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As It Was: Roseburg, Ore., Challenges Gypsy Palm-Reading Shop in 1980

In 1980, Roseburg, Ore., officials attempted to use enforcement of an ordinance against occult arts to prohibit the opening of a palm-reading shop.

When Romani Gypsies Lizzie and Rita Marks wanted to open the shop, City Councilor Wesley Wilhite told them, “You represent to me the Kingdom of Darkness and I will do all I can to block you.”

The Roseburg ordinance outlawed fortune telling, phrenology, astrology, mesmerism, and spiritualism, except that it allowed schools, fraternal organizations and “duly organized and recognized religions” to use fortune-telling to raise money.

It was argued that the intent of the law was to prevent fraud, not religious freedom, but Wilhite told his colleagues, “We are not dealing with flesh and blood, we are dealing with principalities we cannot see.”  A local pastor, H. Art Spencer, said, “The use of palmistry has always been a form of witchcraft.”

The issue in Roseburg was dismissed when the Marks established their business out of town.  

In 1984, the California Supreme Court ruled in a similar case that astrologers and fortune tellers have the same rights to charge for predicting the future as stock brokers and political pollsters.

 

Sources: Silverman, Carol. “Oregon Roma (Gypsies), A Hidden History,” Oregon Historical Quarterly, Winter 2017, vol. 118, no. 4, pp. 518-553; Bartley, Bruce, “Gypsies suit puts court battle in City’s Future,” Oregonian, July 26, 1980, p. A13.

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Pat Harper is the archivist for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, where she digitizes records, manages websites and learns more about regional history from the SOHS volunteers. After receiving her Master’s Degree in library science from the University of Illinois in 1980, Harper worked as a reference librarian, then as a library administrator. From 1994 to 2005, she was the Siskiyou County library director and lived in the country near Hornbrook, California.