Every summer, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Lily Dale, a village in New York state where mediums connect the living to the spirits of their deceased loved ones. Spiritualism in Lily Dale is positive rather than spooky; visitors can receive messages from the dead, attend workshops on New Age topics, and undergo healing sessions with Reiki practitioners. But they shouldn't expect to have their fortunes told, or to have any run-ins with malevolent spirits.
Stories from the town of Lily Dale detail its fascinating history. Although the Fox sisters, Leah, Margaret, and Kate, are frequently credited with founding Victorian-Era Spiritualism in 1847, the idea of a Spiritual retreat in the Lily Dale area predates them. In 1844, a mesmerist visited the city of Laona, NY, not far from present-day Lily Dale, bringing with him Spiritualist ideas. A group called the First Spiritualist Society of Laona formed around a decade later. By 1879, the group owned farmland that bordered Cassadaga Lake. Spiritualists met on the shore of the lake every summer, and in 1906, the area officially became Lily Dale. The name comes from the flowers that grow on and around the lake.
Curious to know more facts about what it's like to live in Lily Dale? It's just like every other town – albeit one that's home to as many spirits as people.
Spiritualism shares some similarities to Christianity; followers may believe in the Bible, as well as the idea that people become energy once they "die" (although there is no death in Spiritualism). One of the main tenets states that Jesus Christ existed, but he was a medium. But despite these parallels, Spiritualism is a distinct religion of its own.
This form of the religion began during the Victorian Era, when expressing grief and communicating with the dead led to the rise of seances. In Lily Dale, Spiritualism is the only religion practiced, although visitors don't need to be members of a Spiritualist church to visit.
Many of the spirits in Lily Dale can't be seen or heard by anyone other than mediums – but they do appear in photographs. Pictures with orbs, ghostly images, and unusual manifestations are a frequent occurrence around the village.
According to photographer Shannon Taggert, she showed one woman a photo of her with a purple orb on one shoulder. The woman just said, "Oh, that's [my late husband] Bob."
There are a number of standards that a medium has to meet before they can practice as a part of the Lily Dale Assembly. Mediums undergo a test that involves giving three 30-minute readings that have to meet accuracy standards determined by the Assembly and its officials. And passing is no guarantee of security, either; a medium's membership can be taken away if they give too many inaccurate readings.
In 2013, Pamela Hutson met with a medium in Lily Dale who she claims connected her with her deceased parents. Hutson didn't say much throughout the reading, and mostly sat quietly while the medium gave her some very specific details.
Once Hutson's parents were done "talking," the medium had a surprise: a late acquaintance of Hutson's was present and had a message for her:
"She came up with the name of a guy who died when I was about 18 and she knew that he died in a car wreck. A name, a date, the method of death, and at this point she still didn't even know my name. Come to think of it. I never did tell her my name. Not even at the end.
This young man from my past had a message for me that was actually very helpful. I hadn't thought of him in decades and was never close to him, but his message actually helped me a lot. It addressed a sliver of a relationship we actually did have briefly, and mostly it came down to, let your pain and suffering go. It gets better in the next life."