When it comes to locales with which we associate psychic hot spots in America, New Jersey is probably not the first place that comes to mind. However, the Garden State has had it’s fair share of famous spiritualists, from “Psychic Detective” Dorothy Allison, who despite her detractors, cannily revealed accurate clues to a number of unsolved crimes, to “Psychic Tia,” a former real-life New Jersey police detective who credits her sixth sense with having aided and abetted closing a number of cases, whose reality show is set to debut on the A&E Network this coming August.
Meet Madame Marie
But as much notoriety as this new crop of media-savvy mediums may muster, it’s doubtful their reputations will enjoy a longevity comparable to that of New Jersey’s most enduring psychic legend, Madame Marie. Fans of Bruce Springsteen are no doubt familiar with the late Madame Marie Castello, the New Jersey fortuneteller he immortalized in his 1973 classic rock anthem, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” with the line: “Did you hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do?” While ‘The Boss’ may have taken a little poetic license with Madame Marie’s folklore (she was never in fact arrested for fortunetelling or anything else), she was an icon and perennial tourist attraction on the Boardwalk for nearly seven decades.
With a residency that began in 1932 and ended with her death in 2008–notwithstanding a 1997 to 2004 hiatus which coincided with the decline and eventual renaissance of the Boardwalk’s own fortunes–Madame Marie practiced her craft from a small booth called The Temple of Knowledge, and earned the distinction of being the Boardwalk’s longest ensconced tenant. In addition to Springsteen, devoted clients were said to include such luminaries as Diahann Carroll, Woody Allen, Elliott Gould, and Diane Keaton, as well as rockers Elton John and the Rolling Stones, and crooners Ray Charles, Vic Damone and Perry Como, who popped in to see her when they were in town playing gigs at the nearby Asbury Convention Hall.
The Gypsy Mystique
While many people called Marie Castello a gypsy, whether or not she was of Romany descent is open to debate. Castello claimed the family’s Russian surname had been changed at Ellis Island, however, many such accounts of immigration clerks replacing unfamiliar foreign names with more anglicized ones have since been proven false (it was more likely that the immigrants themselves Americanized their names to smooth the transition into a new society).
While there’s a good chance that Madame Marie played up the Romany gypsy narrative more as a marketing ploy than biographical fact, what is known is that when Marie Castello was born in 1915 in Neptune, New Jersey, her father was a “tinker” by trade, which was both a common line of work, as well as a derogatory term, by which the indigenous gypsy population (also called “travelers”) came to be known in his native Ireland. While it’s possible Madame Marie was connected by heritage to this sect of gypsy lineage, there is no verifiable proof.
Even the origin of the term “gypsy,” or “from the Egyptian,” while commonly linked to occult practices, is derived from a series of dubious historical associations. For instance, Tarot decks that employ ancient hieroglyphic symbolism and claim to have “encoded the occult wisdom of ancient Egypt” embedded in the cards were first published centuries after tarot originally debuted. And the ancient Rom (or Romani) were an ethnic group native to Rome, not Egypt.
Meanwhile, Back on the Boardwalk
Whatever the origin of Marie Castello’s psychic gifts, much like New Orleans’ legendary Voodoo Priestess, Marie Laveau, she was highly regarded for the accuracy of her predictions, and the legacy she spun over the course of seven decades has since been passed down to her children and grandchildren, who continue to ply their psychic trade from the tiny landmark storefront in Asbury Park.
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