July 8, 2005
A Town Where the Spirit World Rules
By RICH BEATTIE
AS the rays of afternoon light filtered into her comfortable reading room, Sherry Lee Calkins swept a piece of brownish chalk over a large piece of drawing paper, a dreamy look in her eye. “There’s a short man in the room, wearing a cap with a tassel on it,” she said. “He’s a Scotsman. A grandparent or great-grandparent.”
She turned her attention toward what appeared to be an empty spot on her powder-blue carpet. “What?” she asked. “Use the orange? O.K.” She put down the piece of brown chalk, picked up an orange one and began drawing again. Amorphous shapes formed on the paper as she switched to the aqua and then the green, occasionally looking off to one side to share a laugh with the invisible Scotsman.
He was the one, she told me, who was doing the drawing – he had taken over her hands.
This time I was the client, but allowing spirits to direct her artwork is something Ms. Calkins said she had done about 10,000 times in the past 18 years. And studying these drawings for clues into her clients’ pasts – and futures – has become her occupation. She’s a spiritual medium, practicing in America’s epicenter of spiritual mediumship: Lily Dale, N.Y. Spirits guide just about everything in Lily Dale, a village of colorful Victorian gingerbread houses on small, placid Cassadaga Lake, near the Village of Cassadaga in a rural corner of New York State closer to Cleveland than to New York City. Since it was founded 126 years ago, Lily Dale has been populated and run by Spiritualists, members of a religious group that combines a reverence for “the God of your own understanding” with the belief that the living can communicate with the dead.
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