The History of Mediumship in Lily Dale, NY

lily dale ny

Nestled among the bowers of ancient oak and white pine, on the east side of Cassadaga Lake, is a quaint little hamlet called Lily Dale, NY.

Lily Dale’s year-round population is just shy of 300. Of course, that only refers to its “living” inhabitants. As a Spiritualist center for over 140 years, Lily Dale has something of a “ghost problem.”

This remarkable little village seems like a relic of late Victorian America, and the beliefs and preoccupations of that time still linger about it. In some ways, the rest of the world has passed it by—but in Lily Dale, mediumship and the Spiritualist Church remain the centerpieces of its eclectic and fascinating history.

A History of Spiritualism

The village of Lily Dale, NY, was founded in 1879, at the very height of the Spiritualist movement which was then sweeping America.

Interest in “occultism” and esotericism was much in the air in the late nineteenth century. The Theosophical Society had been founded in New York only a few years earlier, in 1875, by the renowned medium and occultist Madame H. P. Blavatsky and her associate, Col. Henry Steel Olcott. At the same time, the mystical novels of Marie Corelli and H. Rider Haggard were popular bestsellers; and stories of ghosts and the supernatural were all the rage in Victorian literature.

The true foundation of Lily Dale can be traced back to 1848, when the famous Fox Sisters (Kate and Margaret Fox), of Hydesville, NY, created a sensation with their claims of spirit contact. Their séances became famous, and they were followed by other celebrity mediums, like Cora Scott and Paschal Beverly Randolph.

This all took place just prior to the Civil War; after the conclusion of that terrible conflagration, the Spiritualist movement grew even more popular. The vast numbers of war dead left many grieving survivors. Spiritualism, and the intercession of mediums, offered a means to communicate with their lost loved ones and find a sort of closure.

Lily Dale, NY: A Town on the (Spiritual) Borderland

By 1879, Spiritualism was well and truly established as the occult movement par excellence in the United States.

As an informal religious movement, Spiritualism traces its origins back to a time before even the Fox Sisters—to the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg and the French doctor Franz Anton Mesmer. Its beliefs are syncretic and non-dogmatic, and are oriented toward the afterlife.

Lily Dale began life as a summer camp devoted to Spiritualist experimentation. It was first conceived by Willard Alden and Jeremiah Carter, two members of the Religious Society of Freethinkers (RSF), an organization for the exploration of occult and psychic phenomena.

Starting as a simple summer camp, by 1900 Lily Dale was home to nearly 200 Victorian-style homes and buildings. There were grocery stores, a library and printing press, even a bowling alley and billiards hall. To top it all off, by 1903 the small town was furnished with high-tech, electric lighting.

A Magnet for Mediums

From the start, Lily Dale had been envisioned as a community of Spiritualists, mediums, Theosophists, and open-minded inquirers into the hidden side of things.

Tucked away among the hoary forests of western New York, Lily Dale is an ideal location for those wishing to explore the realms of ghosts and spirits. Its great natural beauty is as otherworldly as some of its inhabitants are reputed to be.

So the town has always been attractive to mediums, as well as some of the foremost thinkers in the Spiritualist and other movements, including social reform movements. The famous social reformer Susan B. Anthony lectured at Lily Dale on three occasions during the 1890s and 1900s; and in 1897, Annie Besant, the future president of the Theosophical Society, also lectured during the town’s summer season.

More recently, it has hosted talks by such well-known figures as Deepak Chopra, John Edwards, and James Van Praagh.

Lily Dale Events and Attractions

Nowadays, Lily Dale is one of the major Spiritualist centers in the world.

Of course, there are other notable Spiritualist centers, such as Cassadaga, Florida, or the Arthur Findlay College of Spiritualism and Psychic Sciences in Essex, England. But Lily Dale is something else altogether—a quaint mélange of the Victorian and the modern, of the grossly material and the loftily spiritual.

So, if you happen to be spending some time in western New York, and you’d like to visit Lily Dale, here are a few of the attractions you simply must see:

The Lily Dale Museum

The fantastic Lily Dale Museum is housed in an 1890 one-room schoolhouse. You can’t miss it—it’s right across from the Healing Temple, at the corner of Library Street and East Street.

There’s a little of something for everyone in this remarkable museum. You can explore the many photos, artifacts, and other objects chronicling the extraordinary history of Spiritualism, from its earliest days to now. The entire story of Lily Dale is recounted, and there is a wonderful display of artifacts belonging to the Fox Sisters and their family.

And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out the many “precipitated spirit” paintings that decorate the museum’s walls.

The Fox Cottage

Yes, that’s right. The actual cottage belonging to the Fox Sisters in Hydesville, NY, was transported to Lily Dale in 1915.

Alas, it was destroyed by a fire in 1955. Nevertheless, its former location has been transformed into a memorial and meditation garden, which is open year round. You can find it just behind the Forest Temple, on East Street.

Marion H. Skidmore Library

Don’t forget to check out Lily Dale’s wonderful little library.

It collects a comprehensive assortment of occult, Spiritualist, Theosophical, psychic, and other literature that just about covers the whole gamut of esoteric interests. This includes some real treasures from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Come for the Sights, Stay for the Spirits

If you’re interested in the history of Spiritualism, or you’re just looking for some of the best mediums this side of the Great Beyond, then Lily Dale, NY, is the right place for you.

The town has a rich history and heritage, and there are few places in the United States where the world of ghosts and spirits is more immediate to the living. So if you’re anywhere near western New York, be sure to drop by and find out for yourself why “no one dies in Lily Dale.”

And in the meantime, be sure to check out our directory of psychics, and get a taste of Lily Dale in the comfort of your own home.

Speak Your Mind