Your Fortune

Over the years, those in Skaneateles who wish to see into the future have had options. First, there were gypsies. As early as 1860, before the the Civil War, gypsies were passing through or close to the village. Florence Hall, who grew up here in the 1870s and ‘80s, recalled a gypsy caravan making camp in Austin’s woods (on the site of the current middle school on State Street), and the gypsy women going door-to-door the next morning on Onondaga Street, offering to tell fortunes.

On October 15, 1874, the Skaneateles Democrat reported, “A band of gipsies were encamped near the ‘twenty-eight swamp’ last Sunday, and did a thriving business in fortune telling. They broke up camp on Monday and moved westward.”

To give you an idea of what a “thriving business in fortune telling” might net, the Buffalo Evening News (October 24, 1882) reported, “A band of gipsies recently encamped near Brighton scooped in nearly $4,000 from love-sick maidens and credulous swains, each of whose ‘fortune’ was predicted to marry rich.”

This method of looking into the future, however, had an unsavory side. In May of 1913, the Skaneateles Free Press reported, “Nine wagon loads of Italian gypsies drove into town yesterday afternoon holding forth for nearly an hour on Jordan Street between the Shear and Eckett blocks. They were an unkempt and dirty lot, every wagon swarming with children, most of whom were slightly clad, and some practically naked. After they had supplied some of their wants, the band moved off, up the west lake road.”

Indeed, at the close of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th, villages and cities were being served by more neatly (fully) dressed palmists, clairvoyants and seers. And there were so many.

In 1892, in Gloversville, N.Y., the public was invited to “Come and consult these wonderful mediums and learn your future. The Madam has had 25 years in the business and cannot be surpassed. Her son, who was formerly the renowned boy medium, gives startling revelations from your spirit friends… Reads your life like an open book.”

In 1896, “A Trance Medium, Dr. Bertram” promised his clients in New York City that “there is no need for anyone to creep in the dark.” In 1897, Professor Bert Reese, “the pride of Chicago and better known as Moses the Prophet,” could be consulted in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and it was noted, “There is no necessity for anyone to be unhappy or creep in the dark when he is in your midst.”

In 1901, those in Rochester, N.Y., could consult La Presta, who “reads your life like an open book,” and Professor La Delta, who could reveal “lost treasures.” In 1902, Buffalo, N.Y., hosted the Great Loretta, who “reads your life like an open book.” Also that year, those in Syracuse were urged to consult Verona, who “reads your life like an open book.” In 1904, Madame Taprello, Canada’s celebrated palmist, was visiting Syracuse “for a short time.” In 1906, Madame Reeta from Florida, palmist and clairvoyant, appeared in nearby Auburn, N.Y., “for two days only.”

In 1907, Buffalonians could consult Madame Spang, the “Old Famous Medium,” Mademoiselle St. Jean, “Clairvoyant and mystic adept,” and Zuroha, “America’s youngest and greatest scientific palmist.” By 1910, the Queen City’s options had grown to include The Veiled Prophetess, Mrs. King, and Professor Wondroll, with the newspaper carrying mailing addresses for Professor Davenport (“They call me the Wonder Worker”) and the Mysterious Raymond, both in Peoria, Illinois, M. Mispah in Albuquerque, N.M., and Madame LaRue in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

In 1908, Professor Ellis, “the world’s greatest clairvoyant and palmist,” was working in Glens Falls, N.Y., and the city of Albany had two active psychics: Madame Zeno and Houdon, “the famous psychic wonder,” who “reads your life like an open book.”

In 1910, Syracuse welcomed Madame Millett, Scientific Palmist of New York, who “reads your life like an open book,” and Madame Estrella, Egyptian Star Astrologer of New York, “for one week only.” In 1914, Vincent Markell, Palmist and Clairvoyant, did readings in Little Falls, N.Y.; his ad began, “Think of a man who can read your life like an open book.” In 1915, the Catskill Recorder carried the advertisement for “Mr. J. Joseph, the world’s renowned, celebrated spirit medium and astrologist from Buffalo, now in Catskill.”

