Mrs. Wilcus, Part 3 - Caroline

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. Are Mrs. Wilcus and Estelle True-Nell the same person? Who was Mrs. G. Luby, fellow St. Louis fortune-teller, and was she Caroline's mother? Who was C. Janes, and why did Mrs. Wilcus market their family medicines and remedies?

In this episode, we'll consider two major themes that help us determine whether Estelle True-Nell and Caroline Wilcus were the same person. Listen to the episode or access the transcript below.

Transcript for Part 3 - Caroline

[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: How to Be Estelle, Mrs. Wilcus, Part 3 - Caroline.

[00:00:30] Narrator: So, we've been looking at a potential alias for Estelle in St. Louis, Missouri in the late 1880s and 1890s. The story of Caroline Wilcus seems to have a lot in common with Estelle True-Nell. Both claimed to be the greatest living clairvoyant of their day, helping thousands to learn their past, present, and future.

[00:00:50] Narrator: Were they the same woman, or were they two different women who just happened to be on some kind of parallel spiritual wavelength? I think I have the answer. There are two pieces of the puzzle which made me dig deeper into Caroline's life.

[00:01:03] Narrator: The first is a series of ads that often ran in the same column as Caroline's patent medicine and mind-reading ads. They're for a woman calling herself Mrs. G. Luby. I find Mrs. Luby advertising in St. Louis on September 10, 1886. Like so many others, she offers to tell fortunes and says she can be consulted on affairs of business, love, and matrimony. The special feature she offers -- her claim to fame, if you will -- is that she is the mother of Mrs. Wilcus.

[00:01:34] Narrator: Could this be true? Well, the address she gives in her ad is 502 N. 15th St., which happens to be the same address Caroline used in her earlier advertising. How would you feel if your mother started advertising the same work you do in the same newspaper columns you do? It doesn't take long for us to find out how Caroline felt. This ad appeared in the paper five days later, one space above Mrs. Luby's latest ad:

[00:02:01] Advertisement - Mrs. C. Wilcus: Notice. Mrs. C. Wilcus has no office at 502 N. 15th St. Mrs. C. Wilcus's office is at 1400 Olive St., S. W. corner from the Exposition. There is no other Mrs. C. Wilcus, and transacts no business whatever with her mother, Mrs. G. Luby. The celebrated Mrs. Wilcus uses no cards. Call early to avoid the rush.

[00:02:26] Narrator: So, there you have it. It appears the talented advisor who helps to resolve family conflicts is being trolled by someone claiming to be her own mother.

[00:02:35] Narrator: Mrs. Luby promised to tell you the name and age of your sweetheart and future husband, and she claimed to specialize in “removing family troubles.”

[00:02:45] Narrator: In 1887, the plot thickens, when Caroline's ads begin to mention that Mrs. C. Wilcus's mother, Mrs. J. Pfeiffer, a midwife with 23 years of experience, endorses the patent medicines made by C. Janes. In an ad immediately below, Mrs. Luby continues to describe herself as “the great fortune-teller, mother of Mrs. Wilcus.”

[00:03:07] Narrator: By July of that year, Mrs. Wilcus begins adding one curt line at the end of her own ads, saying simply, “Transacts no business with Mrs. G. Luby.” Later, she adds the line, “Remember, Mrs. Wilcus has no agents; all claiming such are frauds.” Mrs. Luby continues to advertise, and her ad even increases the font size on the line, “Mother of Mrs. Wilcus” for a time.

[00:03:37] Narrator: By the spring of 1888, Caroline's ad includes the line, “Mrs. Wilcus TRANSACTS NO BUSINESS whatever with Mrs. G. Luby, the Fortune-teller.” Eventually, Mrs. Luby removes her claim to kinship with Mrs. Wilcus, but her ads continue to run right underneath Caroline's, and she adds a service that was pioneered by Caroline: the New Orleans Magic Lucky Belt. More about that in just a moment.

[00:04:05] Narrator: Unfortunately, all of this is a big clue that Caroline is not Estelle. Estelle's mother, Julia Rouse Trunell, was in Kentucky, and, as far as I know, she did not offer fortune-telling services in St. Louis.

