DOLLY ADAMS: VARIETY ACTRESS MARRIES MAN SHE ACCUSES OF THEFT WHILE HE IS IN POLICE CUSTODY IN HARLEM PRISON COURT (“OOPS….I STAND CORRECTED”)

The New York Times of September 21, 1897 reports that Emma Viola Street a variety actress, known as Dolly Adams;  and Frederick Hillmeyer, the son of a well-to-do hotel propieter,  were married in a

Harlem, New York, prison. They had to be married by a clergyman because a court room judge refused to perform the ceremony because he thought “the marriage could not turn out happily”.  The reason why Hillmeyer was in court was because he was accused by Ms Adams of stealing jewelry and cash from her Park Avenue flat. Ms Adams requested that the judge withdraw the charges but he refused to do so, causing the actress to have an “epileptic” fit. This cabinet card was photographed by an unidentified photographer at an unidentified location. This image is certainly risque for its time.  A visitor to the Cabinet Card Gallery left a comment that disputes my identification of the subject of this photograph. There were two actresses named Dolly Adams during the cabinet card era and the visitor’s comment accurately points out that the subject of this image is Dolly Adams, the “Water Queen”. Be sure to read the comment section of this blog entry to learn the “true story” behind this performer.

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Published in: on January 9, 2013 at 12:01 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. The lady in this photo is not the one of the NY Times article. I believe that the photo is of Dolly Adams, the “Water Queen”. She was born around 1860 in New York and died 28 Jan 1888 at sea en route to San Francisco. I have more information if you are interested.

    • I believe that you are correct and the lady in the photo is indeed Dolly Adams, the “Water Queen”. Looking at other cabinet card photographs of the “Water Queen” confirmed that the above cabinet card shows the same woman. Thanks for correcting my error. Both of the Dolly Adams lived very interesting lives. Dolly Adams, the “Water Queen” was born Ellen Loretta Callahan in 1860 in New York. Her parents were from Ireland. Her father, a longshoreman, died when Dolly was young. Dolly’s mom went to work and Dolly received little supervision and a age sixteen was working as a prostitute in a New York parlor house. During her youth she used to swim at the New York Aquarium with a group of other girls. She was a talented swimmer and received special training and learned to hold her breath under water for an extended period of time. She eventually became an underwater performer and was given the title “Water Queen”. Dolly moved to San Francisco, accompanying a couple of madams out west. She lived on the wild side in California. She became famous when she attended the Policeman’s Ball dressed as Cupid and ran up to President Grant and pinned a lily on the lapel of his coat. Observers stated that President Grant, a man who didn’t flinch in battle, appeared shocked upon this floral assault by Miss Adams. She also won first place for her costume. Dolly Adams returned to New York City where she continued to live a life full of drama and travail. She died in 1888 aboard a steam ship which was to take her on a tour of the orient. The cause of death was the impact of syphilis, opium addiction and pneumonia.


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