You don’t have to be psychic to know Sylvia Browne loved Kansas City. All you have to do is ask her best friend, Mary Margaret Siegmund.
A St. Joseph health care consultant, Siegmund grew up in Kansas City with the celebrity psychic and author, who died last month in California at 77.
“Two years ago she came here and stayed for a week on the Plaza and was seriously considering getting a house or a condo near the Plaza,” Siegmund said. “She loved it here. This was home.”
Siegmund, 76, met Browne in third grade at the former St. James Catholic Church grade school at 39th and Tracy.
They were Sylvia Shoemaker and Mary Margaret Ryan then.
“She (had) beautiful, long reddish-brown curly hair and big brown eyes,” she said. “And she wore glasses. They were round with a gold rim, like owl eyes.”
Browne’s death hit her hard.
“It was a terrible sorrow,” she said.
She will always have her memories.
“In third grade we had an assignment to memorize a poem called ‘The Owl and the Pussycat,’” she said. “She taught me the hand movements that went with the poem to make it dramatic, and we (performed) it in front of the class. The last time I saw her, 2011 in Kansas City, we hugged each other and started reciting that poem. We’ve done that all our lives.”
Growing up near 43rd and Charlotte, the girls soon became inseparable.
“Her father was very witty. When we were about 20 we walked in the door one day and he said, ‘There they are — the Sin Twisters! Because one lies, and the other will swear to it.’ That was true. About 35 years later we told him the truth about one of his cars that never drove right. We backed it into a light pole at Winstead’s on the Plaza.”
They weren’t as wild her father made it sound.
“We were in more of an intellectual group,” Siegmund said. “We’d talk about books. And none of us ever drank.”
They did smoke. Kool menthols.
They drove in Sylvia’s 1949 Chevy coupe, which they dubbed “The Green Barf.”
“That car had a cigarette lighter that you’d push in,” Siegmund said. “When it got hot it would pop outall the way
and either hit you on the knee or fall on the floor. Sylvia was afraid something would catch on fire, so I always lit her cigarette.”
For much of her life Brown lived as a blonde.
“But in our early 20s she looked like Sophia Loren,” Siegmund said. “Tall, buxom and drop-dead gorgeous. We were walking on the Plaza when a man came up to Sylvia and said ‘You are so drop-dead gorgeous you make men fall off the curb!’”
Siegmund never questioned her friend’s psychic abilities.
“You believe it because you see it happen,” she said. “It was the way she would say ‘I just know.’ It was always kids stuff, like some boy liked her, or one time in grade school she predicted that a girl in our class would break her arm — and then she did!”
After high school Sylvia attended St. Terersa College in Kansas City (now Avila University). Her first job was teaching third grade at Nativity Grade School off of Blue Ridge Boulevard. Browne married four times. When she married her first husband in 1959 at St. James, her sister was her maid of honor. Siegmund was one of her two bridesmaids.
In 1964, after the newlyweds moved to Sunnyvale, Calif., Browne began her career.
Browne gained fame as a celebrity psychic and appeared on radio and TV — most notably with Larry King. She wrote 22 New York Times best-sellers. She also had many critics, and a controversial career.
She did correctly predict that Arnold Schwarzenegger would become a politician nearly a dozen years before he became governor, for example. But many of her predictions later proved to be false — including that of her own death. In 2003 she told King she would die when she was 88. In the early ’90s she was sentenced to 200 hours of community service after being indicted on grand larceny and pleading no contest to securities fraud.
None of that mattered to Siegmund.
“To me she was always just Sylvia,” she said. “I was very lucky to have her as a friend.”