I am continuing my posts about famous Victorian magicians, and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about one of my favorites, Alexander Hermann. Born into a family of magicians, Alexander will become one of the most famous magicians of the Victorian period.
The start of Alexander’s career as a magician began with his father, Samuel Hermann, who was not only a physician, but also toured Europe as a magician. One of Samuel’s patrons was the Sultan of Turkey, who paid large amounts of money just to get Samuel to perform for him. Samuel even performed for Napoleon, who gave him a gold watch which he carried with him until the day he died.
With the birth of Compars his eldest son, Samuel settled in France and became a full-time physician. Compars, who also went by the name “Carl”, was schooled by his father in the conjuring arts. Carl began touring throughout France and he gave command performances in Paris and Versailles. Carl then went to medical school, but the magician bug had bitten him hard, so he dropped out of school to tour as a conjurer. In 1853 when Carl returned home from touring around Europe, he saw that his 8-year-old brother, the youngest of all the children, Alexander, was being schooled in the magician’s craft from his father. Without permission from his family, Carl “kidnapped” his brother and took him on tour with him. First stop, St. Peterburg and Alexander’s first lesson on becoming a stage performer. Carl made Alexander a part of his act, and in his spare time, he schooled his younger brother in magic. They toured throughout Russia, Germany, Italy and Portugal, and when they eventually returned to their parents’ house in France, Alexander was already on his way to becoming a magician extraordinaire. Alexander stayed with his parents until he reached 11 and then went to live with Carl in Vienna who continued to foster his education in magic. They toured America in 1860 but left because the Civil War had just erupted and went down to South America. Alexander was becoming a better magician than Carl could have imagined and so they split company and Alexander toured on his own until 1867 when he again joined forces with Carl, and they would tour one more time together. In 1871, Alexander was signed to a 3-year contract with the Egyptian Hall in London. In London he will meet a dancer by the name of Adelaide Scarcez, who will later become his wife. In March of 1875 they were married, and the ceremony was officiated by the mayor of New York. In July of 1876, he became a naturalized citizen and bought a mansion in Long Island, New York and here he would become known as Hermann the Great.
Adelaide and Alexander toured throughout the United States, South America and Europe for many years until they met Carl in Paris in 1885. Carl was jealous of his younger brother’s talents and so they decided Carl would have Europe as his stage while Alexander would stay in America. Two years later, Alexander was shocked by the death of his brother, his mentor. A part of him was gone.
The Hermanns did phenomenal illusions including a levitation that was the envy of all, especially of Harry Kellar, another American magician, who claimed he invented the levitation illusion. But, if you remember my post about Maskelyne, magicians told their own lies. Alexander was also known for his card skills and sleight of hand. One of Alexander Hermann’s most famous tricks is that of the Bullet Catch, which is as deadly as it sounds, and many things have gone wrong for other magicians doing it (including Chung Ling Soo, which will be in my next article).Adelaide and Hermann were touring the East Coast in their private train car when Alexander had a heart attack. He whispered to Adelaide, "Make sure all in the company get back to New York.” In his last moment, Alexander Hermann was thinking of other people, not himself. A doctor was called but it was no use, Hermann the Great was dead at the age of 52. Hermann’s funeral was attended by several thousands of people wanting to pay their respects to Herman the Great for not only was Alexander a great magician, but also a philanthropist. He gave many performances for those who could not afford his tickets and was even the first magician to perform at Sing Sing prison.
After his death, Adelaide kept up the family tradition and started performing Alexander’s illusions and her own sleight of hand. She even toured with Leon Herrmann, Alexander’s nephew, but they soon parted ways and she became known as “The Queen of Magic”. Adelaide performed magic for several years before she finally retired at 75. She died in 1932 where she was finally laid to rest next to her husband.