Future bright for memory of Jeane Dixon

In Strasburg, Va., museum is devoted to'60s psychic whose predictions gained her fame

Short Hop

August 11, 2002|By John Bordsen | John Bordsen,CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

Who would have predicted that the personal archives and artifacts of Jeane Dixon would end up on display in Strasburg, Va., a picturesque hamlet in the Shenandoah Valley and a place she never lived?

Dixon, most likely. She was the best-known psychic of the past 50 years, a regular on TV talk shows, radio programs and a headliner in the supermarket tabloids.

Set aside her much-debated abilities for a moment. The fact is, Jeane Pinckert Dixon, who died in 1997 in Washington, did steer a sizable portion of her physical estate to the Wayside Foundation of American History and Arts through her friend and business associate, Leo Bernstein.

Bernstein had spent a good amount of time in the Strasburg area: He's a collector of antiques, and that's a thriving business in the northwest corner of Virginia. Strasburg is near the juncture of Interstates 81 and 66, about 90 miles west of Washington.

The foundation, a pet project of his, administers a group of nonprofit mom-and-pop attractions in and around Strasburg. Dixon donated her goods to the Wayside people, thinking they'd sell her antiques and whatnots and raise money to help maintain the Stonewall Jackson Museum, Crystal Caverns and Museum of American Presidents.

Instead, the foundation decided to keep the Dixon materials -- antiques, letters, magazines, more than 10,000 items in all -- and open the Jeane Dixon Museum upstairs from the presidents museum on North Massanutten Street.

Fateful prediction

At the museum, you can see what specifically made Dixon a celebrity: the May 13, 1956, issue of Parade magazine. It's her own copy, positioned on a table and turned to part of the article that's headlined "Washington's Incredible Crystal Gazer."

The key passage: "As for the 1960 election, Mrs. Dixon thinks it will be dominated by labor and won by a Democrat. But he will be assassinated or die in office 'though not necessarily in his first term.' "

As if the point isn't already crystal clear, right next to the article is a reprint of the front page of the Nov. 22, 1963, Washington Post extra. The screaming headline? "President Kennedy Shot Dead By Assassin In Dallas Parade."

That's when Dixon entered the national limelight. It's a glare that continues: Some researchers, authors and Web masters say the "astrologer to the stars" had a rare gift; others hold that Dixon was a fraud -- or a tool of the FBI. One academic coined the term "Jeane Dixon effect" to refer to the way society plays up a seer's rare correct predictions while disregarding more numerous misfires.

The stated goal of the museum is to "interpret Jeane's life and accomplishments as objectively as possible. The result is a thorough description of Dixon's endeavors, but the museum visitor himself decides their validity and impact."

John Schreiner, the museum's curator, treads gingerly between the believers and naysayers. He has a "normal curiosity" on the subject, he says, but doesn't consult psychics.

"People are always searching for answers and have a feeling that there's something more to life than meets the eye," he adds. "Everyone has a certain amount of ESP, and perhaps some have more than others."

Dixon was a pack rat who collected antiques and saved correspondence -- at her prime in the late '60s and early '70s, she was receiving 3,000 letters a week.

Schreiner divides his time between the Dixon site and the presidents museum downstairs. When one's open, the other is sometimes closed. As a result, you're apt to get a curator-led tour when you visit. He can't foretell the future, but as he steers you from display to display, you can learn as much about Dixon's past as you wish.

An unusual talent

She was born in 1918 in northern Wisconsin to German immigrants who did well in the lumber business. As a toddler, she perplexed her parents one day by asking if she could play with a nonexistent black-trimmed letter. The letter arrived several days later, announcing that her grandparents had died.

The family moved to Southern California, where Frank Pinckert owned a car dealership with silent-movie director Hal Roach. When Jeane was 8, a gypsy woman passing through gave her a crystal ball.

There followed years of incidents that were recollected but never authenticated.

In the 1920s, an older woman asked Jeane if she should throw in the towel on her failing movie career and instead open a boarding house. Jeane advised against it. In 1931, actress Marie Dressler won an Oscar for Min and Bill.

In 1942, Dixon met Carole Lombard in a Hollywood beauty salon, and strongly suggested the movie star not make any flights for the next several weeks. Lombard died in a plane crash shortly thereafter.

She and her husband, Jimmy Dixon, moved to Washington. He was a businessman, and their Hollywood connections put them in good social circles.

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