Fortune Tellers and Charlatans

Fortune telling has always been a popular form of amusement. There is an irresistible longing to know what our future holds. You may meet someone who has a real gift of “second sight” or incredible intuition who can tell you things that will come to pass in your life. While these people do exist, they are vastly outnumbered by the charlatans who pretend to have these gifts.

One sure-fire way to know if you’re dealing with a false fortune teller or psychic is to listen for Barnum statements. A Barnum statement is a vague, general statement that is true of most people but is used to imply the fortune teller has some special insight about you.  For instance, if a man has his fortune told, a false fortune teller might say, “I sense a good deal of anxiety in a particular situation in your life. But also that there is a little feeling of hopefulness. And I see someone who cares a lot about you. I see her quite clearly, and she has brown eyes.”

Most people who seek out fortune tellers feel anxious about something specific happening in their lives and they desperately want to receive good news.  Also brown eyes are the most common eye color. Most men have known a woman who has brown eyes–a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, a sister, or a friend. Everything the fortune teller said is true. Depending on how credulous the person is, it might be all the evidence he needs to trust the fortune teller since they have specific knowledge about him.

The following photos of fortune tellers are from the Library of Congress. After examining each picture, there’s only one who I think could potentially be legitimate! I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.

Gypsy woman reading man’s palm in 1910. Photo by Fitz W. Guerin.

1897. Ladies telling fortunes by tea leaves.

1910 Photograph shows silent film actress Florence Lee, possibly a fortune teller, holding up cards


Fortune teller using cards to tell young woman’s fortun in 1901



1895 Actress and singer Lillian Russell, with cards at table, in The Tzigane (fortune teller)


The Bride and the Fortune Teller in 1904

4 thoughts on “Fortune Tellers and Charlatans

  1. My mother-in-law once went to a psychic who told her what the baby I was carrying was and what it’s name would be. I bugged her about it,

    “Well, what did she say? It’s more than likely all nonsense.”
    “Oh no,” says my mother-in-law, “it’s all true”.
    “Well, if you’re so sure, then tell me!”

    This went on for a bit, and finally I broke her down (NOT an easy task considering what a stubborn woman she was) and she told me that it was a boy (we didn’t know because the cord was in the way on the ultrasound), and that it’s would be called Andrew. Well, it wasn’t. It was a girl called Mary so 😛 I told her it was all bupkiss, and even if it had been a boy, we had already decided that he would be called William, so again, :P. Sometimes it’s nice to have one over on your mother-in-law. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Good thing she didn’t take stock tips from that fortune teller!
      It’s a little surprising to me that the police work occasionally with psychics but there have been instances where they’ve gotten it exactly right. You really have to watch though. Readers Digest wrote about cases that psychics helped to solve and one case they profiled was Nell Cropsey from 1901. They credited a psychic with solving her case. I’ve written about that case on this site quite a bit and have never come across the info they credit the psychic with bringing forward to solve the mystery.


  2. Kimberly, I’m sure you already know, but there is a FASCINATING history of psychics, fortune tellers and seances in San Francisco! My money is on the African American woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No…I don’t know anything about that! I’m on a looming deadline for my book(!) but as soon as I get it submitted to the editor and sleep for three solid days, I’m on it!


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