In the Realm of the Readers

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In this installment of "Your Wate and Fate," we take a look at the fascinating subject of how psychic readers and rootworkers of the past advertised their services to the public. My Patreon supporters funded my research and the scanning of paper ephemera for this web page and had access to it one full year before the public did.

  • Patreon Release Date: August 7th, 2021
  • Public Release Date: August 7th, 2022.
  • Patreon Release Date: August 28th, 2021
  • Public Release Date: August 28th, 2022.

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August 7th, 2022 — The Prophetic Profession.
August 28th, 2022 -- In the Realm of the Readers

All of the material you have access to here -- the instructive booklets, the nostalgic postcards, the boldly graphic ephemera, and all of the historical information researched and shared from the mind of the woman who is making it all happen -- can easily fit into one 8 x 10 foot room in an old Victorian farmhouse, but you would never see it without the investment of the time it takes to produce such a site and the caloric input such a site requires in the form of food for the writer, graphic designer, and database manager, as well as the US currency needed to pay for the computers, software applications, scanners, electricity, and internet connectivity that bring it out of that little room and into the world.

So, as you can see, this site is the darling of many, and it is growing at a rapid rate ... but although it is "free," there also is a cost. The financial support of my Patreon subscribers -- my Patrons -- underwrites this cost.




Silk-screened metal face-plate for a mechanical Madame-X fortune-telling napkin holder, 1950s

Throughout this site you will encounter many mechanical devices, tools, and symbol-systems used to tell fortunes and predict a client's fate. In a sense, "Your Wate and Fate" is a tribute to the mechanical genius of those who have sought to create self-working forms of divination, such as wheels and spinners, penny scales, and coin-operated character reading machines.

But who are the operators of the devices of fate? Who spins the wheels, rolls the dice, pulls the cards, searches the stars, reads the palms, calls up the ghosts, writes the texts on the arcade papers, throws the bones, casts the coins, gazes into the crystals, shuffles the sortilege, or interprets the tea leaves? Why, the fortune tellers, of course.

Fortune tellers, also known as psychic readers, spiritual mediums, seers, or soothsayers, are people who earn part, most, or all of their living by divining the futures of seekers who come to them for information and assistance. Some fortune tellers specialize in character readings, some in short- or long-term predictions, and some prefer to give answers to specific questions only.

It is one thing to study divination by its methods, but it is another to study it by researching its practitioners. Often subjected to the abuse of skeptics, often working under assumed names where their trade is illegal, fortune tellers generally serve a clientele in need of carefully nuanced advice, both spiritual and pragmatic. The fact that they have chosen this unconventional career makes them worthy of interest. Certainly some have been con artists and frauds, but more are helpful advisors with spiritual gifts, retired stage performers, or occult and metaphysical authors, and most of them by far toil at the work of reading futures day after day for decades, developing small but dedicated followings in rural villages or downtown city offices. Who they are, and why they do this, is as important a question as how they do it.

