The Mysterious Miss Grace Addison

Grace Addison joined my family tree in 1898, when she married my distant cousin, actor Frederick (or Frederic) Vroom. At the time I wrote his biography for this blog, I was unaware of Grace’s history. This is her story, and updates his story as well, where they intersect.

I have not yet found Grace’s birth record. Later records from the census, passenger records, and her death certificate give years varying from 1856 to as late as 1872. Her death record names her parents as Edward Addison and what appears to be Gwennie Davis but just says that she was born in the US. Her places of birth are variously recorded as United States, Ohio (with parents born in Indiana), Pennsylvania (with parents born in Wales), and New York City. I have not been able to find any early records for Grace or her family, until she is mentioned in newspapers in 1882.

Grace was an actress for about twenty years.  In 1884, Grace was part a dramatic company appearing with W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) in “The Prairie Waife”, a play written for Cody by John A Stevens. This was a year before Annie Oakley joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. While the newspapers through the years named her roles and parts, I have not been able to find scripts or descriptions on line for these shows. Even when the plays were less than highly regarded, her reviews were consistently good, with phrases like: gave the play what life it had; pleased the audience with song and dance; the costumes were dreams. During her performance years, she survived and recovered from loss of her voice, and typhoid fever.

It appears that Grace was politically active as she was often mentioned as a member, speaker, or officer of NYC’s Professional Woman’s League.  Many of the women in this group were from the theater.  A story from 6 Aug 1893 – Daily Picayune – Green Room – Gossip of Plays and the Players – “Genius and the Stage Management of To-Day, with Hints to Actresses” was the subject of a paper read by Grace Addison at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Professional Woman’s League, says the New York Dramatic Mirror…. Owing to the inability of a member to be present and read a paper for which she had been assigned, Miss Addison prepared her paper on short notice, and it was necessarily brief, but it furnished a good theme for debate. Miss Addison maintained that modern managers, by casting talented young women for parts unsuited to them, checked budding genius and originality and conspired to make actresses mere machines and puppets. This assertion was the cause of considerable talk, in which the older members told some things about old-time managers and their methods that were new to their younger sisters of the stage.

In 1894, the Victoria Daily Colonist published a story about the Professional Women’s League, describing Grace Addison, a young and favorably known actress, who has interesting ideas on the revival of the Shakespearean drama. At a PWL meeting later that year, she gave a paper which asserted that she was “a lineal descendant of the gentleman who gave us Sir Roger de Coverley, declared the genius of her ancestry in discussing the merits of Moliere”. The article did not explain how Grace was descended from Moliere.

While in NYC, Grace often lived with her sister Marie. In 1895, Grace played Nerissa in Merchant of Venice. Frederic Vroom was Antonio. This is the first record I have where Grace and Frederic worked together. Grace sailed several times between NY and Paris, often travelling with Marie.

On 22 February, 1897, the Brooklyn Standard Union reported: A strong company of vaudeville favorites, including Grace Addison and Frederick Vroom, will delight the patrols of the Criterion Theater this week. Another item reported: There was a good-sized audience at the Criterio Theatre last night, and they were well entertained, judging by the way they applauded the performers. Grace Addison made her first appearance in vaudeville last night, and met with a hearty reception in the comediatta entitled, “The Courtship of Master Modus. She was assisted by Frederick Vroom, who is a popular comedian. A review said “she played Helen – enacted with vivacity and impression, the graceful art of love-making.”

In August, 1897, the Temple Theatre (Louisville KY) engaged Frederick Vroom as leading man and Grace Addison as leading lady. (Twenty years later, this theater was one of the first to show moving pictures.) Grace married the previously divorced Frederick Vroom on 7 April, 1898 in Louisville. The marriage record index does not name the parents of either, although Frederick’s parents are known from other records as Albert Douglas Vroom and Charlotte Maria Morse.

Grace continued to tour, visiting British Columbia, England, and the southern and middle states of the US. In 1899 the Vroom-Addison company reached California. “It is announced that Miss Grace Addison, the handsome and talented emotional actress of the Vroom-Addison Company, who has been recognized for her ideal and passionate interpretation of Shakespeare’s heroines …will be seen this season on this coast.” Grace was apparently fluent in the French language, as she was credited with translating a French play into English. The newspapers continued to compliment Grace’s appearance and talents, calling her “an actress of rare emotional ability.”

Even after she committed attempted homicide against her husband, the papers seemed sympathetic to her. The following quotes and information are taken from The San Francisco Call on 13 May 1900, and the days following.

ACTRESS GRACE ADDISON SHOOTS FAITHLESS SPOUSE Actor Frederic Vroom is nursing a gunshot wound received at the hands of Grace Addison Vroom, actress. It is not a stage wound, nor is the bullet that crashed against his rib a stage ball, although the state of affairs that led to the shooting is dramatic in the extreme.  

