Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 4

Newspaper illustration of a woman wearing glasses and hoop earrings. Her dark hair is swept up in a bun.
While on this topic, Madame De San wishes it distinctly understood that she is not conducting a cheap fortune telling business similar to that of clairvoyants and mediums formerly here. She caters only to the better classes and guarantees satisfaction.
- St. Joseph (Missouri) Herald, 21 November 1890.

How did Estelle True-Nell Van Arsdale become Mrs. Dr. De San? How was the American Midwest lucky enough to have not one, but three Mesdames De San, and how did all three come to have Edison's Transmitter of Thought?

Listen to the episode or access the transcript below.

Transcript for Mrs. Dr. De San, Part 4

[00:00:04] Narrator: Estelle True-Nell was a remarkable woman. Our modern era has forgotten her, and I think that's too bad. I'd like to introduce you to her amazing life, one career at a time. Along the way, we might pick up a tip or two for ourselves, as we learn How to Be Estelle.

[00:00:25] Narrator: You might be wondering how Estelle Trunell Van Arsdale came to adopt the professional persona of Mrs. Dr. De San, mind-reader and life reader. Later in her career, she favored variations on her own name, like Mrs. Dr. Van True and Estelle True-Nell. At the beginning, though, she shared the name De San with, apparently, at least two other women.

[00:00:46] Narrator: The three Mesdames De San operated mostly in the American Midwest in the 1890s. It seemed strange to me that three people would select the same name and similar types of advertising, all roughly at the same time.

[00:01:00] Narrator: I have to thank the St. Joseph News-Press for sharing an article about a Professor De San, which led me to an ad in the Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1891:

[00:01:10] Newspaper: Wanted - A Lady to Deliver a Lecture. Of fair appearance with some elocutionary qualities; must have $500 to $1,000. Big money-making scheme. Call and investigate, H. Conroy's Hotel, State Street.

[00:01:26] Narrator: The “H” in that ad was identified as W. W. Hazard, also known as Professor De San. Someone with a nose for news in the Chicago Tribune's advertising department shared the ad with a reporter, who spoke with Professor De San and published this article the next day:

[00:01:43] Newspaper: Professor De San, or, in private life, W. W. Hazard, is a small man with a fierce mustache, a self-confident air, and a "lead-pipe cinch" on mind-reading and clairvoyance. The professor also has a big stock of advertising matter in the shape of lithographs, hangers, etc., a copyright lecture on mind-reading, entitled "A Lecture for People Now on Earth," a "magic mirror," and a mind and thought reading machine which he says was invented by Thomas A. Edison.

[00:02:13] Newspaper: In a back parlor on the second floor of Conroy's Hotel, Prof. De San receives his visitors.

[00:02:19] W. W. Hazard: I am the originator of this scheme of giving lectures, and, if I do say myself, I have as smooth a "fake" as any man ever put upon the road. I have in my employ Mrs. De San, the greatest mind-reader on earth, born with the veil and prophetic second sight. What I want is a lady who can deliver the lecture, which I have prepared, to audiences in country towns. There is no question about making a go of it. I have tried the scheme and it works perfectly.

[00:02:45] W. W. Hazard: If Mrs. De San could give the lecture herself there would be no occasion for anyone else to divide profits with, but she is near-sighted and does not present a good appearance on stage. So I am going to arrange it so that she can give private readings to the people whom we secure through the lecture.

[00:03:01] W. W. Hazard: Experience? No, the young lady that delivers the lecture need have none. I can teach her in three or four days to handle the 'mind and thought reading machine' and the 'magic mirror' so that she can give as good a lecture as was ever heard.

[00:03:14] W. W. Hazard: Now this magic mirror is just a little the best 'fake' ever worked. It's the one made for Barnum when he imported his famous mind-reader some years ago and secured by me at fabulous expense. The person who wants to learn his future takes one end of the mind and thought reader while the lecturer takes the other end in one hand and the magic mirror in the other. In a short time the face of the future wife will appear in the mirror beside that of the person looking in, if marriage is the thought uppermost in the mind of the person operated upon. If he is thinking of a racehorse, a horse will appear - in fact, whatever is wanted.

[00:03:49] W. W. Hazard: How is this done? Well, when we complete arrangements and I am sure that the young lady you speak of will put up the money and begin the work I will tell you just how we work it. And it's just a little the slickest scheme ever worked. It's a sure winner.

[00:04:04] W. W. Hazard: Now, I have all the printed matter that will be required, and we can start out and make anywhere from $10 to $100 a night clear of all expenses. What sort of a young lady is it you speak of? A brunette? That's the kind. I'm a little shy of these blondes, especially the big ones with bleached hair. They don't take well with audiences.

[00:04:26] Newspaper: As an example of the success attained, Prof. De San told of a mind-reading séance in Atchison, Kansas, for which Mrs. De San had received $500. In going to a town, he said, inquiries were always made to find some one in trouble, as, for instance, a woman who was seeking a divorce. If such a person was found, pains would be taken to send her advertising matter in which the powers of Mrs. De San to foretell results was made a feature.

[00:04:42] W. W. Hazard: And if she can raise $100

[00:04:55] Newspaper: Said the Professor with a smile

[00:04:57] W. W. Hazard: We are pretty sure of getting it for giving her information as to the result of her trouble.

[00:05:01] Narrator: Now, this all appears several months after Estelle began her life reading career as Mrs. Dr. De San in late 1890, but it's not hard to believe that Professor De San had made this offer earlier, too. It's possible that Estelle or someone in her family met Hazard and invested in the scheme. In fact, as someone who had been through a divorce of her own, and as someone dealing with a troublesome second husband, Estelle would have fit into their description perfectly. Except, in Estelle's case, she was clever enough to pick up the business and run with it.

[00:05:33] Narrator: The Mesdames De San continued to operate in Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Boston through the end of 1892.

[00:05:42] Narrator: Estelle began advertising as Mrs. Dr. Van True in Wisconsin in June 1891, giving lectures on the Transmission of Thought and demonstrating both the Transmitter and the Magic Mirror. She moved on to Minneapolis in August 1891, although I don't know whether she stopped to pay a call on Mrs. Dr. De San number 1 in St. Paul.

[00:06:03] Narrator: She continued to operate under other names, too, through 1895. We'll explore those another time, as we continue to learn How to Be Estelle.