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If doubt assails you, misfortune threatens you, ruin stares you in the face, danger besets you; if you would win the love of one without whom life would be a blank, if you wish a speedy marriage with the one you love, call at once to consult this gifted lady…”

Shakespeare couldn’t have penned it more poetically than Madame McNairdee did. Not only was she the self-proclaimed “greatest palmist and clairvoyant the world over,” but she could certainly write a compelling personal ad for the October 31 edition of the Indianapolis Star.

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Clairvoyants in the Circle City…
One hundred years ago, Indianapolis was still riding the coat tails of the waning Spiritualism Movement that had begun as far back as the 1840s — a religion based on the belief that departed souls can interact with the living. Spiritualists sought to make contact with the dead, usually through the assistance of a medium (a person believed to have the ability to contact spirits directly). Some mediums worked while in a trance-like state, and some claimed to be the catalyst for various paranormal phenomena.

A glance in the Halloween edition of the Indianapolis Star offers dozens of ads from palm readers, fortune tellers, mediums, chiropodists and clairvoyants — some local, some from neighboring states who were willing to assist their clients through the mails, for as little as a dime (prepaid, of course).

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For the most part, women played the role of clairvoyant during that time period, but on Halloween 1909, two Indianapolis-based “Professiors” posted ads that clearly sought to squash the competition…

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Though her advertisement was far less extravagant than her competition, Madame Nair did at least offer a concrete prediction: that the next Indianapolis mayor would be a man named “Shank.” (She was right.)

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The movement maintained a certain momentum in Indianapolis until the mid-1920s when, one by one, mediums were revealed as frauds, sometimes employing the techniques of stage magicians in their attempts to convince people of their supernatural powers. Professional magicians such as Harry Houdini joined law enforcement efforts to expose the fraudulent practices of mediums. The exposure of widespread fraud within the spiritualist movement severely damaged its reputation and pushed it to the fringes of society in the United States.

However, lest you begin to think that Spiritualism was the naive fascination of the uneducated… think again. During the Spiritualism Movement’s hayday, many of Indy’s elite citizens were enthusiasts. Take, for example, George Philip Meier and his wife, Nellie Simmons Meier — art patrons and Indianapolis socialites. George established a national reputation for the women’s apparel he designed in affiliation with L. S. Ayres & Co. Nellie was a palmist who counted Albert Einstein, Lowell Thomas, George Gershwin, Helen Hayes, Joan Crawford, Mary Pickford, Walt Disney, and Sergei Rachmaninoff among her celebrity friends and clients. It’s noted that Indiana actress, Carole Lombard (1908-1942), visited Nellie the day before her untimely death in an airplane crash.  Apparently Nellie’s clairvoyance could not prevent Carole’s misfortune.

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George Philip Meier’s influence in the L.S. Ayres fashion department catapulted the store to decades of prosperity.

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The Meiers were consistently featured in the social section of regional newspapers.

The Meier’s home, “Tuckaway,” is now a part of the Meridian Park Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Numerous accounts of ghostly sightings at Tuckaway add to the charm and mystique of the 1906 bungalow at 3127 North Pennsylvania.

In the comment box below…

Have you ever visited Tuckaway?
What are your favorite Indy haunts?

2 responses to “Sunday Adverts: Indy Soothsayers 100 Years Ago”

  1. Suzanne Stanis says:

    Spiritualism is actively practiced just north of Anderson, IN at historic Camp Chesterfield http://www.campchesterfield.net/Camp_Chesterfield_A_Spiritual_Center_of_Light/WELCOME_to_HISTORIC_CAMP_CHESTERFIELD.html
    The camp is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and offers resident mediums, a beautiful landscape and a Spiritualist museum and art gallery. Camp is open to he public and offers a self-guided walking tour. The recently formed Friends of Camp Chesterfield Foundation is working to restore and maintain the historic integrity of the camp.

  2. Tom Davis says:

    I was lucky enough to get a tour of Tuckaway many years ago when I was doing research on the Meiers for Crown Hill. Fascinating place and the owner has done a great job of preserving its history.

    In my reading, I’ve come across references to Haute Tarkington Jameson (Booth’s sister) having mediumistic abilities when she was younger, of seances being held at the Richard Gruelle home attended by James Whitcomb Riley, and, of course, of May Wright Sewall’s adventures with the departed in her book “Neither Dead Nor Sleeping.”

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