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Read the strange history of why New York fortune tellers fell afoul of the law in the 1930s (and who busted them)


New York City has long been home to many kinds of odd regulations. For instance, in the 1930s, the city was subject to a Statute of Prediction that prohibited accepting money for telling fortunes. That law led to a fascinating wave of police crackdowns on innocuous-seeming tea rooms were fortune tellers often worked.

Atlas Obscura has an incredible write-up of this sliver of history, which shines a spotlight on women of the time. Every element of the story is intriguing. Tea rooms were mostly feminine spaces, so the busts were almost entirely carried out by New York’s female officers and detectives. The rise in interest for cracking down on the tea rooms stemmed from complaints by husbands who said the predictions were causing marital strife. The American Society of Magicians refused to give any support for the fortune tellers, and in fact helped the New York police to expose the practitioners. Whether that was an act of self-preservation or a racially-tinged dismissal of the fortune tellers, many of whom were of Romani descent, as a lesser art that conjuration, we may never know for sure.

Read the whole article over at Atlas Obscura.