September 21, 1955
Four o’clock in the morning, September 21, 1955, I sit here in my home staring dejectedly into emptiness. I have just witnessed the end of a cottage. An era has ended, and historical relic important to the whole world has been consumed by outlaw yellow flames. An international shrine leveled in a few short minutes to the category of memory. The Fox Cottage is no more.
In the still of a clear cold night the ravages of fire reduced romance, history, tradition and pride into glowing ashes and scattered dust, we can but weep. At half past three this morning a motorist on the main highway, a mile from Lily Dale saw the glow of fire in the sky. Quickly he drove to the Dale, up and down the quiet streets, tooting the horn of his car. Lily Dale is a quiet place and at that time the motorist had difficulty rousing the residents. Quickly the fire alarm sounded and our fire dept, along with the fire department of Cassadaga, fought valiantly to save the cottage, but to no avail for the fire had too strong a hold. Only blackened portions of the front and side walls remain and a wealth of precious relics and mementos are lost forever.
The building was some 150 years old, there are records which show that it was occupied by several families before the tenancy of the Fox Family. During the half-century, after the advent of the Hydesville Rappings, the farm on which the cottage stood was sold in divided sections. The cottage passed into ownership of various people, as it became more and more antiquated. There was talk of razing it, there seemed to be little interest in preserving the building. However, when the prospect of its destruction was imminent, a new interest was aroused in its future.
B.F. Bartlett, for many years a resident of Lily Dale, purchased the building in 1915. Since the ground on which the cottage stood could not be purchased, Mr. Bartlett decided to transport it to Lily Dale and make the cottage a shrine to Spiritualism. The cottage was taken in sections, carried over country roads to the Erie Canal, placed on a barge and floated to Buffalo, N.Y. From there it was trucked to Lily Dale. The cottage was then re-assembled and restored to its original appearance when it was occupied by the Fox Family. It was dedicated as a shrine to Spiritualism during the summer of 1916. Each year it has become a mecca for visitors from all over the world.
We seldom appreciate the things in our immediate surroundings until it is too late. Those who make long and difficult journeys have a keener sense of values. I well remember the words of George Aisley, the English medium on his visit to Lily Dale. I walked with him to visit the cottage and as we climbed the tiny steps which led to the front door, he turned to me and said “please may I touch it?” Reverently he placed his hand on the ancient clap-board and said a prayer. He had come a long way and his appreciation was great. Visitors to Lily Dale, over the years have tender memories of Miss Floy Cottrell the famous medium who for many years was custodian of the cottage, demonstrating the same wonderful rapping mediumship with which the Fox Sisters first alerted the world. The quiet simplicity of Miss Cottrell and her wonderful mediumship maintained the tradition for which the cottage was famous.
The Fox Cottage has direct relationship to the Fox Family. The Peddler’s Pack, the rapping beam, the old Bible, record books all now damaged or destroyed. As I looked through the broken window of the smoldering house I could see the Peddler’s pack lying on the floor. Since it is made of tin, it was saved as was the Bible-though it was badly charred along with several other things, which will be housed in a new museum building, to be erected as soon as funds are available. Some of us were numbed by the tragedy, others wept openly, we know our loss was irreparable. The cottage seemed a part of our lives– we who live here yet we knew it was not ours alone to value, it has national and international significance.
I have in my home at Lily Dale a steel engraving of the Fox Cottage, it is dated 1851. It belonged to my grandparents. It is yellowed, spotted and faded with age, but still beautiful. It shows a bright stream of light across the arch of heaven from which scores of angel faces look down on the peaceful cottage. The Peddler stands in the front door and behind the Fox Children. The whole cottage is bathed in light, reflecting happiness and joy. The picture is called “The Dawning Light.” This morning as I stood on the brow of the hill in pajamas and robe, the cottage again bathed in light, the windows and doors of the cottage were brilliantly illumined but where my picture at home was of peace and joy, this one was of sadness and destruction, there was no Peddler, no children standing in the door-or-were my eyes to dim with tears to see them.
Can it be that we failed in our duty to Spiritualism. Have we been too careless of the precious heritage given to our care. May we find that this dismal tragedy will spur us to greater efforts, greater works to the glory of eternal spirit. Our cottage is gone-the cause-”fire of undetermined origin.”