Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Today the campus library had its annual book giveaway. While I will have more on that later, there was one thing that I found lost in the stacks of free books that just blew me away.
            It was find an old edition of Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad.”  It’s a beautiful edition, published while Twain was still alive, 1905, by Harper & Brothers. But that isn't even the amazing part.

            As I was flipping through the pages, I found a beautifully embossed miniature card with the words “Kind Thoughts” stamped on the front of it, decorated with a knotted white string and a cameo portrait of a woman. 

The inside reads:

With Kindest Thoughts
All Good Wishes for the Coming Year
Mrs. Adelaide Herrmann

Gilsey House
New York City

When I got home, curiosity got the better of me, and I searched for the name Adelaide Herrmann, wondering if she was someone of note.
            During the late 19th and early 20th century, Adelaide Hermann was known as “The Queen of Magic” after marrying magician Alexander Hermann and joining his traveling magic show in 1875. After Alexander died in 1896, she continued his show with her nephew, Leon.

Adeline became famous for being one of the first magicians to perform the famous “bullet catch” trick, which she debuted  at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in 1897, shortly after her husband's death. The trick, which even Houdini said was too dangerous, was taken to new heights by Herrmann, who caught six bullets fired from the guns of six different local militiamen. She continued to perform until 1928, when she retired at the age of 75. She just happens to be buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, a regular haunt of mine. 

As for the Gilsey House, it’s located on Broadway in New York City, in the heart of the old Tenderloin district, which was basically Manhattan’s Montmartre, bawdy theatres and backroom prostitution. 29th Street, which bordered The Gilsey, was famous for its string of brothels. Despite this, the Gilsey was a beautifully built and amazingly modern hotel, being the first hotel in Manhattan to offer its clients the use of telephones.  
In its heyday the Gilsey's clientele included, among others, Mark Twain. 


  1. that is so fucking cool! Bummed I missed the giveaway.

  2. Awesome! What an interesting story!

  3. You, lucky stranger, are so very fortunate. I wish I had been in your shoes at that moment. I've loved the Herrmannic dynasty since my introduction to magic and Adelaide Herrmann has been my long-time idol. She is one of the central figures I'm including in my college thesis.

    Please do take care of that fine artifact. Otherwise more than a few of us magic historians would gladly do so in your stead. ;)

    All the Best,


    For further discussion: