In my Adelaide Herrmann research I experience a lot of simultaneous frustration and intrigue. Madame was professionally public, but she carefully guarded her personal life. Although she was a prolific correspondent – first in longhand and later pecking away on her typewriter – I’ve never seen any letters between her and any of her close friends or relatives. If any still exist, they have yet to surface.
This omission of Adelaide’s personal life has to be intentional. Indeed, even in her memoir, she barely mentions her family. Her nephew John Kretschman, who worked in her show for her entire vaudeville career, is referred to only as “my assistant.” Her niece Adele (Dewey) Owles Smith, also her stage assistant and closest relative until Adelaide’s death, would have been omitted from her memoir entirely, had she not been mentioned in an included letter to Adelaide from Harry Kellar.
Almost everything I know about Adelaide Herrmann’s personal life comes from my genealogical research and my subsequent discovery and interviewing of her sisters’ descendants. I’ve heard tantalizing snippets about Adelaide’s tomboy childhood and how, at first, her parents didn’t want her to marry Alexander Herrmann – the Jewish magician. I learned about family feuds and alliances. But mostly I found that the majority of her relatives know nothing about her and are intrigued by their once-famous ancestor.
So while Adelaide’s performances are easy to track, Adelaide the person remains elusive. When not touring or performing in New York, I generally don’t know where she was or what she did.
Since I’m a hundred years younger than Madame, I like to look back a century to see what Adelaide was doing when she was my age. I looked back today, searching for appearances from 1913, and found her performing on the 60-week Orpheum circuit, which took her across the U.S. to as far-flung locations as North and South Dakota. In September 1913, she gave a long interview to a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But between the spring of 1912 and the summer of 1913, so far I can’t find her.
In early 1912, Adelaide’s sister Mathilde died in London at age 61, after a long illness. Shortly thereafter, Mathilde’s daughter Eugenie emigrated to New York, where her sister Adele helped her get settled. But would this have been enough to derail the ever-intrepid Adelaide? I tend to doubt it. Perhaps I’ll never know, but I’ll keep digging.
Whatever the reason, Adelaide was back in force in 1914 with her Caliostro act, performing multiple weeks in New York, Phildelphia and Washington.
There are many other dates on which Adelaide is among the missing. Her Swiss cheese life makes her all that more intriguing. Occasionally new details drop in my lap like jewels, and another shadowy corner of her life comes to light. These are always great days.