Spirits are willing at Lily Dale – The Star – Travel
Jul 05, 2008 04:30 AM
Lily Dale, N.Y.– A gentle breeze sways the 30-metre treetops in Leolyn Woods, the virgin forest that surrounds Inspiration Stump, a huge, concrete-topped hemlock stump.
Other than that, there’s dead silence.
That’s because, during summer months, visitors gather here twice a day to hear mediums from around the world deliver messages from beyond.
The benches that face The Stump are filled with people eager for news from deceased relatives and friends.
To increase your chances of having a medium make a connection with your own personal afterworld, it’s said, sit near the front and wear brightly coloured clothing.
Carolyn Molnar, a visiting medium from Toronto, paces before the crowd and scans her psychic radar screen trying to catch incoming blips from the spirit world.
“I’m getting a Don or Donald,” she says, searching the audience. “I’m seeing a blue uniform. Can someone take a Donald – Uncle Donald?”
A woman in the second row hesitantly raises a hand.
“Donald was my great-uncle,” she says. “He was in the Air Force during the war, but I don’t know a lot about him.”
Molnar pauses a moment, as if listening to a thread of music running through her head.
Then she says, “Donald says he is the one who has appeared to you during times of great stress and he will always be there to help you.”
The woman smiles and begins to weep.
But clearly there are skeptics in the crowd – such as the man, two rows away, with a grumpy expression and his arms crossed over his chest.
This is the largest Spiritualist community in the United States, based on the belief that death isn’t final, that the soul not only continues on, but that loved ones, friends and even long-lost acquaintances who have gone before are available to help and support those left on Earth – if you welcome them.
Believers in the afterlife, and those who aren’t sure what they believe, have been visiting Lily Dale since the gated village was founded in 1879, including notables such as author Arthur Conan Doyle, activist Susan B. Anthony and actress Mae West.
From the last weekend in June through Labour Day, Lily Dale offers visitors intriguing programs that run the gamut from fun to philosophical to woo-woo.
This year, for example, there are workshops on reiki, dream interpretation and how to meet your angels.
Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra often lecture here; John Edward got the idea for his TV show Crossing Over after guesting at The Stump.
Thousands of Canadians visit every summer, but most come for Canadian Weekend, held on the August Civic Weekend, when Lily Dale features Canadian mediums, healers and an ol’ fashioned sing-along.
Lily Dale is home to 45 registered mediums and other folk, but during summer months, the population grows to about 600.
And like the people who live here, the village is eclectic – a collection of 16 narrow streets where a quaint bungalow stands next to a Victorian house complete with turrets and bay windows.
One street over, paint is peeling off a white clapboard house that sits next to the kind of place where the Keebler elves would rest their weary little heads after a long day of baking cookies in a tree.
Cats of all colours – not just black – are everywhere.
The best time to enjoy Lily Dale is just after sunrise, when the morning mist lifts off nearby Lake Cassadaga, and the family of trumpeter swans glides across the water.
Beyond the lake are grassy, rolling hills. The air smells small-town fresh and the day feels full of possibilities.
The Maplewood Hotel, a rebuilt horse barn, hasn’t changed much since it opened a century ago.
Locals swear the place is haunted; stories abound of horse whinnies in the middle of the night, and a lady in Victorian dress that floats up the second-floor stairway.
Otherworldly shenanigans aside, people visit Lily Dale mainly for the peace and quiet.
Healing services are held twice-daily at the Healing Temple, a plain building where soothing music plays while white-shirted spiritual healers stand behind backless benches with their heads bowed.
Healing comes in the form of a sort of touchless massage, aimed at bringing a sense of peace.
“A lot of people say this is their favourite spot on the grounds,” says Barbara Sanson, who runs the Healing Temple.
“People often tell me they leave the service with less emotional stress.”
That pretty much describes, as well, how people leave Lily Dale.
Benjamin Gleisser is a Toronto-based freelance writer.
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