Mrs. Wilcus, Part 2 - Competition

Newspaper illustration of Mrs. Wilcus' New Orleans Magic Belt.
The greatest of all fortune tellers.
- St. Louis Globe Democrat, 28 Nov 1886.

We're exploring a possible alias for Estelle in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1880s. Are Mrs. Caroline Wilcus and Estelle True-Nell the same person? Who was the "alleged" professor who made Caroline and her customers so indignant? How dare he claim to have received medals from foreign powers?

In this episode, we'll look at how Mrs. Wilcus dealt with the competition in St. Louis in the 1880s. Listen to the episode or access the transcript below.

Next: Mrs. Wilcus, Part 3

Transcript for Mrs. Wilcus, Part 2

[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.

[00:00:24] Narrator: How to Be Estelle: Mrs. Wilcus, Part 2 -- Clairvoyant Conflict. We're looking at a potential St. Louis alias for Estelle. Mrs. Caroline Wilcus advertised herself as the "greatest of all living clairvoyants," which is a claim Estelle made for herself early in her career. Caroline backed up her claim with published customer testimonials. She even claimed to have received several medals from the ladies of Chicago, St. Louis, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas for her excellent work as a mind-reader. Both ladies advised on similar topics, both promised to reunite the separated, and both claimed to have a patent medicine cure for rheumatism and other ailments.

[00:01:08] Narrator: It was not all smooth sailing. Both ladies faced challenges and criticism from their rivals, and both made bold statements in the press to address those critics. Caroline went even further and took a direct approach in her advertising, as we'll see in this strange and wonderful ad from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in November 1886. It tells us quite a bit about what life and business were like for an enterprising woman who was simply trying to help members of the public improve their lives in the late 1800s. The ad is titled "Notice. To Her Many Friends."

[00:01:46] Advertisement - Mrs. Wilcus: Mrs. Wilcus of 1400 Olive street wishes to state to her many friends that she is still the oldest and most reliable fortune teller in St. Louis, the assertion of a certain alleged Professor to the contrary notwithstanding. This same alleged Professor, who accused Mrs. Wilcus of practicing fraudulent methods, is himself a fraud of the deepest dive, as the following facts will show: It is only a short time since this alleged Professor of Fifteenth street, who claims to have been retired from the arduous duties of an astrologer, figured in St. Louis as the manager of a matrimonial agency. After a brief period the Professor and his matrimonial bureau was thoroughly and completely exposed by the city press. His low, scheming, fraudulent methods having become known to the public and city authorities he was promptly and unceremoniously closed up.

[00:02:51] Advertisement - Mrs. Wilcus: Prior to the alleged Professor's experience as the conductor of a now defunct matrimonial bureau, he figured in this community as a doctor of medicine. Several months after having entered on the laborious duties of his would-be profession, the Professor discovered that it was a penitentiary offence in the State of Missouri to practice medicine without a diploma. The alleged Professor having no diploma, never having attended a medical school or college a day in his life retired as quickly and unceremoniously from his M. D. venture as he did from his matrimonial escapade. It is a waste of time and money to any further expose this king of hypocrites and frauds. We might go on, if we so desired, and expose this alleged Professor from the time he left Castle Garden to the present time; however, life is too short; suffice it is to say that the many friends of Mrs. Wilcus will pay no attention whatever to the fraudulent and scheming methods to deprive her of her world-wide and far-famed reputation.

[00:04:00] Narrator After some searching, I believe that the alleged Professor was Prof. Laredo, of 9907 North 15th Street. The alleged Professor made many claims:

[00:04:12] Professor Laredo: He is a man gifted by nature with the most miraculous powers of disclosing the dearest secrets of the human heart, as well as the most complicated events of the future. His powers in this respect are marvelous, and the crowned heads of Europe have, in order to express their satisfaction and wonder at his ability in predicting coming political events, conferred upon him numerous orders and medals, and have presented him with many testimonials of their appreciation and gratitude.