In April of 1916, the Buffalo-based spirit medium Zebara was said to “read your life like an open book.” In April and May of 1916, the Bath, N.Y., newspapers carried an ad for Professor Bert Huff, “the noted Clairvoyant and Astrologer from Boston, now in Bath, reads your life like an open book without asking any questions. He gives names, dates, facts and figures of anyone’s life.”

In April of 1917, “Mr. Joseph, the world’s renowned, celebrated spirit medium and astrologist,” appeared in Rensselaer, N.Y. The ad noted, “He gives names, dates, facts and figures of any one’s life without asking any questions. It is unnecessary to creep in the dark when he is in your midst.”

Aside from being shameless plagiarists, these clairvoyants had other similarities: With few exceptions, they assumed multiple names and/or the names of others, and sought to arrive as “world famous” but leave town without a trace.

Professor Alexander Comes to Skaneateles

And then came our turn. Late in the summer of 1917, the Skaneateles and Auburn newspapers carried an advertisement for “the world’s renowned, celebrated clairvoyant,” holding forth at a private residence in Skaneateles.


I cannot find any record of knowledge the Professor revealed, of his patrons, or of their delight or disappointment. His advertisements stopped appearing in mid-September, but the following month “Clairvoyant Reed” appeared in Fulton, N.Y., where, it was said, he “reads your life like an open book without asking any questions. He gives names, dates, facts and figures of anyone’s life. It is unnecessary to creep in the dark when he is in your midst.” Next, in December, a “Mr. Berthold” was in Canisteo, N.Y., where “he reads your life like an open book without asking any questions. He gives names, dates, facts and figures of anyone’s life. It is unnecessary to creep in the dark when he is in your midst.”

In December of 1920, “Professor Alexander” appeared again, this time in Mechanicville, N.Y., where he did readings and received large amounts of mail from out-of-town advice-seekers. Two months later, The Saratogian (February 14, 1921) reported, “The local police have been besieged with requests to learn the whereabouts of a ‘Professor Alexander,’ who came to this city as a clairvoyant, palm reader and mind reader.” One young man, after asking the Professor’s advice on investing, was persuaded to allow the clairvoyant to “magnetize” his money. After Professor Alexander’s disappearance, the lad checked his safe deposit box and his money rolls, $1,600 in all, had become rolls of plain paper. The newspaper reported, “Other parties… it is apparent to the police, had fallen into the snares of Alexander and one from Troy lost $500 while several have lost $50 and still others $100 each. It is estimated that Prof. Alexander secured a total of several thousands of dollars.”

It would appear that Skaneateles got off lightly, or was too embarrassed to complain.

Further Notes on Gypsies

Florence Hall’s memory of gypsies and life on Onondaga Street was printed in the Skaneateles Press of August 22, 1958, when she was 90 years old.

In December of 1860, the Skaneateles Democrat reported, “A tribe of Gipsies passed through our village, Christmas, from the east, and passed up the west side of the lake. The company consisted of sixteen individuals, four apologies for horses, and two dogs. A more squalid set of individuals one hardly ever sees.”

On June 30, 1864, the Skaneateles Democrat noted, “We learn that there is an encampment of Gipsies on the west part of the town.”

On May 22, 1880, the Skaneateles Press reported, “A band of gipsies are encamped in the woods near James Luckins’.”

On August 22, 1885, the Skaneateles Free Press noted, “Three wagonloads of gipsies camped Monday night about three miles west of this village, on the north road. They were going west.”

On July 27, 1909, the Skaneateles Free Press reported, “A camp of gypsies in the vicinity of the school house in District No. 7, about two miles northeast of this village, has been a nuisance to the neighbors for the past week or ten days. The nomads idle away their time, and their camp equipages on the roadside frighten horses. No one desires to incur their enmity by making complaint to the town authorities. It would be well to have some town ordinances against the encampment of gypsies within its borders.”

