herbert Hoover letters and a few piece of Adelaide’s jewelry went to a close friend whose children and grandchildren always called her “Aunt Adele.” It was one of these grandchildren who returned Adelaide Herrmann’s memoir to the world.
Adele Owles Smith grave – Evergreen Cemetery – Hillside, NJ