Madame Marzella: Queen of the Feathered World

It’s funny what catches your attention.

Scrolling through my Twitter feed I came across a call for help from @CemeteryClub asking for people to find out who she was and were she was buried. I spent a very happy morning researching this incredible character. Here is what I found out.

Madame Marzella was probably born in Germany around 1865. Her real name was Joanne Marie Kauffmann. I haven’t found a birth record (yet) but she married Augustinus Maximillianus Rose on 10 February 1865 at St Nikolaus Katholische Kirche, Daun, Rheinland. As it was a Catholic Church, the register was probably written in Latin so his name was more likely to be Auguste Maximillian. [Only transcripts are available on Ancestry]. They had a son, Christopherus Carolus [Christopher Charles] born 7 August 1885, baptised 9 August in the same church.

Joanne gave an interview to The Morning Post, Camden New Jersey, 30 April 1915 which gives a little insight to her early life:

“I have always loved animals. When I was barely able to toddle around my home in the Hardtz Mountains in Germany, I was making friends with the pigeons, pigs and birds about the farm. As I grew older my greatest delight was in training them to do little things for me.”

Max had an acrobatic and balancing act and he used birds as part of his act. I haven’t found any information about his initial act but in the early 1900’s, ‘Max Rose’s American Electrical Surprises’ was on the same billing as Madame Marzella. Bird training seemed to run in Max’s family; both his father and grandfather were trainers.

Brighton Gazette, Hove Post, Sussex & Surrey Telegraph, 1 January 1903

In another interview, Joanne described how she started out as a bird trainer. After her marriage, she started training the birds Max used in his act. She was so good that Max eventually gave up performing and became her manager.

National Archives, U.K. (photo dated 1898)

Her act sounds incredible.

“She carries two uniformed guards to assist her in her act, and the cages and various accessories used by the birds are strictly first class. The birds include pigeons, cockatoos, macaws, giant ravens and parrots, and are wonderfully trained. Many of the birds were beautiful in appearance, and the various tricks performed were wonderful. The tumbling pigeon, “Dr. Nichols,” pleased the audience with his acrobatic tricks, and the ravens who jumped through hoops of fire showed careful training.  In fact, there was not a weak place in the whole act, and Mr. Dennis and Mr. Gary are to be congratulated on securing this attraction for Stafford.”

Stafford Springs Press 10 October 1900

A popular part of her act was  a battle scene performed by white cockatoos. ‘Soldiers’ lit a toy cannon and shot an enemy, who fell down and died. The winners put the body on a stretcher, placed it in a hearse and drove away.

Her birds seemed to be well looked after, though I’m not sure about the medicinal alcohol!

The Sydney Mail & New South Wales Advertiser 14 October 1903

Apart from adverts and reviews about the act, it has been difficult to find out about Madame Marzella’s home life. However, I have a few tantalising clues:

  • 1910 US census, Stutsman, North Dakota: Max Rose, age 44, manager of the Orphean Theatre living with his wife Mary Rose, age 45, performer in the theatre;
  • Naturalisation record, Southern District, New York, 28 April 1913: Robert August Max Rose, age 41, theatrical manager, born 24 November 1865, Leitz, Germany. His address was 5721 Indiana Avenue, Chicago. To arrived in New York on the Mennominee on 18 December 1898 with his wife, Joanne, born 3 July 1864;
  • 1930 U.S. census, Middleton, New Jersey: Max R Rose, actor, age 64 living in Bray Avenue with his wife, Marie J. age 65 and grand-daughter, age 17, born Illinois. Max and Marie emigrated in 1900.
National Vaudeville Artists Souvenir 1923

Johanne died in 2 February 1955 in the Monmouth County Welfare Home, New Jersey. She was cremated two days later, in Rose Hill Crematory, Linden.

One fascinating twist to her story appeared when her will was made public.

Daily Record, New Jersey, 10 February 1956

I haven’t been able to trace Max and Johanne’s son, but their grand-daughter, Emilie, married Charles Friedlander in New Jersey in 1947. The couple were buried in Crest Haven Memorial Park, Clifton, New Jersey.

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