A Visit With The Dead: A Skeptics First Trip to Lily Dale, NY

Follow
Visit Lily Dale Assembly in New York
Antique sign at the entrance of Lily Dale Assembly.

“I’ve got a gentleman here,” the Medium said. “He is sort of a lumbering character, big and clumsy. In life, he had a similar job to you. Is this connecting with anyone?”

I nodded yes mutely, feeling a combination of wonder, confusion, hope, and a twinge of self-consciousness at being addressed in front of a crowd.

“He wants you to know,” the Medium in front of the odd stump continued. “He is proud of you and says that the work you’re doing now is better than his ever was. Thank you for allowing me to serve and do with that what you will, in love and light,” before moving her attention on to another woman in the audience.

I’m not really listening anymore. I’m thinking about the interaction that just happened. My paternal grandfather, a man as large as she had described, was a journalist as a young man, a similar position to the one I had just started a few months prior. He passed away five years ago.

Did I just receive a communication from my dead grandfather? Is that possible? Just that very morning I would have told you no, but there I was, contemplating how this unassuming-looking little old lady could have possibly known any of that about me, she didn’t even know my name, but that’s just what happens in Lily Dale, NY.

The Lily Dale Assembly is a small community in rural New York State, about an hour south of Buffalo. Their website declares them as “The world’s largest center for the religion and philosophy of Spiritualism,” a religion based on demonstrating the continuity of life after death and the ability to communicate with the dead.

While studying journalism at nearby SUNY Fredonia, I had heard much about this little destination, but never visited. That is until a friend who remained in the area after I had relocated suggested we go for a girls’ day out while I was visiting her.

I’ve always been a skeptic, so I was doubtful about the validity of the place, but my curiosity urged me forward, so on a Tuesday morning in July we got up early, got in the car, and took the short drive past a beautiful lake and down a twisting rural road to the gates of Lily Dale.

From the moment we arrived in the line of cars waiting to enter the gates, I was struck by a certain energy of the place. From the arched antique sign at the entrance that beamed all the wonder and hope of turn of the century America, to the perfectly manicured and maintained gardens spread out ahead of me, something was different here.

We received our large, glossy programs at the gate house, included in our gate fee, so I paged through it while my friend found parking. Even at 10:00 am., parking was a challenge, but we found a spot near what I learned from the map in the program was the Maplewood Hotel.

Looking at the day’s schedule, we saw that we were just in time for the first healing service, but rather than rush into everything blindly, I requested that we spend the morning checking out the town a bit.

As we wandered the streets, on our way up to the pet cemetery which I was eager to see, if only because of a personal affinity to Steven King novels, I couldn’t help but notice the architecture.

Lily Dale Assembly - One of the many decorative Fairy Houses in the Leolyn Woods Fairy Trail
One of the many decorative Fairy Houses in the Leolyn Woods Fairy Trail.

Not only did it feel like I was wandering through a town straight out of the Victorian period, each home seemed to have its own personality. Some were adorned with Tibetan prayer flags, some with fairies and mushrooms, and even one that was decorated like a gingerbread house. They were so charming. It seemed like every third house had a sign up for the registered Medium residing there, and several porches contained tearful people pondering their recent readings.

Although strange to see, I supposed this fact spoke to the power of the mediums living there to connect with and move their clients.

After exploring the cemetery and fairy trail, a wooded trail featuring displays of bedazzled fairy houses, we ventured back down to the Library to catch a video presentation about Lily Dale. Upon our entering the prestigious-looking building, I was shown downstairs by the librarian, an extremely warm and welcoming young woman with neon hair, to a comfortable room where a crowd of others had gathered waiting for the film to start.

The woman seated next to me struck up a conversation, and told me about how she was here attempting gain closure after the loss of her husband, a seemingly common goal for visitors of Lily Dale. The film explained a bit about the history of the town and what it was here for, it was vital to filling myself in on the information most people seemed to know already. I would suggest seeing it if you’re a first time visitor, it explains a lot.

Lily Dale Assembly - a few of the homes along Melrose Park
A few of the homes along Melrose Park.

After the video ended, I was pretty hungry, so we walked down the road to an open air pagoda with a line that although quick moving, managed to maintain its length throughout the day, for lunch. I grabbed a bowl of garlic soup and a sandwich with turkey, cream cheese and pepper jelly, and we ate at a picnic table in the gorgeous lake side park.

We continued to check out some of the other free attractions after we ate. The museum held a display of slate writings that the curator explained were mysteriously written on the slates while they were pressed together around a piece of chalk.  The lobby of the hotel, a grand Victorian building that contained Spirit paintings and embroidery made by “the Brooklyn Enigma.”

As 4:00 pm approached, my friend, who had been compliant to my requests so far, insisted that I couldn’t leave until I saw some actual mediumship and started ushering me to “Inspiration Stump,” a supposed energy vortex in the woods where the mediums give messages twice daily.

We arrived at the collection of wooden benches in the forest facing a stump with a set of stairs attached to it and found our seats. A few moments later, a well-dressed but otherwise ordinary-looking woman approached the stump and began to address the audience.

“Inspiration Stump” is a popular spot in Lily Dale where registered mediums give spirit messages to the audience twice a day.
“Inspiration Stump” is a popular spot in Lily Dale where registered mediums give spirit messages to the audience twice a day.

After a hymn to raise energy, she began addressing members of the audience with short messages from dead loved ones. It was interesting, if not a bit voyeuristic, to see people lay their emotions bare in front of complete strangers. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised when she walked over to my part of the audience, pointed to me and asked if she could speak to me for a moment.

We headed back to my friend’s house shortly after, my head swirling with more questions than I had arrived with. How did she do that? Is my grandfather’s spirit still following me now? I still don’t have a solid answer to any of those questions. I had never even considered speaking to a medium before.

As we pulled back into my friends driveway she asked what I thought. “Next year, let’s get a reading!” I replied.