It's All Emphemera

Painted and gilded sheet metal advertising sign for a Fortune Teller, early 21st century
Business card of Lee Baine, Palm Reader at Sanford, North Carolina, 1960s-1990s
Business card of Mrs. Myrtle Collins, Spiritual Doctor and Rootworker, collected by Harry M. Hyatt in Memphis Tennessee, 1937
Business card of Frederic Davies, Astrologer and Tarot Reader with offices in London, Rome, Athens, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris
Business card of Josephine De Elgar, Palmist and Card Reader, Dayton, Ohio, 1930s
Front of a two-sided flyer for Dr. E. D. England, collected by Harry M. Hyatt in Norfolk, Virginia in 1937; England had been an Astrologer, Reader, and Rootworker for 35 years at that point
Folded and torn front of a two-sided flyer for Madame Gaylor, Psychic Reader, Palmist, and Numerologist, Montgomery, Alabama
Business card of Mrs. Hise, Natural Clairvoyant, Kansas City, Kansas, 1880-1890; the chromolithographic image of red roses and a metallic silver anchor signifies that she was a Spiritualist who could contact the beloved dead and would also report on the safety of loved ones far away, such as sailors at sea.
Business card of Mme. Lorraine, Psychic and Crystal Gazer, USA, Location Ambiguous, 1910s - 1920s; her address, 171 W. Park Street, occurs in several cities; further research may disclose which one matches the old phone exchange Brdy (Brady? Broadway?).
Advertising flyer of Prof. W. M. Martin, Fortune Teller, Clairvoyant, and Mind Reader, Evansville, Indiana, circa 1915; he was also a root doctor, for he advertised that he could "remove spells that have been caused by any evil influence [and] cure any lingering disease [...] which has been caused by Hoodoo, Witchcraft and Conjuration."
Business card of Bert F. Ober, Professional Hypnotist, Stahlstown, Pennsylvania, late 19th century
Good Luck "throw-out card" of Madame Olga, Psychic Reader and wife of Mysterious Smith; Travelling Entertainer, circa 1920s-1930s, when the swastika was merely a symbol of health and happiness
An early business card of Dr. E. P. Read, Herbalist, Pharmacist, Psychic Reader, Root Doctor, and Entrepreneur of the then all-black town of Lawnside, New Jersey, probably before 1900, stating his occupation as Judge of the Small Cause Court of the 2nd District of Center Township in Camden County, New Jersey; shortly thereafter he opened an herbal pharmacy, hoodoo shop, printing plant, and insurance business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Business card of Prof. Punditjee, offering a free Scientific Palm Reading with each meal at the Gypsy Tea Kettle in New York City, New York, which had three locations in New York at this time, circa 1930s
Business card of Madame Robert, a travelling Psychic Reader, in Federalsburg, Maryland circa 1920s-1930s; like several other readers during the era of legislated racial segregation, she made a point of advertising the fact that she read "for white and colored."
Business card of Ross, Tea Leaf and Card Reader at the Gypsy Tea Shop and Wishing Cup Tea Room, Boston, Massachusetts, 1930s
Business card of Ann Sauer, Tea Leaf Reader at the 1933 Century of Progress (World's Fair) in Chicago; she told fortunes at the German-American Building, which was operated by an organization dedicated to fostering an alliance between America and Nazi Germany.
Postcard advertisement for 1932 astrological forecasts by Prof. A. F. Seward, Astrologer, Numerologist, and Author; each year's announcement is traditionally mailed in the Autumn of the previous year, so this card is dated October 1931; artwork and lettering by Seward, who illustrated all of his own ads, flyers, books, and pamphlets
Business card of Madam Taylor, a travelling Psychic Reader, in Albany, Missouri, circa 1920s-1930s
Advertisement for Mrs. Lillian A. Wilson (Lillian Smith Wilson Sheldon): Spiritual Medium; sister-in-law of Dr. E. P. Read and a reader at his establishment; Lawnside, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1900s-1920s.

In taking up and considering my own career in divination, i have found it meaningful to look into the lives of those who lived before me and did the same. Of course i have read the biographies of the famed, and sometimes scandalous, seers of history, from Cassandra and the Witch of Endor to Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce -- but i am frankly more interested in the lives and methods of the lesser-known readers -- the fortune tellers, not the prophets. One way to get to know them, and to see where my methods accord with theirs and how i can learn from them, is to research them as if they were beloved ancestors or long-lost cousins.

The easiest way to access the minds of people who have died is to view the written or artistic remnants of their lives. Did they publish books or pamphlets on fortune telling methods, write newspaper or magazine columns, sign their names to texts or illustrations?

The next best way to research the lives of fortune tellers is to seek out secondary sources. Were they interviewed or photographed, did they leave a record of arrest and imprisonment, did someone write a first-hand reminiscence about them? Such documentation, because it is not created by the readers themselves, is subject to the varied opinions of the observers. I always take a cautious approach to the literality of such sources. When a hard-working fortune teller becomes some journalist's example of slothful depravity or fumbling foolery i am not looking into the mind of the reader -- rather, i am reading the journalist's mind.

Of course, finding out about famous Roman seers or Renaissance prognosticators is not difficult. In addition to their own works, mentions of the best-known soothsayers of history appear in the journals, diaries, and biographical notes of their time. In such cases i can achieve both a primary and a secondary glimpse into their lives.

But what about the common, everyday fortune tellers? How may they be known?

For me, as with most everything, the answer is, "It's all ephemera." Beginning in the 19th century, with the rise of cheap printing, fortune tellers everywhere advertised their services in newspapers, magazines, and via business cards and publicity photos.

I collect such business cards and photographs, and when i have free time, i amuse myself by using newspaper archives, genealogical sites, and old books to see if i can learn more about these long-dead colleagues of mine.