Other Alexanders

Our Professor Alexander was not alone. “Alexander” was an exceedingly popular name among clairvoyants. In June of 1897, Prof. William Alexander, “one of the extreme few whose natural clairvoyant power is supplemented by the secret occult lore of the Indian adepts,” was working in Salt Lake City, Utah. In December of that year, Professor Alexander Le Warde, “the world’s renowned clairvoyant” appeared in Duluth, Minnesota. In 1904, “Professor Herbert Alexander, the Famous Palmist and Clairvoyant,” was offering his $5 reading for just $1 in New York City. In 1905, Alexander Delmar was one of a dozen clairvoyants working in San Francisco (along with Professor Niblo, Princess Eugenia, Ishmar, Miss Zemdar and Mademoiselle Ravenna). And in 1910, Alexander Cunningham was working in Phoenix, Arizona.


Perhaps the most infamous was Dr. Alexander Walton, a.k.a. Herbert Walton, a.k.a. Herbert Cavitt, a.k.a. Herbert Davitt, known in Los Angeles as Professor Herbert Luzon, who in 1916 died in San Francisco from injuries suffered in an extra-judicial beating by police in Chicago, where he was nabbed for extradition after having fled Santa Rosa, California, jumping $7,000 bail, in a display of reluctance to face trial as one of the “Big 5” in a California clairvoyant ring.


The most famous “Alexander” was Alexander, “The Man Who Knows,” a.k.a. Claude Alexander Conlin, who played vaudeville between 1915 and 1924, making millions of dollars “reading minds.”

Try, Try, Try Again

Sedgwick Smith had known Eunice Myers since she was a little girl. She was the daughter of Lucy Myers who was the sister of Ethel Smith, wife of Burnett Smith, Sedgwick’s brother. And the little girl he knew from family gatherings grew into a beautiful young woman.

In the summer of 1912, when Eunice was 16, her mother announced her engagement to Sedgwick, now a Harvard graduate and heir to a modest fortune, bequeathed him by his father, Edmond Reuel Smith, who had died the year before.

Before they wed, Sedgwick sent Eunice to St. Agnes Episcopal School in Albany, for finishing, and in March of 1913 they were married at her mother’s home in Skaneateles. The Myers’ house was decorated with carnations, ferns and palms; the bride carried a bouquet of red roses, and the Krebs catered.

After a honeymoon in Bermuda, the couple returned to 28 West Lake Street, the Smith family home since 1851, and an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Sedgwick was pursuing post-graduate studies at Harvard. The Skaneateles household also included Eunice’s mother, acting as housekeeper, and Eunice’s younger brother, along for the ride. Unfortunately, there was little happiness in either place, and neither the bride nor the groom turned out to be the person the other had dreamed of.

Eunice later testified in court, “A terribly unhappy situation began immediately after my marriage and grew worse and worse… I told my mother that I hated him, I loathed him and never was going to have anything more to do with him.” Eunice left Sedgwick in Cambridge and returned to Skaneateles. When Sedgwick came home to the village for the holidays, his “housekeeper” later testified, he smashed furniture.

And what did the family of this 17-year-old girl have to say? Her mother, Eunice recalled, “said I was behaving like a foolish, spoiled child, ruining my life and Sedgwick’s, who threatened to divorce me and withdraw his support from my mother and brother if I did not obey.” Eunice’s grandmother threatened to disown her and never allow her to enter her home again. Her grandfather begged her not to make a scandal as there had never been one in the family history. Her aunt, Burnett Smith’s wife, urged her to be obedient.

And so, after the holidays, “yielding to the pleadings and entreaties” of her family, Eunice returned with Sedgwick to Cambridge, where, she said, he locked her in their apartment when he went to class. Ten months after the wedding, Eunice left Sedgwick for good, and the free ride for her mother and brother came to an end.

When Eunice finally went to court, on January 25, 1917, the Auburn Citizen reported, “Dark haired Mrs. Eunice Myers Smith, a striking young girl with classic features, big eyes, slender and graceful, and wearing an expensive fur coat which was the envy of all the other unhappy wives in court this morning, told her sad story to Justice Leonard C. Crouch in the attempt to have her marriage annulled.”

Sedgwick Smith was not present, nor was he represented by an attorney, so we will never hear his side of the story. But the judge did have some choice words for Eunice’s family, saying, “These people were willing to sacrifice their daughter to their own purposes.”

