Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Did You Know That...

A palm reader once lived at 97 Orchard Street. During restoration work, a business card advertising "Professor Dora Meltzer" as a palm reader in both Yiddish and English was discovered beneath the floorboards. By the turn of the century she would have been one of many selling fortunes to women within the Lower East Side's Jewish immigrant community.
Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
Found in 1993 at 97 Orchard Street.
Wrongly assumed by outsiders to be criminals, palm readers or fortunetellers were more likely traditional housewives, though not necessarily reputable businesswomen. Common tricks, including searching through visitors' belongings, were frequently employed to gather information.

Such behavior might seem devious, but fortune telling helped liberate otherwise housebound immigrant women like Dora Meltzer from the isolation of the tenement, allowing them to participate in the local economy and interact with the outside world. America was an unfamiliar place, especially for Jewish immigrant women. Fortunetellers could offer customers advice about adapting to their new home or, even better, reveal the future and prepare them for what life in America held.

In 1911, however, New York State Assembly outlawed fortune telling, or even advertising it, for money. Although it remains illegal to accept money for forecasting the future today, fortune telling is still widely practiced throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

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