(Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette) What made a psychic a psychic in turn-of-the-century Worcester? More specifically, was there a typical profile common to members of Worcester's clairvoyant community. My inquiring mind wanted to know, so I did a bit of research on Ancestry.com. I searched some of the names I found in the city directories in the U.S. Census. I also did a general search using "clairvoyant" under keyword and "Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts" under location which pulled up quite a lot. I also did a general search in GenealogyBank, but unfortunately the more widely circulated Worcester newspapers are not indexed on GenealogyBank. Not surprisingly, I did find lots of articles on clairvoyants in newspapers from across the country. In general it seems when they weren't busy assisting in missing persons cases, they were in trouble with the law for one reason or other.
As far as Worcester's psychics go, I noticed a number of the women were older, often widows or divorced. Many lived alone or in boarding houses. I think it might be easy to be judgmental, and assume all psychics were con artists trying to make a quick buck at the expense of their customers. While I'm sure that may be so for some my guess is many of the women, perhaps women with no education or limited financial resources, were trying to make a living as best they knew how. A certain percentage probably believed they had a true gift. Others may have had a flare for the dramatic. One woman lived with her adult son and his young family. The son's profession is listed in the census as "actor." And yes, I do know I found the correct people in the census, because for most of the people listed their profession is actually given as clairvoyant or spiritual medium.
Many, though not all, of Worcester's clairvoyants lived or had their business establishments in the downtown area with easy access by public transportation. I love this business listing I found in the Worcester city directory for 1905.
MRS. DR. L. B. SMITH
Electric and Botanic Physician and
656 Pleasant St. Worcester, Mass.
Office Hours: 10 A.M. to 12P.M. and
1.30 to 4.30 and 7 to 8 P.M.
Wednesday and Friday Evenings reserved
'Phone call 2825-2
Diagnosis of Diseases by lock of hair $1.00.
Name, age and location of the person required.
The June and Tatnuck Electric
Cars pass the door every 7 to 10 minutes.
Take the cars at the corner of Main
and Pleasant Streets.
Mrs. Dr. Smith worked nights and weekends, AND was on a trolley line. I'm fascinated by the "Diagnosis of Diseases by lock of hair..." thing. I will admit to being more than a bit curious as to her education and the source of her credentialing agency or institution. One of the non-Worcester related articles I read on GenealogyBank was about a court case concerning a particular psychic and her use of the word "physician". Apparently an MD took exception to her rather liberal interpretation of the word. Also what's interesting, I noticed that earlier city directory listings for physicians include a wide variety of clairvoyants and their various sub specialties. The 1872 volume of the Worcester city directory includes the following specialists--eclectic physician, pulmonist, analytical, Thomsonian, movement cure, botanical, Indian, electrician, cancer and tumor. Aren't you just curious for more details on each one of those specialties. I can't help but think God help the poor souls who sought the advice of a "clairvoyant physician" for guidance regarding their cancer treatment.
While I lean towards the skeptical side of things regarding psychics I did have a really interesting "psychic" experience once. The experience was strange enough to keep my mind open to the possibility that true psychics do exist. Many, many years ago my mom and I went in to Boston shopping on a cold winter's day. We took the bus into the city. At the end of our shopping trip we were waiting in the old, dingy bus station which use to be on Essex St. trying to get warm before our bus came. This older woman, who looked like what we use to call a bag lady in less enlightened times, sat in the seat next to us and started talking to us. It was like she knew all about us. She knew I was an only child. She knew my dad was in the Navy. The conversation, which was mostly one-sided on her part, was filled with accurate information about our lives. Coincidence? Maybe, but let's just say the experience was strange enough for me to still recall it thirty years later.
Obviously this post is not an in depth study of spiritualism or even the spiritualists/clairvoyants in my own home town. I am simply interested in learning about people and social patterns, and find this subject absolutely fascinating and thought I'd share a little bit of my own experience and what I learned researching the psychics in my town. Is there a psychic in your family tree? Were there psychics in your town? Have you or a family member had an interesting experience with a psychic. I'd love to know.
I see a blog comment in your future...
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