She Caught Bullets with Her Bare Hands — and Made Magic's Glass Ceiling Disappear
When her husband died and left her penniless, audacious Adelaide Hermann transformed from lowly assistant to “the Queen of Magic.”
Illustration by Jared Boggess
In Baltimore, 1878, an eerie silence settled over the crowd in Ford’s Grand Opera House. The boisterous applause for Herrmann the Great’s wondrous illusions, in which the nattily dressed magician in a black velvet suit pulled a rabbit from his hat and levitated a sleeping woman, had abruptly stopped. A net was stretched across the full width of the theater, and the audience knew that the culmination of the evening — the cannon act — had arrived.
A young woman dressed in spangled red tights stepped into an upper stage box where the cannon waited, and was helped into the barrel. When she had vanished from view, Herrmann the Great yelled out: “Are you ready!”
“Yes,” came her muffled response. “Go!”
There was an explosion.
A flash of gunpowder.
And she flew 50 feet through the air.
Only when she landed safely in the net and the smoke cleared did the audience break into a thunder of cheers that lasted on and on as the curtain rose and fell over the bowing Herrmann th…