On September 9th, 1920 H. Baron LaMont of Colorado Springs, facing a charge of larceny, vowed to straighten himself out, clean up his act, and really devote himself singularly to his oil business. LaMont had been arrested because of his other job, working as a clairvoyant. And LaMont was not the only clairvoyant in town risking being charged for his services.
“Day of Clairvoyant Passed by Yesterday” was the headline the Gazette ran on September 23rd, 1920, announcing that a ban introduced by Commissioner Jacobs on September 8th, 1920 was now in effect. The ban was not limited to clairvoyants, but also included those who practiced “palmistry, mesmerism, fortune telling, astrology, seership or like crafty science, readings, sittings or exhibitions of a like character within this City and for which a fee or charge is made or accepted.” Breaking the ban could result in imprisonment for 30 days, a fine of $300 (over $3,800 today), or both.
Seances and palm readings often fell under the practice of Spiritualism – the belief in not only an afterlife, but in the ability to communicate with the dead as well. Spiritualism caught on in the United States in 1848, after Margaretta and Katherine Fox, two young sisters in Hydesville, New York, heard rapping noises in their home, identified as communication from the spirit of a murdered man. Spiritualism’s popularity waxed and waned over the years but saw a resurgence in the United States through the 1910s. Part of its staying power was due to the tremendous grief and loss people experienced during and after WWI. Many people sought out mediums and clairvoyants, held seances, and sought ways to reconnect with their dead loved ones.
However, many people also worried about whether activities like seances and palm readings actually brought connection, or whether they were fraudulent acts designed to get vulnerable people to part with their money. Cities began restricting or banning those who charged fees for fortune telling and seances within the city limits. Frustrated by a slow-moving system and what they saw as a great scamming of the public, some individuals also worked to expose fraud in Spiritualist circles. Notably, Harry Houdini hounded phony mediums, offering significant reward money to any medium or clairvoyant who could create a supernatural event that could not be replicated by scientific means. Many mediums would spit up ectoplasm during their seances, only for the ectoplasm to be revealed as cheese cloth, gauze, or muslin. Photos with ghostly figures could be faked by using almost imperceptible string to hang the ghostly objects. Houdini also often helped police expose and charge fake mediums and seers.
While Colorado Springs did not have their own Harry Houdini, they did have Commissioner Jacobs and their very own clairvoyant ban. H. Baron LaMont, among the other palm-readers and fortune tellers of the city, now had to turn their efforts to other work, or risk a run-in with the law. To see more highlights from the news coverage of the clairvoyant ban, be sure to check the Gazette Back Pages this September, for the year of 1920.
No author listed, “Mediums, Spirits, and Spooks in the Rocky Mountains: A Brief History of Spiritualism in Colorado 1860-1950,” https://www.centerwest.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/logan.pdf
Colorado City Iris, “License required for Spiritualists,” 1/9/1914, 2:4
The Gazette, “Move to oust clairvoyants in Denver,” 8/31/1913, 7-3
The Gazette, “City Plan to Br Clairvoyants Here,” 9/9/20, p. 1-3
The Gazette, “Day of Clairvoyant Passed by Yesterday,” 9/23/20, p. 3
Loren Pankratz, “Magician Accuses Faith Healers of Hoax,” Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Summer, 1987), pp. 115-124, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27505913
“Mina Crandon & Harry Houdini: The Medium and The Magician,” History.net, https://www.historynet.com/mina-crandon-harry-houdini-the-medium-and-the-magician.html
Allison C. Meier, “Ectoplasm and the Last British Woman Tried for Witchcraft,” JSTOR Daily, https://daily.jstor.org/ectoplasm-and-the-last-british-woman-tried-for-witchcraft/