This page is the opening of a door to an obscure dimension wherein dwell the shades of the seers who have gone before us. I call it "The Realm of the Readers."

Evidentiary Sightings

In the religion of Spiritualism, an evidentiary medium is one who not only contacts the dead and delivers their messages to the living, but also provides physical evidence of having done so. The evidence may consist of visible images of ghosts or spirits, aports or small items that have materialized, or phenomena such as cold winds in a closed room, or the unexplained whiff of a departed one's favourite perfume. In the case of our dear departed psychic colleagues, the evidences that remain are often business cards or newspaper clippings.

During the years from 1850 to 2000, thousands of psychic readers hung out their shingles, presented clients with cartes de visite, passed along their business cards, paid for newspaper ads, or scaled throw-out cards into their lecture audiences, but i can only report on those who have left a trace, a link to their passage through the world. I actively collect such cards and photographs, and if you have any for sale, i would love to hear from you.

I shall begin by listing the names of some of the psychic readers with whom i have been in contact from beyond the grave through the paper goods and signage they have left for me to find. In times to come, i will link each these names to primary and secondary sources of evidence of their work among us. A few tempting images and links are scattered here on this page as teasers for much more to come. My intention is to create a web page honouring each reader for whom i have found ephemera. The result will be an encyclopedia or directory of 150 years of psychic readers in private practice.

The names are in alphabetical order by surname. If the reader only went by a first name and an honorific title, the first name is what is used. I have listed their own self-stated descriptions of their occupations or methodologies insofar as possible.

The dates given here are not birth and death dates; rather they are the dates of the business cards, newspaper clippings, and signage i have accumulated. Some of these dates are exact and some are approximate, with my estimates of date-ranges based both on biographical research and by identification of type fonts and illustration styles popular during certain eras.

Likewise, the locations given here refer only to the places indicated on the business cards or advertisements of services. When birth and death dates and other locations are known, they will appear on the biographical pages for the readers.

Some of the linked pages to which this list points are to be found on other web sites -- but all of these off-site pages are the results of my own research and were written by me.

Check them out, and watch as more names and more links appear here over time.

A-B-C

  • Mrs. Ann: Card Reader and Palmist; Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1960-1970s.
  • Lee Baine: Palmist; Sanford, North Carolina, 1960s-1990s.
  • Stanley Barrett (Gail C. Blakey): Astrologer and Author; location unknown (possibly Ohio), 1930s.
  • Bernice Barton: Tea Leaf Reader and Tea Room Proprietor; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1950s-1960s.
  • Prof. Belmont: Gifted Medium And Palmist, one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Lady Berdell: Reader; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Mrs. Booth: Blind Phrenologist; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Madame Careta: Palmist; location unknown, 1910s.
  • Carita: Card Reader and Palmist; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Charlotta: Reader And Adviser; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Clifford William Cheasly: Numerologist and Author; New York City, New York, and Boston, Massachusetts, 1913-1975.
  • Mystic Clayton: Crystal Gazer and Psychic Reader; Travelling Entertainer, 1920s-1930s.
  • Mrs. Myrtle Collins: Spiritual Doctor, Psychic Reader, and Rootworker; Memphis, Tennessee, 1930s.
  • Claude Alexander Conlin: Crystal Gazer and Author; Travelling Entertainer between Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California, 1910s-1950s.
  • Madame Corrie: Life Reader; one of the Diviners of Dayton.

D-E-F

  • Frederick Davies: Astrologer and Tarot Reader; London, Rome, Athens, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris.
  • Josephine De Elgar and the Diviners of Dayton: Card Reader and Palmist; Dayton, Ohio, 1920s - 1930s.
  • Mrs. Dolandson: Palmist, Card reader, and Crystal Gazer; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Dr. E. D. England, M.A.: Mystic Advisor (M.A.), Astronomer, Astrologer, Psychic Reader, and Rootworker; Norfolk, Virginia, 1900 - 1940 (business card from 1937).
  • Madame Evelyn: Tea Leaf Reader and Numerologist; Spanish Court Tea Room, location unknown, 1920s-1930s.
  • Floye: Psychic Reader; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • H. Jerome Fosselli: Scientific Palmist; San Francisco, California, 1900-1915.

G-H-I

  • Madame Gaylor: Psychic Reader, Palmist, and Numerologist; Montgomery, Alabama, 1930s-1940s.
  • Prof. Hermann: Reader; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Mrs. Hise: Natural Clairvoyant; Kansas City, Kansas, 1880-1890.

