Lilydale Where People Never Die

1 January 2017

Lily Dale: Where People Never Die Lily Dale always held an eerie fascination for me. Growing up my best friend Kim and I would listen to stories from her mom about Lily Dale. She would tell us how every summer the “gypsies” as she called them, would come and settle in this small community to tell peoples futures. Lily Dale was only about a forty five minute drive from my hometown in Pennsylvania. I remember the first time Kim’s mom told us we were going on an adventure. Her and my mom were going to take us up to Lily Dale, we would pack a lunch to eat by the lake on the grounds and explore the town.

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Kim and I had all these images and expectation in our mind mostly from the stories we heard. I remember leaving early in the morning and driving the scenic route along the southern shore of Lake Erie. There were rolling hills with frequent vistas of the lake. The August morning was already warm enough to roll down the windows. Summer air accented with the smell of water from a mild on shore wind. Miles of grape farms stretching as far as the eye could see to the south. As we left Pennsylvania and entered New York, we had about 20 minute drive until we reached Lily Dale.

We started envisioning what it was going to be like and started “creeping” each other out. I remember driving and seeing the big wrought iron sign first welcoming you to Lily Dale. It was surrounded by a big brick wall and a lot of moss that lent to the ethereal feeling of the place. The community is gated so we had to pay to enter the grounds. As you drive in, you feel like your back in time. The houses seemed dilapidated but had a Victorian style charm to them. There were square wooden signs attached to poles implanted in the front yards of many of the cottages.

The signs, each uniquely decorated with the mediums name on it enticing you to come in for a reading. I remember very tall trees enveloping the whole place and feeling very unsettled inside. One place that stuck out in my mind was a clearing in woods with a huge tree stump. The stump was the focal point in the clearing also enshrined by huge trees, just like being under an umbrella. The sunlight diffused through the trees and danced on the ground adding to the mystical feeling of Lily Dale. Many park benches were arranged facing the stump, like pews in a church facing the alter.

We gathered here with a large group of people, many believers but also a few skeptics, in hopes of a chance connection with a loved one who had passed over. The medium stood up on the stump and reverently bowed her head in prayer before she started her public readings. I remember her looking in our direction and my heart started racing, she came over and said, “Someone over here has a loved one that passed very suddenly recently…. ” We knew she wasn’t referring to us, but the heightened anticipation we felt as she approached sent a shiver down our spine.

This area referred to as inspiration stump, was and is considered hallowed ground and the energy vortex of the community. It is here where mediums come to commune with spirits. The memories of Lily Dale may be skewed by time but it still holds the same fascination for me. This quiet, quaint community in upstate New York is the oldest and largest spiritualist community in the United States. Spiritualism is a religious sect that believes that no one dies they just transition to a different level of spiritual awareness.

Spiritualists believe they can communicate with the dead through mediums who are people with a higher level or sensitivity of consciousness. The town houses forty resident mediums seasonally and holds a variety of classes, workshops, healing services, and seminars with an array of guest speakers from around the world. How did this all begin? Who are the residents of this community and why do they return each season? Why do people flock from all over the country to visit time and time again? What kind of people visit Lily Dale?

In an online interview, Joyce LaJudice, historian in Lily Dale shared the beginnings of Modern Spiritualism in the United States. Spiritualism started in 1848, when two sisters Maggie and Kate Fox realized they could communicate with a spirit that was haunting their house. There had been random rappings on doors, windows, floors and ceilings at all hours of the day and night. Exacerbated, Kate the youngest of the two, called out, “Do as I do! ” She knocked twice the spirit knocked twice. These rappings continued back and forth and eventually they developed a code between the spirit and themselves.

Through this code, they ascertained the spirits name as Charles Rosna. He revealed to them through their communication that he, a peddler, had been murdered and buried in the basement of their house. Proving the existence of this spirit, they dug up his remains along with his peddler’s trunk. Word spread of this phenomenon through a group of Quaker Christians seeking validation that there is an afterlife. The fox sisters became the first mediums and started holding seances to help people contact family members that passed. As time passed Modern Spiritualism spread throughout North America and Europe.

