Monday, January 2, 2017

All Around Detroit: Tea Leaf Lane

The Owosso Argus-Press, August 27, 1930 (enlarge)
The Detroit of 1893 was at the cusp of the new industrial revolution while still mired in the superstitions of the past. An economic crisis and a steady influx of immigrants would exacerbate both trends.

Tea-leaf readings were a fashionable trend at that time but would grow into a burgeoning industry. With it came public and internal scrutiny from the Spiritualist ranks.

By the 1930s tea shops featuring free readings were numerous and coming under attack by law enforcement. So popular were the renderings that the theatrical production of Tea for Two had live readings during its dates at the Paramount.

The crackdowns were unsuccessful as the courts ruled that since the service being provided was free of charge the unlawful act of "fortune-telling" for profit could not be forbidden.

The top article above by William H. Beatty focuses on the area east of Woodward in Detroit on Broadway in the early 1930s which encompassed seven tea shops in one block dubbed "Tea Leaf Lane".

Several of these are anonymously profiled. They entail some interesting facts and characters. One such person was "a turbaned, dark-skinned gentleman" from Ann Arbor who graduated from the University of Michigan and set up shop in Detroit to start his business career. Catering to intellectuals his shop floundered. Bring on the tea leaf readers and voila! his enterprise became a hit and more importantly, financially tenable.

Who were these readers and willing specimens of his fortune-telling? The best seers were Scottish bred. Far outweighing the stereotypical gypsy these Scots answered to mainly women thrill and curiosity-seekers and sob sisters with the earnestly-inclined accounting for a small portion of their business. Of course, these were only gratis side-amusements that accompanied a ham on rye or a cup of tea and surely not a serious portent of the future. At least that's what the proprietor's right hand man was claiming to the fourth estate.

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