[00:04:40] Narrator: I'm pretty sure that bit about receiving numerous medals rankled Caroline. In fact, I'm sure of it. At least, her loyal customer, Miss Sarah McEvoy, was bothered enough by it to speak up for Caroline in this ad, which ran the very next day:

[00:04:56] Sarah McEvoy: Particular Notice. A great many fortune-tellers state they have received medals from their patrons. Their statements are false, for why do they say received them from foreign countries? Because they know that you will not go there to hunt up their veracity in making this bold statement.

[00:05:14] Sarah McEvoy: This is not the case with Mrs. C. Wilcus. She will show you the names of those ladies who conferred the favor of presenting her with the St. Louis and Chicago medals, but makes no claim like certain alleged star-gazing or card fortune-tellers. She can show you her medals where others cannot. She does not resort to trickery or sleight-of-hand performances or numbers in telling fortunes. She will forward her new 32-page book free of charge, where they will learn and know many things to their advantage. Those who cannot see Mrs. C. Wilcus on account of crowded parlors, she will advise them upon whom and where to call.

[00:05:54] Sarah McEvoy: There is a new-beginner in St. Louis who claims that upon request he will expose to the patrons many of the fortune-tellers' ways. He had better look to his own interests, or he might have cause to take in his sign, as he was compelled to abandon his matrimonial agency, he having no success in the above undertaking. He now comes before the world as a fortune-teller. This shows to the public he is jack of all trades and master of none.

[00:06:21] Sarah McEvoy: I, having my fortune told there and by this fortune teller, and also by Mrs. C. Wilcus, 1400 Olive street, found Mrs. Wilcus to be a lady of her word. See for yourself. If she cannot give you good advice, she will not give you any. Mrs. C. Wilcus has told my fortune and done work for me, and I find her true and honest in her dealings, as also Dr. Hammond, of 1423 Morgan street. [Signed] Miss Sarah McAvoy.

[00:06:53] Narrator: Caroline's Notice to Her Many Friends ends with this:

[00:06:58] Advertisement - Mrs. Wilcus: If Mrs. Wilcus' clairvoyant powers need any defense from such an accuser, she has certainly lived in vain. In the future Mrs. Wilcus will let this alleged Professor's running ditch of filth pass beneath her feet and will pay no attention whatever to any of the assertions or low, vulgar prevarications and will content herself with knowing that any persons who do are birds of a like feather.

[00:07:25] Advertisement - Mrs. Wilcus: Mrs. Wilcus regrets having had to publish the above, but her duty to the innocent and unsuspecting public demanded it of her. For Mrs. Wilcus to indulge in a personal wrangle with any other fortune-teller in St. Louis is like the Czar of Russia wrangling with a serf.

[00:07:44] Advertisement - Mrs. Wilcus: In conclusion Mrs. Wilcus desires to state that she is still the greatest of all living clairvoyants; that her equal as such is not on earth. She uses no cards, neither does she pretend to tell your fortune by the stars or planets, as certain self-styled fortune-tellers do whose knowledge of the solar system is so limited that they do not know a star from a planet.

[00:08:09] Advertisement - Mrs. Wilcus: Mrs. Wilcus will continue to reside exclusively at 1400 Olive street where in the future, as in the past, she will tell your fortune in a manner that challenges the admiration of the world. She will also show you her wonderful brass ball, imported by her direct from London at a tremendous expense, which needs no defense at her hands from the accusations of her vilifiers and certain jealous, would-be competitors.

[00:08:39] Narrator: I'm convinced that if Caroline and Estelle were born into our era, they would shatter any and all adversaries online. I can picture them as social media influencers to rival the biggest names of our day.

[00:08:53] Narrator: Both Estelle and Caroline clearly had drive, spirit, moxie, and a love of language. But were they the same person? I think I have the answer, and I'll share it with you next time, on How to Be Estelle.

Next: Mrs. Wilcus, Part 3