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Visitors to Lily Dale seek connections with the other side

Jul 05, 2008 04:30 AM

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Special to the Star
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.

Alexandra Holzer is motivated, enthusiastic and with as many goals as she has talents, se is so much more than just the daughter of Hans Holzer, the first and most famous Ghost Hunter.::::::::Alexandra Holzer had anything but a normal childhood. One of two sisters, she is the youngest born to Ghost Hunter Hans Holzer and Countess Catherine Buxhoeveden. She explained some of the funny, offbeat and frightening moments of her youth in Growing Up Haunted: A Ghostly Memoir (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2008). To understand Alexandra, you really have to know a bit about her parents, so we’ll begin there.

Hans Holzer is generally considered to be the father of modern spirit investigation. The author of over one hundred and forty-five books and novels, Hans wrote Ghost Hunter in 1963 and established the methodology that many within the field of paranormal investigation use today. He received his Ph.D from the London College of Applied Science and has made appearances on popular television programs such as In Search Of and Murder in Amityville.

Countess Catherine Buxhoeveden, also known as The Haunted Countess, is a direct descendent of Catherine The Great of Russia. Born at Castle Rovina in Merano, Italy, she grew up and eventually married Hans Holzer. Catherine helped research many of the topics for his books and added her own intuitive, imaginative and inspired artwork to those projects. The Countess lives on Long Island and often shows her art work in The Hamptons.

After reading almost all of her father’s books, I was thrilled to speak with Alexandra over the phone. She instantly communicates a sincere interest in spirit investigation. However, it would be wrong to believe that she is just some chip off the old block. Alexandra makes it clear that she and her father do not see eye to eye on a number of issues. One of them happens to be the subject of demons.

“My father doesn’t believe in demons…he says spirits are beings of light” she told me matter-of-factly. Hans is not alone in his assessment of evil spirits, however, it does cut a swath across research by others that do believe in them including Ed and Lorraine Warren, well-known ghost hunters and authors in their own right, and his own daughter. He also seems to find fault with some of her conclusions as evidenced by a recent debate over a photo she showed to him and her mother. Alexandra describes the situation:

“After rediscovering my ability of sight and tapping into my sixth sense, I began taking photo’s around my home. The results showed anomalies which I concluded were not manmade from the environment of my home such as dirt, dust or in-door rain. I became excited and had my mother take some of her own photos. I explained to her that the objects were probably the physical manifestations of spirit guides, family members that passed over and so on. She was just as excited and in her low-key mellow way, just as astonished to see what appeared on her bedroom curtains and floors. Shapes taking form, an arm here, a leg there… That began the topic of our orb conversations. Sounds like a bucket of chicken: You get the wing, oh look here’s the breast!”

“ I took it another step forward by taking some photos during a function at my sisters house in Riverdale, New York. I wasn’t just interested in preserving family moments, but was searching for evidence of life after life on film. What I believe to be a face appeared in one of the photos. It was just behind my sister and seemed to come out of her curio. After looking at the photo a couple of times, she agreed that the anomaly was a face. That’s when the orb fight began.”

“My mother, sister and I went to show the photo to my father. Well, Mr. Ghost Hunter didn’t exactly see eye to eye with us. He emphatically stated, ‘That’s not an orb! I can’t see what it is, BUT it’s not a person!’ That’s all it took to start a ten minute verbal battle over the photo and its contents. I said, ‘Look there is the head,’ and he’d reply, ‘That’s not a head, it’s the light coming from the room!’ I’d say, ‘It’s shaping here like a person,’ he’d reply, ‘That’s not a person, it’s a bug of some sort perhaps, but it’s not a person!’ We ended the argument by agreeing to disagree, but I was still red-faced angry over the whole thing and the argument was far from over as far as I was concerned.”

That’s what is so terrific about Alexandra. She has a passion that rivals her father’s when it comes to spirit investigation. That passion came through during own phone conversation and in her description of her relationship, agreements, disagreements, admirations and frustrations with her dad. She says, “Life with my father is difficult, confusing and inspiring all rolled into one.” Alexandra continued:

“As a child, he was there for me to hold my hand crossing the busy New York City streets. He was there to take me to the pediatrician when I was sick, but always felt uncomfortable sitting in the waiting room. He complained about the germs in those places. Despite that eccentricity, he was entertaining and very considerate of my likes and dislikes. He once made the mistake of bringing me toast with orange marmalade when clearly, strawberry was my favorite. I bellowed at him at the ripe old age of seven and said, ‘Father, that’s NOT the right jam!’ Laughing, he just smiled, left the room and returned with a new batch of toast and strawberry jam.”

“I long for those days and wish for more, but my father never allowed me into the paranormal side of his life with the exception of telling me stories from the past. As old age set in, it was too late to get involved with that. The man I once knew had become more difficult and less forthcoming of his business. Today, all I can do is develop my own path and try to carry on what little he’ll let me until he passes. When he does, I will be able to continue without walking on eggshells or being fearful of insulting his ego. He’ll be in a better place, smiling again, and devising a plan to haunt me I am sure!”

