Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Hidden World of 19th Century Manhattan Tenement Fortune Tellers

Natalie Zarrelli examines the hidden world of tenement fortune tellers in 19th century Manhattan.
In 1993, a restoration was underway at 97 Orchard Street in New York City. Beneath the darkened floorboards of one apartment, left unchanged for 50 years, a thin, frayed piece of paper from the 19th century was discovered; with one side printed in English and the other Yiddish, it advertised the fortune-telling specialties of “The World Famous Palmist and Mind Reader”, Professor Dora Meltzer.

The people who found this paper worked at the Tenement Museum, founded in 1988 to teach the history of immigrant life in New York through old tenement apartments in Manhattan. At the time, the Orchard Street building had recently been acquired, and the museum was renovating the apartment to use as a historical teaching tool. Layers of wallpaper were peeled back, and items from the 1800s through the 1930s were found in the apartments during the process, but this particular paper was a contextual mystery. Read more

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