The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines palmistry as “the art or practice of reading a person’s character or future from the lines on the palms.”
Several palmists passed through Frederick in the early 1900s. For example, “Zingarra and her Troupe of Expert Palmists and Life Readers” came to town in 1903. Their newspaper advertisement in The News claimed that Zingarra, “a world renowned clairvoyant,” and her crew would “convince the most skeptical they are truly wonderful with their Art of Life and Character Reading.”
Then there was a palmist named Adelaide. In June 1902, during the Elks Carnival and Free Street Fair, Adelaide was set up in a tent providing palm readings to attendees. “She read a great many palms yesterday and today, and everybody was struck by the accuracy with which she related their past as she saw it in their hands,” according to an article in The News.
And last but not least, an ad in The News in September 1902 introduced Professor Merrill as “the greatest living clairvoyant palmist.”
“Different from all the others, he tells your name and age the moment you call without asking a single question,” the ad claims. “Tells your past as though he lived it with you. Your present conditions as you know them to be, and the future he reveals by the mystic power of psychic vibration, taking you step by step along the great unknown, showing you a panorama of future realities.”
But was Professor Merrill legit? An article from an Iowa newspaper published a few months before Professor Merrill came to Frederick suggests otherwise.
Married farmer George Penney, of Ottumwa, Iowa, met Professor Merrill, “whose prosperous looks and suave manner made an impression on the man of seeds,” according to a March 1902 article in the Cedar Rapids Republican. The men entered into a contract where Penney was to pay $500 to Merrill, and Merrill would “ teach Penney the science of clairvoyancy,” according to the article.
So Penney moved with Merrill and his wife to Seattle to learn the art. Per their contract, Merrill was to pay Penney back in 60 days. But business wasn’t booming for Merrill in Seattle and one day he just disappeared. Mrs. Merrill “seemed almost frantic” when her husband left, trying to locate him, but Penney thought it was all a ruse. “The first impression was that Merrill had made away with himself; but now Penney believes that it was merely a scheme of the adventuress to get away without paying back the $500.”
A reporter in the Iowa town visited the boarding house where Merrill and his wife stayed during their time there, potentially uncovering how Merrill was able to know so much about the town’s residents. “The reporter’s informant said that the ‘Professor’ had a city directory which he studied between times and was enabled by use of it to step from the room to learn the residence and avocation of the client whose palm he was supposed to be reading,” according to the article.
But that trick didn’t seem to help. According to the article, “Merrill had several patrons but his work was not satisfactory.”
I cannot say with 100 percent certainty that this Professor Merrill was the same one as the one who showed up in Frederick a few months later.
But it seems very likely.
Sources: Cedar Rapids Republican, March 30, 1902; Merriam Webster Online; The News, June 5, 1902, September 17, 1902, February 27, 1903
Caption: A portion of an ad for Zingarra’s services featured in the February 27, 1903 edition of The News in Frederick, Maryland.