Thursday, June 28, 2018

Throwback Thursday: The Lady From Jerusalem Reads Palms at the Fair

Beginning August 9th and lasting through August 18th, a patch of land near Lewisburg, West Virginia will once again be home to State Fair of West Virginia! Beginning in 1854 (before West Virginia even became a state) as an annual fair hosted by the Greenbrier Agricultural Society, the event would officially be designated the State Fair of West Virginia in 1941.

The fair, which draws visitors from all over the state and beyond, is still dedicated to the Mountain State's agricultural heritage, but today's guests can also enjoy concerts, carnival rides, car shows, and all the concessions they can handle. And in 1938, they could have enjoyed having their palms read by the beautiful and mystical Lady from Jerusalem!

Palmistry: the art or practice of supposedly interpreting a person's character or predicting their future by examining the lines and other features of the hand.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to uncover any information about The Lady from Jerusalem, but her memory will live on forever, thanks to photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.  This photo is just one of many Eisenstaedt took of what was then known as the Greenbrier Valley Fair. The photos were published in the September 26, 1938 edition of LIFE Magazine.

The 1930's were a golden age for the traveling sideshow, and more than likely, The Lady from Jerusalem and her palmistry tent were part of what was known as the 'working acts' section of the sideshow.  When most people think of sideshow performers from this era, they think of the Bearded Lady, the Lobster Boy, and other acts dependent on some sort of physical deformity that is displayed. Working acts, on the other hand, were performers that didn't have an obvious physical trait to put on display, and thus, they had to perform in some other such manner.  Sword swallowers, fire eaters, and even psychics/palm readers all fell under this category.

During Eisenstaedt's time at the fair, he concentrated on photos of sideshow performers and visitors to the fair.  Dangerous Minds has a fabulous collection of these photos, and its fascinating to see what rural West Virginians were seeing, many for the first time, way back before the Second World War. Even today, southern West Virginia is a pretty religious, no-nonsense place; it makes me wonder just how many people snuck off to the Lady From Jerusalem's tent to have their fortunes read through the lines on their hands...and if they did, how much faith did they put into it?   I'm guessing there were quite a few young ladies who received a verbal scolding for wasting their dimes on trying to find out who their future husbands would be!


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