The psychics of Chelsea


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The area has a high proportion of the city’s seers, tarot-card readers and mediums


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  • A fraction of the archives stored in the American Society for Psychical Research. Photo: Liz Hardaway




  • A demonstration of ESP testing. A person reclines in a chair, with headphones over their ears and ping-pong balls cut in half to shield their eyes. The objective of the experiment is to clear the mind and imagine a painting or location that someone else is looking at. Photo: Patrice Keane 



If Chelsea residents seek to know the future, they only have to walk around the corner to find it.

From rusty machines promising to divvy out a fortune for a dollar to psychics charging $200 an hour to rid a New Yorker of their bad juju, Chelsea seems to have a higher proportion of clairvoyance compared to the rest of Manhattan. Not even spanning a whole square mile, Chelsea houses at least 20 official psychics who have made their way to the World Wide Web. That number does not include the various hole-in-the-wall seers advertising their skills from random windowsills, promising consumers they will foretell their future with a half-hour reading of tarot cards.

One medium who balances his psychic ability with his life as an executive on Wall Street is Jesse Bravo. He had his first metaphysical experience being home alone as a child, when he saw a bat-like creature clawing underneath his bedroom door. Scared of what he saw and blaming this occurrence on an overactive imagination, Bravo repressed his ability to see the unknown until his own child was born years later. Realizing his son had the same ability, he decided to learn more and embrace his gift.

After nine years of being a medium, Bravo has seen many things during his readings, some of which didn’t even make sense at the time. In one reading to a long-term client, he saw a man riding on top of a T-rex, only to find out a month later that his client had started dating a curator from the American Museum of Natural History who specialized in the dinosaur exhibit.

“I go in there and just let myself go and let the natural process happen and just trust that it happens,” Bravo said. “And you walk out there with somebody who has been helped.”

Bravo prides himself in being honest with his customers and what he sees. Trying not to use gimmicks or leading questions, a common tactic used by deceptive psychics, Bravo has even gone as far as exposing fraudulent psychics on a radio show in the past.

“I would call them up as a straight-up sucker, victim, playing into their hand ... and then I would just expose them on the radio for being a terrible person who preys on people,” said Bravo. “You know, how could they do this?”

Though his main office, Psychic NYC, is in the heart of Chelsea, Bravo has multiple locations throughout New York.

“People who are believers will always believe, no matter what I say. And then people who are doubters, no matter what I say, will always doubt. So, it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day whether it can be established or not because whatever line you’re taking is the line,” Bravo said.

But there are people in the city investigating whether or not these phenomena can be proven.

“Paranormal doesn’t mean it can’t be explained, science just hasn’t explained it yet,” said Patrice Keane, executive director of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR).

Tucked away in a narrow building on 73rd Street and Central Park West, the ASPR houses four centuries worth of research and literature regarding anything involving the paranormal and supernatural. Founded in 1885 by one of the fathers of psychology himself, William James, and other scholars, the society strives to “explore the uncharted realms of human consciousness,” according to their website, www.aspr.com.

The society is currently exploring ESP functioning in an altered state of consciousness. One floor of the house even has a laboratory, where the society conducts a double-blind experiment to study ESP. A subject is supposed to clear their mind and picture a location, or painting, that another subject is looking at. After the subject leaves the chair, they are given multiple paintings or locations to choose from, and only find out later which was the correct choice.

“We bring this in a lab to rule out chance,” Keane said. She said she had seen some scarily accurate results, such as subjects describing all four options to choose from in very specific detail, instead of just the one. She has also witnessed psychics finding the missing piece to a crime investigation.

“If we only see [a phenomenon] a little bit, it doesn’t make it less real,” Keane said.

Not only does the society have rare literature and early findings of psychology, philosophy, manuscripts and case reports, but they have also participated in exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris with their rare photographs and archives. The society is currently preparing an exhibit in spirit photography and is seeking funding.

Through all the signs and advertisements littered around the streets of Chelsea promising a patron their future for five dollars, one still has to remain skeptical. There is no licensing required, nor regulation, of this business. There are also countless horror stories of victims shelling out thousands of dollars to get some dreaded curse lifted. So maybe just take the psychics with a grain of salt, and enjoy the ride.


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