The marriage over, Sedgwick went into the U.S. Army, serving in France in the Signal Corps during the First World War. By 1920, he was back on West Lake Street, living alone. He spent the next 18 years teaching at the high school, coaching the hockey team, and allowing his students to wear their skates into his house after skating on the Cove. In 1934, he published his Sailing on Skaneateles Lake: 1812-1934, a wonderful, indispensable history.

And then, in August of 1938, in a triumph of hope over experience, he married again. The bride was Lillian Hollister Lindberg, a “socially prominent” widow with three children.

The sanctuary of St. James’ Episcopal Church was decorated with summer flowers and tall fronds of ornamental grasses. Before the ceremony, Mrs. Mary Byrne Dye sang, “Love, I Have Won You,” and, for the shadow they cast on later events, I include the lyrics:

Love, I have won you and held you
In a life-long quickening dream
When the meadows sprang fair with flowers
And the river was all a-gleam

Warm shone the sunlight around us,
And clear were the skies above;
Till the stars peeped forth in the twilight,
And the moon rose pale with love.

Love, I have won you and held you.
Life has no more to give;
Then come to me in the sunshine,
It is summer. Ah, let us live!

The bride wore a gown of ice blue chiffon, a blue picture hat, and an arm bouquet of pink roses and delphinium tied with white satin ribbons. Manson Glover, who was Best Man in 1913, again did the honors. Following the ceremony, Sedgwick and Lillian left for a wedding trip through the Adirondacks, Canada and New England.

The next year, Lillian Smith went into a partnership with her son, David Lindberg III, and Ferdinand “Pop” Poppelsdorf, owner of the Village Pharmacy, to create a restaurant, which they called the Lindorf. They purchased the building that housed the pharmacy and completely renovated and modernized the interior and exterior, from a new storefront to three back terraces leading down to a lakeside dock. After months of spare-no-expense preparation, the restaurant opened with an inaugural buffet in March of 1940.

In a parallel development, the business relationship between Lillian Smith and Ferdinand Poppelsdorf (husband of Mary Agnes Poppelsdorf) reached a startling degree of ripeness.

One month after the Lindorf opened, the census-taker found Lillian Smith and her two young children sharing a house with Ferdinand Poppelsdorf. And at the next house: the Rev. Henry Scott Miller, the cleric who had married Lillian Lindberg to Sedgwick Smith less than two years before. It is difficult to imagine who was made more uncomfortable by this proximity.

Sedgwick Smith, having been played and traded, once again lived alone on West Lake Street.

By way of an epilogue…

In April of 1921, Sedgwick’s first wife, Eunice Myers Smith, married Dr. William Thomson of Skaneateles. In February of 1922, she died in childbirth at Auburn City Hospital. Her infant son, Frederick Thomson, died seven months later. They are buried at Lake View Cemetery.

The Lindorf restaurant closed just seven months after its opening. Lillian Smith and Ferdinand Poppelsdorf moved to Liverpool, N.Y., and married. Ferdinand died in 1971, Lillian in 1982.

Showing a courage given to few men, Sedgwick Smith married a third time, but quietly. His bride was Elsa Watts, a widow with a young daughter. Together, they celebrated more than 20 anniversaries. Sedgwick Smith died at home in 1963. Elsa Smith died in 1980.

The Queen of Mottville

Chair Page

Francis A. Sinclair is justly famous as the creator of the Common Sense Chair and the proprietor of the Union Chair Company. But few people are aware of his role in bringing Queen Hecuba to Mottville, N.Y.

“Wait,” you may say, “Queen Hecuba was a character from Greek mythology.” At first, yes, but the day came when she did indeed walk the streets of Mottville.

Queen Hecuba first figured in the works of Homer, Euripides and Ovid – the wife of King Priam of Troy, a woman who had everything, and then nothing, swept from the throne into slavery with the fall of Troy. On the journey into captivity, Hecuba’s daughter, Polyxena, was taken from her and slain, a blood sacrifice on the tomb of Achilles. When the distraught mother went to the shoreline to wash the blood from her daughter’s corpse, the body of her son Polydorus washed up on the beach.