The Vroom-Addison Dramatic Company had been working in the San Francisco area. Frederick had become interested in the gold rush at Cape Nome (Alaska) and had been neglecting the Company. He also became neglectful of his home and began spending time at his office. Grace became suspicious, and set up the bed in the office in such a way that she would know if it had been used. When it wasn’t, she hired a detective who traced Fredrick to the home of another actress named Maude Morrell. Grace confronted Maude at home, and depending on which woman is telling the story, either did or did not threaten Maude with a gun, getting a full confession from her. She also claimed to have found her husband’s night-shirt there, and discovered that Frederick was visiting the boarding house under an assumed name. Grace then confronted her husband at his office, showing the night-shirt and accusing him of treachery. Vroom struck his wife, knocking her down, and she shot at him. Vroom was taken to a doctor, and Grace went to her sister’s house. The shooting was not reported to the police, and at the time of this first story, no arrests had been made.
The day after this story was published, Grace turned herself in at police headquarters, saying, “My name is Grace Addison Vroom, and I have come to surrender myself for shooting my husband last Tuesday. You can do anything you like with me, put me in jail and keep me there forever, as my heart is broken, and I wish I were dead.” Grace claimed to have bruises from her husband’s assault on her. Although she was charged with “Assault to Murder”, her bail was set at only $25 and officers escorted her home to get the money. By this time, Frederick had gone to Seattle, probably on his way to Cape Nome, and since he wasn’t there to file a complaint, it was expected that the case would be dismissed. Maude Morrell had also disappeared. The police seemed most angry at Dr. Charles J. Schmelz who attended Vroom after he was shot, for not reporting the affair, saying if the law could reach him action would be taken against him.

The newspaper reported that Mrs. Vroom had saved about $3000, which she put into the Addison-Vroom Company, but through her husband’s misconduct with the Morrell woman the company disbanded and she lost her money. She had been playing an engagement at the Dewey Theater, Oakland.  Speaking of that she said: “All week I played while my heart was breaking. I wanted to give myself up, but they would not let me, as it would have spoiled the play, so I struggled on, but little did the audiences know how much it cost me.”

The following day, Maude Morrell gave her story to the papers. She was apparently held in high regard in the community, which felt outraged at the incident, believing that no illicit relations what ever existed between her and Actor Vroom. While she was in the Vroom-Addison Company, she developed a friendship with Vroom, who would visit her from time to time. Maude said she only signed the confession because Grace threatened her with a gun. Friends of Maude described Grace as insanely jealous and a fuss maker.

Grace did appear in court on the charges, turning the weapon over to a detective. She denied that she threatened Maude with a weapon in order to get the confession, saying she didn’t even have it with her at the time. She also stated that when she searched Maude’s room, she found things that her husband had stolen from her and gave to Maude. The court case seems to have ended there. Ten days later, the papers reported that Grace had sailed on the “Charles D Lane”, going to Nome to join a theatrical group. I don’t know if Grace and Frederick met up with each other in Alaska. The population in 1900 was over 12,000, but it would seem plausible for one to find the other with a minimum of effort.

A New York paper commented on the shooting, said, “Mrs. Frederick Vroom, at the point of a pistol, compelled Miss Maud Morrell, an actress, to acknowledge her fondness for Mr. Vroom. Armed with Miss Morrell’s confession and the same pistol, the spirited wife went gunning for her husband and shot him, but alas! not fatally. Those who have seen Mr. Vroom busily at work acting out on the stage in Mme. Modjeska’s farewell company must feel inclined to chide Mrs. Vroom bitterly for her careless inaccuracy in the use of firearms. The Glorious Climate – There must be something conducive to emotional eccentricity about the glorious climate of California. Little Mrs. Vroom as Miss Grace Addison was the meekest kind of an actress before she took up her residence in Frisco and became a shooting star.”

On 18 June 1900, Mrs. Grace Vroom was counted in the federal census in Seattle at Arlington Docks. She was probably on her way to Alaska, as many of the people around her were listed as prospectors or miners. Cape Nome is on the Bering Sea, Alaska and was an area of placer mining after a claim in June 1899. Her stay in Alaska was short. By early 1901 Grace was performing in NYC – Grace Addison is in a part well suited to her line of work.

A news item 1902 “Grace Addison received word last week that her claim on Solomon Creek at Cape Nome will prove quite valuable next year.” Over the next few years papers reported Grace’s appearances in Maine and Philadelphia as well as New York. She worked with the Women’s Professional League running a rummage sale of costumes distinguishing herself in the role of auctioneer. A 1903 items says Grace Addison sold her residence at Cairo, Ill., and went to Southern California, where she intended to purchase a homestead.  The PWL presented Euripides’s tragedy “Alkestis” with Grace Addison managing the production and playing Alkestis. In fact, all but two players were women, and the managing, directing, and staging was all done by PWL. In October 1903, a news item says Grace Addison was convalescing from a serious illness but didn’t identify the illness.

