Back in March, I began an article by lamenting the relative obscurity of one of magic’s greatest female performers, Adelaide Herrmann. Once called “The Queen of Magic,” Herrmann’s rise to fame and fortune in an age that afford women little in the way of opportunity makes for a fascinating story. Fortunately, Allison C. Meier over at Narratively clearly agrees, and has penned a superb article covering Herrmann’s life and career. The read begins with her time performing with her husband, Herrmann the Great, to his untimely death and her rise to fame as a solo magician, then onto her 25-year-long run as one of the most successful magicians in the world, the great warehouse fire that effectively ended her career, and finally, her death.
The article goes beyond the mere facts and dates of Herrmann’s career, and tells her story in a much more emotive fashion than you might expect. For example, I knew Herrmann often performed as a man during her early days in the craft, but I didn’t know the story behind her first real trick:
From the beginning of their collaboration, Adelaide starred in many of Alexander’s illusions. In the early days, she dressed in men’s clothing and went by Mr. Alexander. Mainly she handed props to her husband, but one night, as he accepted a strand of six handkerchiefs that she had gathered from the crowd, he winked and said, “Mr. Alexander is now going to perform this trick.” Adelaide ran from the stage in a panic. After a bit of coaxing she came back and performed the trick, blowing on the knots to make them disappear. Her take on the illusion became a fixture in their program.
This is one of many events in Herrmann’s life that is funnier than Wikipedia makes it sound. The piece, like the life of its subject, is full of funny and heartbreaking moments. I strongly suggest you read it.
Have you ever heard of Adelaide Herrmann? Dubbed “The Queen of Magic” during her fifty-year career in the art, Herrmann was certainly the most successful female magician of her time, if not all time. You can learn all about her incredible life in the latest episode of What’sHerName, a podcast dedicated to discussing remarkable women throughout history. Appearing on the podcast will be mentalist and Merlin Award winner, Paul W Draper, alongside usual hosts Katie Nelson and Olivia Meikle.
Here’s a few spoilers. Adelaide Hermann née Scarcez began her career as a dancer and Velocipede rider before entering the magic industry proper as an assistant to her husband, Alexander Hermann, also known as “Herrmann the Great.” Together they performed feats of escapology and magic, including the infamous bullet catch trick, until Alexander’s death in 1896. Just a month after the death of her husband, Adelaide performed the bullet catch on her own, with surviving publicity material describing her as catching six bullets fired at her by local militiamen. What followed was an eventful, successful career that lasted her well into old age. She toured London and Paris, and then made her Broadway debut in 1903. She was still performing in her 70s until a fire in a New York City warehouse destroyed her props and took the lives of several of her performing animals.
And that’s just the surface level stuff; the podcast goes into far more detail about the times and triumphs of the Queen of Magic. You can listen to it in full in the embedded player below, visit the What’sHerName podcast website, or subscribe to the What’sHerName podcast on iTunes, Android, Google Play, or Stitcher.