Lily Dale – A Truly Extraordinary Experience
By Dave Zuchowski
With a few minutes to go before my scheduled meeting with Lily Dale historian, Ron Nagy, I parked my car in a space between the gated-enclave’s museum and its Healing Temple, where daily services are held. Curious about the temple, I walked in on a packed session in which healers were gently placing their hands on volunteer’s shoulders to “channel their healing energies.”
Unable to linger for a longer look, I headed over to the museum, housed in what was once an 1890 schoolhouse where Nagy can usually be found from 11 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon.
“In 1879, a group of people interested in Spiritualism bought about 20 acres overlooking Cassadaga Lake in Southwestern New York,” said Nagy, sitting among the museum’s collection of photos and memorabilia from its earliest days. “They cleared the land and marked off property into lots and streets.”
One of the first buildings to go up was a hotel, a hung-suspension construction that, when additional floors were needed, was raised and new floors added underneath. The 1880 structure still stands to this day as the 43-room Maplewood Hotel.
“Eventually, the community bought additional land and, by 1900, 300 houses had been built,” said Nagy. “Lily Dale grew fast, mainly because of the train, which ran from Buffalo to Titusville, Pennsylvania. Currently, there’s around 165 dwellings, many of which are occupied by registered mediums.”
According to Nagy, Lily Dale was influenced by both the Women’s Suffragette Movement and the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. To this day, no alcoholic beverages are allowed on the property.
Before exiting the museum, Nagy pointed out interesting items in the collection such as a “spirit painting” on one wall, a pair of aura glasses, used by a medium to see a person’s aura, and an unusual Spiritualist trumpet, a “condenser of energy for a spirit voice or apport,” a paranormal transference of an article from one place to another.
On a walking tour of Lily Dale, which originally took its name from the profusion of water lilies on the lake, we passed by pleasantly painted modest houses which line both sides of the streets and are fronted by colorful gardens.
A number of Spiritualist-related shops are scattered over the grounds and include the Bargain Shop, full of all sorts of New Age items, Crystal Cove, Herbs for Life and the Lily Dale Bookstore and Souvenir Shop.
Nagy and I skirted past the Pilgrim’s Path, a classical seven circuit labyrinth made of Canadian hemlock used for meditation, then up to the entrance to the Leolyn Woods, full of stately old trees and said to be the state’s second oldest natural growth forest.
Near the end of the forest trail, Inspiration Stump, an ancient tree stump about 3-feet in diameter and 2-1/2-feet tall, is said to hold some of Lily Dale’s most profound spiritual energy. Twice a day, registered and visiting mediums pass along what are believed to be messages from the spirit world to those assembled.
A look inside the Maplewood Hotel turned up a “precipitated painting” of Abraham Lincoln, said to appear on canvas without the help of human hands, in a room just off the lobby.
On the porch, I got a chance to speak with Robin Kepner of Bloomfileld, New York, who said she’s been coming to Lily Dale for 31 years for the peace, the classes and workshops and the people.
“I’m most interested in going to the Stump in the evening to take photos of orbs and do transfigurations, the practice of shining a red light on someone’s face to see different spirits,” she said.
At 2:30 in the afternoon, I entered Lily Dale’s massive 1,200-seat Auditorium, built in 1883 and remodeled in 1901, where a service was just about to begin. The daily sessions feature a speaker as well as a clairvoyant.
I ended my visit with a quick stroll along part of Fairy Trail, a path through the woods strewn with fairy and gnome houses and toy-like items meant to be enjoyed by children and those adults wanting to rekindle memories of the child within.