A Little Lily Dale Tale

After I wrote the article about spiritualism books, I thought a more detailed description of the one town full of mediums may be interesting and amusing to some, so I am posting this memory of my experience. I hope you enjoy

My husband and I visited this teeny town on the extreme western end of NY State during our road trip.
The houses are slightly tilted worn pastel gingerbread Victorians decorated with various angel statues, twinkling lights, and dead people.

OK, the dead people only appear to the inhabitants of Lily Dale. The town is populated with mediums. You know, the John Edwards “I’m getting a man with health problems around the lungs and heart–can anyone claim him” sort of medium. It is the oldest spiritualist community in the US, and they are open to receive messages from the dead during the months of July and August only. Apparently the cold deters the spirits–probably from lack of clothing. One pays ten dollars a day to be admitted to the town under a century old arch declaring — Lily Dale Assembly–The City Of Light.

We arrived at night, certainly appropriate. We checked into the large Maplewood hotel where a sign implores visitors not to “give private readings, seances, or have group meetings in your rooms.” I assume they are referring to living guests–not much you can do about crowds of ghosts. The Maplewood hasn’t joined the latest century. Forget about online services. There are no phones in the rooms. Or TV Or air-conditioning. However, you can rent a fan.

The Maplewood does have creepy paintings of people supposedly created before their demise, foreshadowing death. Something about the eyeballs. The Victorian artist claimed the subjects are complete strangers until oil hits canvas. Sort of automatic paint by numbers. And it has a great wide porch where Susan B. Anthony once sat. We made ourselves at home on a couple of white wicker chairs and did our best to pretend we weren’t listening to the conversation among a group of women about their personal ‘reading’ styles, their grievances with the “How to talk to Your Angels” teacher, and comparison in skill. I was right there with them, thinking, “these guys sound like any other working group of people,” until someone mentioned the ‘shadow Lily Dale.’ The one on the other side of the woods. A town of Victorian spirits.  Even some of the group couldn’t exactly follow the conversation. “Do you mean the REAL other Lily Dale?” one asked. Depends on what you consider real.

We went for a walk past abodes each with a sign declaring the home’s possessor a Registered Medium.
To be allowed to practice mediumship in Lily Dale, the intuitive in question must pass muster with the town’s top ghost-finders. Only after three separate readings and being approved does an individual have permission to set up business. The town holds public services in the woods at Inspiration Stump–a huge trunk encased in cement earlier mediums used to give readings on. If it storms, a bell tolls and the service is held in the assembly hall–chairs in front of a stage.

There is a sad and quirky pet cemetery. No people are buried in Lily Dale. I wonder why that is? Does proximity have anything to do with how a spirit manifests itself? I mean, if dead people are that close, would they butt into another’s reading just for the hell of it? If that’s the case, mediums had better beware of where they live the rest of the year–don’t want to land next to a thousand acre memorial park–they’d be haunted night and day, and night again.

A lake surrounds the town–many inhabitants have seen transparent Native Americans canoeing in the mist.

Their museum is full of odd old medium tools. Slates with ghost writings, large horns for summoning the dead, spirit cabinets where ghostly faces would appear. And a photo album chock full of ectoplasmic images among the living. A fellow who couldn’t feel anything from the knees down and therefore warned us he may tip over at any time, runs the place. He informed us he hadn’t always cataloged dead things. He used to deal with “jails,” he said. “A prison guard, we queried?” “No, an inmate.” he replied.

I was determined to have a reading by a medium, but knew my choices would be slim, because I hadn’t made an appointment ahead of time. Walk-ins are welcome, if they aren’t already booked. How does one choose?? The kind lady at the hotel explained “just walk around town until you are drawn to one.” Well, drawn or not, most were booked solid. I almost decided on a lady with only 2 spots left, but I had seen her credentials and didn’t enjoy the emphasis on angels as guides. I wanted to deal with one fantastical entity at a time.

So I went with someone who hadn’t booked anyone yet–I was worried I was running out of time–although no one really runs out of time in Lily Dale. They move on.

My medium was late. Not that kind of late–behind schedule. Once settled into her small front parlor, she handed me pencil and paper and told me “you’ll want to take notes.”
She started off with a bang. “Your father has passed.” I barely nodded. No one would get any ‘tell’ from my expressions or reactions. A ‘tell’ is what most people being read give the medium–an expression, verbal response, body language that indicates if they have hit the right general track to follow.