[00:04:18] Narrator: The next big clue that we're dealing with not one, but two exceptional women, is the New Orleans Magic Lucky Belt.

[00:04:25] Narrator: In 1888, Caroline begins advertising something called the New Orleans Magic Lucky Belt. Her ads claimed that the Magic Belt was worn by lawyers, merchants, ministers, bankers, manufacturers, superintendents, and “those of other vocations.”

[00:04:39] Narrator: What did the belt do? Well, in one ad, Caroline claimed to offer the original and genuine article, “the curative properties of which are endorsed by thousands of grateful beneficiaries who have forwarded to her from all parts of the country testimonials of their happy recoveries from ailments and diseases which they had considered chronic.”

[00:05:02] Narrator: That fits with her other efforts to sell patent medicines. An 1890 ad calls it the New Orleans Magic Healing Belt. If you believe yourself to be conjured and bewitched, you are going to want one of these:

[00:05:16] Ad - Mrs. Wilcus: Those suffering from the following troubles and those believing themselves conjured and bewitched should at once purchase the New Orleans Magic Healing Belt: For rheumatism, asthma, epileptic fits, cancer, fever and ague, scrofula, consumption, dyspepsia, catarrh of the head and throat, deafness, common colds, kidney and liver complaint, constipation of bowels, torpid liver, those afflicted with paralysis, palsy, hay fever, skin diseases, hoarseness of the throat, coughs, change of life, all cases of piles. Remember that Mrs. C. Wilcus is the original and sole manufacturer of the New Orleans Magic Belt.

[00:05:56] Narrator: The Magic Belt was to bring to the wearer health and wealth, and the advertising claimed it “removes all family or business troubles of every kind, bringing in its place peace, plenty, and prosperity.” Later that year, she advertised the belt as “The Greatest Peacemaker in the World” and warned readers to accept no imitations. Unfortunately, other clairvoyants in town had picked up the idea and several others, including Mrs. Luby, were advertising their own magic belts.

[00:06:28] Narrator: Things came to a head in late 1891, when several women accused Mrs. Wilcus of making false representations and charging them hundreds of dollars for the magic belts, which they claimed cost them from $50 to as high as $600. That would be about $1500 to as much as $20,000 in today's money.

[00:06:47] Narrator: The women claimed that they paid in installments to purchase the belts, but when they made their final payments, instead of receiving the promised magic belt, they were encouraged to keep making payments toward an upgraded, more powerful belt. This pattern continued until the ladies had given Mrs. Wilcus hundreds of dollars. In one case, a woman gave her cash, a plot of land in Kansas, and music lessons for Mrs. Wilcus' relative, Tillie.

[00:07:13] Narrator: The ladies eventually went to the Four Courts building in St. Louis, where Chief Harrigan advised them to swear out a warrant. Caroline was arrested and taken to court, where she was bound over to the Grand Jury on a $500 bond. It's all fun and games until someone gets arrested for fraud.

[00:07:29] Narrator: As it turns out, the legal name of Mrs. Caroline Wilcus, was Caroline Janes. That's right, C. Janes of patent medicine fame. Caroline was the wife of a riverboat pilot named Jarrett Janes. For a time, her mother, Gertrude, lived with the couple and worked as a midwife. So, Caroline Wilcus the fortune-teller, and the patent medicine maker Caroline Janes were the same person.

[00:07:53] Narrator: In case you're wondering, the prosecutor in St. Louis decided not to pursue the case against Caroline in the spring of 1892, and she continued to advertise her services, including the New Orleans Magic Lucky Belt, through 1894.

[00:08:08] Narrator:: Caroline Bowden Janes, also known as Caroline Wilcus, died on January 14, 1914. She was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery, but her story lives on.

[00:08:19] Narrator: So, now I have the proof I needed that Caroline and Estelle are two different people. Kindred spirits, almost certainly. If fate had brought those two together, there would be no stopping them.

[00:08:30] Narrator: I'll keep searching for Estelle in St. Louis. She definitely appears there in big way later in her career. There's more to come on that, as we learn How to Be Estelle.