The “learned” people and the free thinkers declared that “communication with spirit is not miraculous or supernatural” they believed this proved the continuity of life that people do not die- bodies do (LaJudice). Michel Richard sociologist at the State University of New York (SUNY), along with colleague Albert Adato, researched the beginnings of spiritualism as well. They revealed in his article the many influential people that became staunch believers in spiritualism; Ben Franklin, Carl Jung, Elizabeth Browning, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Victor Hugo, James Fenimore Copper, William Lloyd Garrison, Thomas Edison, and even Abe Lincoln.

In fact, stories are told of seances in the white house orchestrated by Mary Todd. There were even some big decisions such as the emancipation proclamation that were rumored to be medium influenced (Richard, Adato 186). Curiosity about Modern spiritualism and mediumship led Christine Wicker, investigative reporter for the Dallas Morning News, to write a revealing book about life in Lily Dale. Lily Dale began as a summer camp for spiritual enlightenment back in 1870’s. It was a retreat for the free thinkers and spiritualist to expand their knowledge and open themselves to the energies of the spirit world.

Today the population in Lily Dale consists of approximately 300 spiritualists of which 40 are mediums. In order to live in this closed community, you have to be registered with the Lily Dale Assembly. All mediums who want “to hang a shingle” and practice in Lily Dale must pass a test. “They are required to give three individual readings to three members of the Lily Dale board and then give one public reading to an audience made up of the entire board” (Wicker37). These readings have to be specific and accurate. Only then can they lease, own, and practice in this town.

Although people swarm Lily Dale in the summer seeking guidance and knowledge from the resident mediums, the vast majority of Spiritualists who live here have no psychic abilities. Gabriel Gaydos did her Master’s thesis on the ordinary people of Lily Dale. They are the common residents who have taken a back seat to the notoriety that goes along with this town. These people are the “foundation that fully lives the belief that spirit is common and not extraordinary, a community committed to its founding ideals in the face of ongoing ridicule, misunderstanding and misplaced sensationalism by outsiders” (Gaydos 4).

They are an integral part of the community in maintaining and keeping the town alive. These residents have Spiritualist ancestors of which many were mediums. This common thread of spirit is intermeshed throughout this community and reflects the current culture of today. The more notable members of Lily Dale are the colorful collection of mediums. Each with a distinctive presence and style which adds to the mystique of this quiet town. They are mostly women and all over fifty years of age.

I wondered why there was such an imbalance in gender, further research satisfied my query. Todd Jay associate professor at the University of Hirosaki explains, “Spiritualism attracts women because it is a religion that offers women complete equality in all facets of the movement” (Leonard 12). In contrast, other religion’s hierarchy is predominately male. Most of the mediums in the dale are ordained ministers thus adding to their credibility. They also have their own ways of communicating with spirits.

Some actually see the spirits, some hear, while others sense and feel their presence. Martie Hughes sees spirits only in “her mind’s eye” and she has no desire to see them any other way. She says, “It would scare the poop out of me. ” I find this rather humorous, giving the basis of their belief. Mary Anne Spears a psychotherapist actually sees the dead relatives of her clients. Sherry Lee Calkins does spiritual drawings with a time line of events for her clients and claims her spirit guides have a hand in her drawings. (Wicker 82).

Every medium has at least five spirit guides around them that protect and assist them in their life decisions. Leonard explains; Usually there is a Doctor- Teacher who maintains a presence on the person’s right side; a Master-Teacher-who is behind the person; a Chemist ( usuallyAsian or Middle- Eastern) who is on the person’s left side; a Native American or Indian protector who stands directly in front of the person; a joy guide(usually a child who moves around the person but generally stays around the person’s legs (Leonard 5).

John Edward an internationally renowned psychic medium refers to his spirit guides as “The Boys” In his book, Crossing Over, he gives an account of how his spirit guides changed his life path. John worked in hospital administration and loved his job. He dabbled in mediumship but never would have thought of it as his life work. His guide’s vibrations and voices kept getting louder and pushed him to change his life course. They lead him to understand his calling was to help people connect the physical world to the spiritual world.

They told him he would be a teacher and a noted figure in his field. He had no interest in celebrity, it was helping people that was paramount. John took a leap of faith and the next year he put “psychic medium” as his occupation on his tax returns (Edward 7). All mediums have a common belief that the gift they have is a form of healing. Their messages are to help people heal and move through their grief or troubles by connecting them with loved ones that have passed in hopes that it will give comfort or enlightenment to them.

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