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JAMA 100 Years Ago
April 12, 2000


Author Affiliations

JenniferReiling, Editorial Assistant

JAMA. 2000;283(14):1798. doi:10.1001/jama.283.14.1798

The other day, in London, an American was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for swindling. The fellow was a palmist and had plied his trade in Chicago, New York and elsewhere in this country unmolested, and he thought he could do the same abroad, but he could not. Commenting on the occurrence, the Chicago Journal says: "There seems to be something in the social atmosphere of this country peculiarly favorable to impostors of the palmist and clairvoyant order. They flourish here. Foreign observers have been amused not a little to see their signs hung out like a physician's shingle and their columns of cards in the newspapers. They flourish elsewhere, it is true, but not to the same extent. This, among civilized countries, whose people are suspected of intelligence, is the real paradise of the palmist, the spirit rapper and the astrologist." . . . Just why this country is such a profitable field for every kind of humbug and delusion is a question on which we are not prepared at this time to hazard an opinion. The truth of Barnum's assertion, however, is more evident to-day than ever. . . .

A little while ago a man in Missouri, of the name of Still, promulgated a theory that all the physical ills of the human race were caused by misplaced ligaments and dislocated bones, and now thousands of dupes, even including senators and governors—who by the way are not necessarily overly gifted with either common sense or statesmanship—are believing in this new "scientific" discovery. Could such an idiotic theory obtain a foothold in any other country, and if not why not? . . .

A newspaper before us contains four columns of advertisements of clairvoyants, palmists, trance mediums, etc., more than a hundred individuals and all located in this city of schools. A third of the advertising space of the same paper, and it is one of the best in Chicago, is taken up with advertisements of quacks and quack medicines. These show to what depths of moral degradation the advertiser will stoop, and at the same time show how much credulity and how little common sense the average reader must have. Why does all this pertain to this and to no other country?

JAMA. 1900;34:943-945