J-K-L

  • Madam Jeanette: Medium And Adviser; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Margaret King: Tea Leaf Reader; Detroit, Michigan, 1930s.
  • Madam La Venus: Adviser; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Madam Leone: Gifted Reader And Advisor; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Rev. Hattie V. Lewis: Spiritual Medium; Washington, D. C., 1930s.
  • Mrs. Erma Libson: Tea Leaf Reader; Detroit, Michigan, 1930s.
  • Mme Lorraine: Psychic, Crystal Gazer; USA, Location Ambiguous, 1910s - 1920s.
  • Don Luis: Tea Leaf Reader and Clairvoyant; Kansas City, Missouri, 1930s.

M-N-O

  • Madame Marie: Palmist; Fort Benning, Georgia, 1940s.
  • Prof. W. M. Martin: Clairvoyant Mind Reader; Evansville, Indiana, circa 1915.
  • Evangeline Morgan: Advisor Supreme; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Muriel: Tea Leaf Reader and Author; Detroit, Michigan, 1930s.
  • Nedra: Tea Leaf Reader at the Gypsy Tea Kettle restaurant chain; New York City, circa 1930s-1940s.
  • Madame Neergaard (Grace Neergaard): Scientific Palmist; San Francisco, California, 1900-1815.
  • Bert F. Ober: Professional Hypnotist; Stahlstown, Pennsylvania, late 19th century.
  • Ohaspe: Psychic Adviser; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Madame Olga: Psychic Reader and wife of Mysterious Smith; Travelling Entertainer, 1920s-1930s.

P-Q-R

  • Prof. Punditjee: Scientific Palmist and Tea Leaf Reader at the Gypsy Tea Kettle restaurant chain; New York City, 1930s-1940s.
  • Paschal Beverly Randolph:Crystal Gazer, Clairvoyant, Spiritualist Medium, Rootworker, and Author; Memphis, Tennessee; San Francisco, California; and Toledo, Ohio, 1850-1875.
  • Dr. E. P. Read: Psychic Reader, Astrologer, Herbalist, Rootworker, and Author,; brother-in-law of Spiritual Medium Lillian A, Wilson; Lawnside, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1890s-1940s.
  • Madam Reada Crystal Gazer, Palmist, and Psychic; location unknown, 1910s.
  • Madame / Madam Robert: Psychic, Palmist, Advisor; Rootworker; Federalsburg, Maryland, 1930s-1940s.
  • Ross: Tea Leaf and Card Reader; Gypsy Tea Shop and Wishing Cup Tea Room, Boston, Massachusetts, 1930s.
  • Sister Ruby: Psychic Reader; Pageland, South Carolina, 1990s.

S-T-U

  • Prof. A. F. Seward: Astrologer, Palmist, and Card Reader; Travelling Entertainer, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida, 1900s-1960s.
  • Herbert Arthur Sloane (Kala the Cardopractor): Card Reader and Evidentiary Spirit Medium; Mansfield, Ohio; South Bend, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio, 1932-1975.
  • Madame Snehega: Palmist; location unknown, 1930s.
  • Madam Stonar: Psychic Reader; Alabama, 1930s.
  • Madame Taylor: Psychic Reader; Peripatetic, but located in Albany, Missouri, in the 1920s-1930s.
  • Madam Terry: Readingser; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Professor Usher: Psychic Reader, Geomancer, and Tea Leaf Reader; Calgary, Alberta, Canada,

V-W-X-Y-Z

  • Madame Vaughn: Spiritualist; one of the Diviners of Dayton.
  • Valdo and Princess Pat: Musical Clairvoyants, 1940s, New York and New Jersey.
  • Iris Vorel (Margaret Bridgman)': Astrologer and Author, New York City, New York, 1920s-1940s.
  • Lillian A. Wilson (Lillian Smith Wilson Sheldon): Spiritual Medium; sister-in-law of Dr. E. P. Read and a reader at his establishment; Lawnside, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1900s-1920s.
  • Zulukee the Hindoo: Palmistry and Life Reading; Peripatetic, temporarily at the Brunswick Hotel, location uncertain (card found in Rogersville, Tennessee), 1880-1910.

See Also

catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
Your Wate and Fate


Special thanks to my dear husband and creative partner nagasiva yronwode for illustrations, scans, and clean-ups.