“I have him here with me and another male figure, a close uncle or father?” I hadn’t any thing to add to this. “Your father wants you to know that you need to read the papers carefully before signing anything, although people will claim everything in the papers are fine, make sure you read them. Early next year, money will be connected to these papers.” My dead father appears and all he wants to discuss is some papers to be dealt with next year?? I give no sign of disapproval or dismay. She starts to prattle on about my father and his perception of the afterlife. “Your father didn’t quite expect the afterlife he is experiencing. He thought it would be something else. But he says it’s pleasurable, very pleasurable. He gave up the notion of traditional heaven and hell long ago, but this isn’t the afterlife he was expecting.”

Well, I guess not, as he didn’t believe THERE WAS an afterlife. My face remains neutral. He left you a piece of furniture, a writing desk? Dark wood?”  This time I feel it necessary to say no.
“Check with your mother when you visit her next. She may have it” Uh, I live with my mother, something she should know if she’s reading my father etc., so guess what–no desk. That was kind of out of left field–she should have gone with something a little more general–like ‘your father left you something he valued’–I mean, that could be anything from toenail clippers to gold Pennsylvania Railroad cufflinks.

Next. “Your father wants you to put on your walking shoes.”

Uh what?

“He wants you to walk. Just walk. Nothing strenuous, but for exercise.” She drones on about walking for quite some time.

“Do you have any questions for your father?”

I had hopes, I really did. I’d love nothing more than to believe there’s life after death. But this was pure bunk. I shook my head no. But there was time left in my reading and she had to fill it, so she starts to tell me about my living mother, how she loved music as I was growing up (uh, no) how she is contemplating how she raised me and–“you have a brother?” This time I gave her a tell, and she didn’t even pick up on it–I answered “yes” in a disgusted manner. She driveled on—“your brother and you are very different but your mother feels that both of you came out fine. You and he although different, doesn’t mean you aren’t close.” If I had any doubt that this was pure crap, this last part sealed it for me. Yeah, my brother and I are as close as two people who dislike each other can be.

Still time left. Now she gives me stuff about how I tell stories to my mother, how they are very creative, how they could be published, and I’m so sick of this fiasco that I say, “Yeah, I’ve been writing something, and she’s jubilant–that’s what the papers are about!  A book contract!” The buzzer mercifully goes off, and I hand her a small fortune in cash, thank her and join the hubby  who was trying to eavesdrop out on her step. He saw everything in my face. I gave him a ‘tell,’ all right.

We also went to the free reading service, where several mediums picked members from the audience and read them. The first medium my husband  and I had been ‘drawn’ to earlier, but she was booked. She was also good. I don’t know if she was good at contacting the dead, but she was sure great at seeming as though she did. She picked a particular person in the back and said she kept seeing the Marlboro Man–a tough guy maybe? She wasn’t sure what it meant. The man replied that his father had worked for Marlboro cigarettes. She asked a woman in the front row about a ‘Roberta.’ Not a typical name. The girl explained she worked in a nursing home and had cared for a patient named Roberta.  The third read was of a girl behind us. I watched her face as the medium told her she was having difficulty deciding to go to college, and she named the specific one. If the girl was an actress she was fairly good, because she had a sort of stunned look and excitedly nodded to her friends it was true. Now, as impressive as this all seems, I’m a stranger in the town. All tourists are. And if for instance, a medium would enjoy an helpful hand from a few friends, or say people on a payroll, they could populate an audience and no one would be wiser.

The medium whom I had just consulted was there drumming up business, and carefully avoided my eye, as she was wrong on one reading after another. I was embarrassed for her. One hunchbacked medium made contact with my hat, and decided to read me on the basis of it. She claimed a well dressed lady was there, could I claim her, which was really ridiculous because how the hell would I know anyone from that general lame description? She insisted I was involved in some sort of real estate deal, and after she asked me about it for the fourth time, My husband shouted “NO.” She darted away from me so fast, the hat she liked almost blew off my head. She was already reading another poor soul–oh, sorry.

Despite none of the people who see ghosts being able to conjure up mine, it was a quirky, interesting, and spiritually uplifting time. As we were leaving Lily Dale, we glanced at our camera’s last shot. Two blurry white amorphous spots were visible among the trees. We couldn’t imagine what they might be. We scurried to the van to avoid any more drops of rain, and drove off.

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