Of this moment, Dante Alighieri wrote in The Divine Comedy, “Poor wretched captured Hecuba,/after she saw her Polyxena dead/and found her Polydorus on the beach,/was driven mad by sorrow/and began barking like a dog.”

“Forsennata latrò sì come cane,” indeed.

There are further tellings of, and allusions to, Hecuba’s tragic story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in Boccaccio’s Decameron, and in plays and a poem by William Shakespeare. But it is not to these books we refer. Rather, the 1888 edition of The American Kennel Club Stud-Book brings us to Mottville, where F.A. Sinclair had pointer dogs named Guy Mannering, the title character in a Sir Walter Scott novel; Nimrod, a mighty hunter in the Bible; and Queen Hecuba, named for the queen who went barking mad – in Ovid’s account even taking the form of a dog – and, in this case, returning as a beautiful purebred.

Hecuba Stud Book

 Lemon White Pointer

For reference, “Lemon and White Pointer” painted by Reuben Ward Binks, 1934

On a more prosaic note, F.A. Sinclair also had pointers named Leo and Ethel.

Mottville and General Grant

“In his last hours at Mount McGregor, General Grant spent the greater part of his time in a Sinclair rocker and nearly all the pictures that were taken of him showed him seated in his favorite chair.”

— William Martin Beauchamp, in “Francis A. Sinclair,” Past and Present of Onondaga County (1908)

Folklore is easy; history is hard. And it pains me to find fault with the Rev. William M. Beauchamp (1830-1925), an ethnologist, historian, archaeologist and clergyman with few, if any, peers. But the photos of General Grant at the cottage where he spent his last days in 1885, show him not in a cane-seated rocker made by Francis A. Sinclair at his Union Chair Works in Mottville, N.Y., but a wicker easy chair.

Grant on Porch 1

However, General Grant did have a Sinclair rocker, and this might be where Beauchamp picked up the notion. F.A. Sinclair himself sent it to Grant 15 years before, when he was summering at his cottage on the Jersey shore, in the resort town of Long Branch. The story was reported in the Skaneateles Democrat of September 1, 1870:

“We saw last week, at the Union Chair works, a large rocking chair with splint seat and back made for President Grant. Mr. Sinclair, the proprietor, informs us today that the chair has reached Long Branch, and the President acknowledges its many good qualities… the President enjoys his cigar more than ever while occupying the ‘Old Puritan Chair.’”


It was to Long Branch that President Grant and his family journeyed each summer from 1869 to 1877, to escape the heat, humidity, mosquitoes and other pests of Washington, D.C.

In her memoirs, First Lady Julia Grant wrote, “What a boon our cottage at Long Branch was to the President! Tired and weary as he was with his monotonous official duties, he hastened with delight, as soon as Congress adjourned, to its health-giving breezes and its wide and restful piazzas.”


And Grant did a lot of sitting at Long Branch, reading his mail on the veranda, smoking cigars and silently watching the ocean, very possibly in a Francis A. Sinclair rocker.

*  *  *


“Splint,” as in “splint seat and back,” refers to ash, oak, reed or hickory bark which have been hand split and pounded. It is a wider material than traditional cane and is most commonly woven into herringbone/twill or basket weave patterns. “Splint” can also refer to a wide variety of rattan cane.

The dining room chairs at the cottage where Grant died (on the slopes of Mount McGregor near Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) may have been F.A. Sinclair chairs; contemporary photos suggest they are, but they were not rockers.

Grant Dining Room

After Grant’s death, Sinclair added a “General Grant Dining Room Chair” to his offerings, with caned seat and back.

Although Julia Dent Grant died in 1902, her memoirs were not published until 1975. Journalist Henry L. Stoddard wrote about visiting Grant at Long Branch in As I Knew Them (1927).

The year for the Skaneateles Democrat piece was noted incorrectly as 1875 in a Skaneateles Press “Twice Told Tales” of September 3, 1975, but noted correctly as 1870 in Helen W. Ionta’s F.A. Sinclair and His Common Sense Chair.