In 1905, Grace was counted in the New York State Census living in Manhattan with her sister Marie, and Marie’s husband Waldemar Doerschel. He was a musician.

The April 1906 issue of The Christian Science Journal published a testimony written by Grace: “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” was first placed in my hands about twelve years ago. I remember saying, after having read several pages, that it had an uplifting influence which was remarkable. However, I continued my pursuit of Eastern philosophy and the sophistry of the would-be sciences of the day, trying to find the solution to the problem of life, and little dreaming that I had laid down the precious key that would unlock its seeming mystery. The years thus drifted by, then sorrow and affliction came, and with them despair, — the darkness of night without a star. At this time my attention was again turned to Christian Science, and I received treatment, but a collapse seemed inevitable, and I was unable to resist the suggestion I must have a physician. The struggle lasted three months. According to materia medica it was a serious complication of symptoms, and unusual in the extreme. I was fed on mineral waters and liquids for many weeks, with the prospect of a year without any solid food. The physician’s last warning was that if I had a relapse he could give me no hope. I again took up Science and Health, and read it faithfully until the morbidness of not wanting to live had gradually disappeared. Life had a new meaning but the physician’s warning kept ringing in my ears, and the relapse came. I was playing at the time (being in the dramatic profession) when the pain and the swelling over my heart commenced, but I knew enough from the study of the precious book to hold on to the omnipresence of God, good. Fortunately we were playing in the city, so that I could go to a practitioner. In one treatment the swelling was removed; in two treatments I was able to eat anything, and in two weeks my condition was completely normal. In the mean time I played every night, and scarcely a member of the company knew of the battle for life that was going on. To say that I am thankful and grateful for this remarkable experience of divine healing does not express it; my life must testify its gratitude. I praise and thank God, and His Messenger, Mrs. Eddy, for this understanding of Life, Truth, and Love that leads the weary traveler to the promised land. — Grace Addison, New York, NY

A 1907 news item says that Grace was playing at the Columbia, in the burlesque and olio. This is the last record I have of Grace connecting herself to the entertainment business. The 1910 US census lists a Grace Addison in Manhattan. Her occupation is listed as teacher/ scientist. She continued travelling between NYC and France. The 1912 Christian Science Journal listed Miss Grace Addison as a Christian Science Practitioner. The 1913 city directory lists her there, occupation writer.

New York Passenger Lists show Grace arriving from France on 15 October 1912. This record lists a specific birth date of 17 Jun 1862, and specific birth place of Summit Hill, Pennsylvania. Summit Hill was an early coal mining town in Carbon County. Another passenger record shows Grace arriving back in New York on 24 August 1914, and she used that same date of birth. She was travelling with her sister, Marie Doerschel. This document has the most precise information about her birth place and date, but I cannot confirm this information with any other records.

The 1917 NYC city directory lists Grace living at 55 W 126th, occupation writer. This is a multi-home family built in 1909, now in Harlem. Grace also wrote a 4 act play, called “Just Miss Elaine” and obtained a copyright for her work on 18 April 1917. I was not able to find a copy of this play on line. The 1918 city directory lists Grace still living at 55 W 126th, occupation writer.

Grace died 4 May 1918 at the Flower Hospital. The death certificate says the cause of death was “unable to be stated”, but that her last illness was malignant degradation of uterine fibroid, contributing factor hysterectomy. Her death certificate doesn’t list her birth date or place but indicates she has been a life resident of New York City. Her home address matches that in the 1918 city directory, but her occupation appears to be “house work”. Grace is listed on Find-A-Grave at Fresh Pond Crematory and Columbarium in Middle Village, Queens County, New York.

Mysteries about Grace still exist. One of the news items about the shooting refers to Grace Addison as her stage name. It was her name before and after her marriage to Vroom. But is it her birth name? In spite of having her parents’ names listed on the death certificate, I have not yet found Grace as a child. Are her date and place of birth as recorded on the passenger lists accurate?

Grace’s sister Marie J Doerschel reported in the 1920 census that she was born in Illinois, and that her parents were born in Wales. Marie died in 1955, and she and her husband are also interred at Fresh Pond.

Frederick Vroom recovered from his wound, and soon returned from Alaska to California. I wonder if the property on Solomon Creek owned by Grace was originally owned by Vroom, perhaps part of a divorce property settlement. Vroom continued acting, appearing in silent films with Buster Keaton, probably most famously in “The General.” He married twice more, outliving both of the women. He died in 1942 in Beverly Hills.