The Amazing Place Called Lily Dale New York

A summer vacation to western New York is popular to many. It’s a beautiful part of our country and the lakes, hills and streams make for a lot of family fun. In the extreme western part of New York state is Chautauqua county which is very well known among tourists for beautiful Chautauqua Lake.

map of chautauqua countyTucked away in this picturesque corner of the state is the town of Lily Dale, a popular stop for close to one hundred years. Lily Dale is a very small settlement located in the town of Pomfret which is on the east side of Cassadaga Lake. This is about 50 miles southwest of Buffalo, about ten miles inland from Lake Erie. The closest main highway is Interstate-90. Lily Dale is also about 50 miles northeast of Erie PA. Traveling there from Buffalo you would exit Interstate-90 using the Hwy-60 exit in Dunkirk NY. 

Lily Dale might be considered the center of today’s modern spiritualist movement. Estimates today put Lily Dale’s visitor count to over 20,000 annually. The site of Lily Dale is also the home of many registered mediums and guest lecturers appear frequently. There are now dozens of mediums who hand a shingle in front of their home to promote their services. The Lily Dale Assembly acts as the governing body in registering mediums and those members are certified by the Assembly as being competent and upright.

The history of this hamlet is very interesting. Lily Dale became a hot spot for Spiritualism in 1916 when members relocated the home of its American founders, Kate and Margaret Fox, the celebrated Fox sisters, to the site after it was bought for a reported $27,000.

In the year 1848 at their home in Hydesville New York, the Fox sisters used “rappings” to convince their much older sister and neighbors that they were communicating with the spirit world. After this amazing occurrence, the oldest sister the fox sisters mediumstook over and essentially managed their careers for many years. All of the sisters went on to be world renown mediums. Under the older sisters guidance, the Fox sisters made appearances in many cities demonstrating their spiritualist powers. The sisters received a good amount of publicity in the press. Some newspaper stories declared them frauds while others seemed to verify these sensational demonstrations.

Very similar as with today, there are thousands of people working to unmask the art of spiritualism as being a fraud, in his lifetime the famous Harry Houdini was one of them, and there are thousands who work to document the movement’s credibility. It’s interesting to understand that, even as today, there were many staunch believers in spiritualism during the era of the Fox sisters. This included prominent people such as Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the writer and adventurer, Horace Greeley. By the mid 1850s, there were thought to be more than one million professing Spiritualists in the United States alone. During the peak years of Spiritualism from the 1840’s to about the 1920’s, membership in the United States and Europe combined was said to be than eight million. Most of the followers during that time seemed to be from the middle and upper classes. During this time Kate and Margaret Fox gave hundreds of seances for true believers as well as for the many people “investigating” the phenomena. It appears that Kate Fox in particular was considered to be a powerful medium. She was able to produce not only spirit raps, but “spirit lights, direct writing, and the appearance of materialized hands,” as well as the movement of all types of objects at a distance.

spiritualism posterOver the years there were many attempts to prove that what the Fox sisters were doing was fraudulent. Allegedly it was proven that the sounds heard indeed were emanating from the sisters toe joints. So called “experts” concluded that what was being done was a hoax and the sisters did reportedly make a confession as such. One sister recanted the confession about a year later. Regardless of the fact that there may certainly have been hoaxes put forward over the years and theories uncovered, there remains much that has not been explained about the work of the medium. The story of the Fox sisters is quite fascinating and offers perhaps the best glimpse of the phenomena during the 1800’s. There are several books written on the subject.

An interesting question was why the private site of Lily Dale was chosen as the place to relocate the home of the Fox sisters in 1916?

houdini posterIn seems that in 1871 a group of Spiritualists who eventually became the Lily Dale Assembly started having summer meetings on Cassadaga Lake. As time went by they constructed a good many cottages and other structures such as a hotel, auditorium and outdoor amphitheaters. As years progressed, Lily Dale’s popularity and name continued to grow with all those connected to the Spiritualist movement. Many famous names over the years visited Lily Dale including Susan B. Anthony, Harry Houdini and a few Hollywood celebrities. In 1916, while Lily Dale had a reputation as a meeting place for Spiritualists, it took on greater significance and became a type of mecca when the childhood home of Kate and Margaret Fox was literally moved there from Hydesville New York. Most followers at the time believed that Lily Dale would be the perfect site to further their movement.

Today, Lily Dale is the site of spiritualist workshops, classes and special events held each summer. Lily Dale hosts many modern day lecturers as guests including Dr. Wayne Dyer, Depak Chopra, John Edwards and others. It’s an annual pilgrimage site for thousands of spiritualists and people desiring to explore and learn more about the subject. Where Spiritualism was once a cohesive movement through periodicals and formal meetings, today it is practiced mostly through various Spiritualist churches in both the United States and United Kingdom.

Lily Dale is an interesting place with quite an interesting history and you may just wish to visit there when your summer vacation or travel plans take you near this part of New York state. (Photos and images in public domain)