I was nine years old when I became aware that my father’s military career and the friends he knew from those days provided proof positive that Extraterrestrials were visiting our planet. That awareness became the catalyst which launched my interest in the paranormal. It caused me to read books on the subject (including Ghost Hunter) and watch people like her dad on television. I wondered when Alexandra first became aware that her father was a famous Ghost Hunter? She provided the following answer:

“I was around the age of nine or ten years old. It was Christmas Time and my mother began wrapping up some of my father’s books as gifts for the school teachers. I attended prep school in Manhattan, so the environment was quiet, proper and subtle. One day before Christmas break, my class sat watching our History teacher as he opened up his gifts. I hadn’t a clue what we got him, but was excited to watch him open the present. I picked out the silver, shiny paper that apparently left glitter all over any hands that touched it. As he looked at his hands, I felt very bad and sunk into my chair. He laughed it off and with a smirk continued to open the package.”

“When the paper fell to the floor, a bunch of books appeared and the look on his face went from a smirk to a serious grin. ‘What could it be?’ I wondered. ‘What the heck did mother buy this poor man?’ As the other kids and I crowded around him to find out, the teacher showed us the covers of the books that emerged from the wrapping. They were titles like ‘The Ghost Hunter‘, ‘ESP and You, ‘Witches’ and ‘The Lively Ghosts of Ireland’ by Dr. Hans Holzer! Oh no…that is MY father! I couldn’t believe it. He wrote those? What the heck does he do for a living? I sank to the lowest point in my chair at that moment. As if to add insult to injury, I fell off that chair to the ground with a thunderous thud! It was at that moment that I wondered if I should switch schools right away or maybe just leave the planet!”

As a Paranormal Researcher with more years of experience than I care to admit and children of my own, I can understand how strange it must have been for Alexandra to face her father’s unusual claim to fame. My own kids always enjoy listening to my radio and television interviews, but it can confuse them at times. After all, I am not exactly dealing with conventional topics. With that in mind, I wondered what Alexandra’s earliest memory of her father’s ghost hunting might be? She told me:

“I was around the age of eleven when my father came bursting into my room announcing he would be on television that evening. He gave me the time, channel and show’s name. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yeah, okay whatever.” But when the time came for the show to air, I was not going to get off that easily. He stormed back into my room and announced it was on. My mother, sister and I (and the cat) went into the living room to watch my father on television. He sat there smiling, commenting and folding his arms. Although it seemed really funny at the time, I can now understand his sense of accomplishment as I am now trying to accomplish the same thing. I might have been bored when I watched those shows, but I was also impressed and sensed his fame.”

My paranormal ‘awakening’ occurred at the age of nine. I wondered how and when Alexandra became interested in spirit investigation. Now thirty seven years of age, she says that a ghostly experience of her own at the age of thirty two was what propelled her into the world her father had dominated for so long:

“I was folding laundry and I heard my late aunt’s whisper of a voice in my ear. She passed from a rare form of Lymphoma two years before. I had experiences as a child and never felt alone, but this was something foreign to me that suddenly became familiar. As I began to open up and allow her in, the dreams came, then the messages and soon, I was able to read people naturally. I didn’t ask for this second sight or to be a medium to help others. My aunt allowed me to get back to my roots and chose the right time for me. I could have picked a better moment, like before I had four children, but that is not how it works.”

Alexandra Holzer has partnered with Carly-Rose Singer and Shira Etzionis to form a kind of Charlie’s Angels threesome of east coast ghost researchers called New York’s Pretty Paranormals. Each one of them brings something to the table of spirit investigations including Alexandra’s vision of what Ghost Hunting should be. “I want to help people,” she tells me. I can understand her vision and admire the fact that she and her partners want to do more than just show up at someone’s house with a bunch of gadgets and an emotional detachment that is unhealthy for all involved.

There is an honesty and sincerity that comes across when you speak with the youngest daughter of Hans Holzer. She is motivated, enthusiastic and with as many goals as she has talents, she is so much more than just the daughter of a famous Ghost Hunter. You’ll be seeing a lot more of Alexandra Holzer. She hopes to create and host a television show about the paranormal and I cannot think of anyone better suited to do that. She’s also a prolific author with several books currently available and more on the way.

Alexandra Holzer is available for radio, internet and television guest spots and print interviews. She is also available for Speaking Engagements. For more, visit

Bill Knell is a popular Speaker, Author and Consultant with eclectic interests. Best known for his Paranormal Research and Seminars, Bill also excels in the area of personal, business and financial advice and management. Featured in the Wall Street Journal, Omni, the L.A. Times, Toronto Star and NY Times; seen on CNN, NBC Nightly News, Fox Television and many Cable Networks; heard on Mancow, Bob and Tom and Howard Stern; consultant to films like Independence Day, Men in Black, the Fifth Element and World of the Worlds.

The spectre of reason

Graham Readfearn

March 10, 2008 11:00pm


ONE claimed she could make people urinate with the power of her mind while another confidently predicted an asteroid would destroy Bowen, in far north Queensland.

The long list of failed challengers for James Randi’s $US1 million prize is as entertaining as it is bizarre.

  • Do you believe in the paranormal?Since the early 1980s, the former magician has offered cash to anyone who can prove, under test conditions, the existence of the paranormal, supernatural or the occult.

    Needless to say, his prize, which started out at $10,000 more than 25 years ago, goes unclaimed.

    Despite the absence of any credible evidence of ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night (and this can include anything from tooth fairies to messages from the spirit world), large swathes of society continue to accept them.

    In January, some 4500 people paid $90 each to hear the world-famous medium John Edward speak at the Crocoseum at Australia Zoo.

    Edward, who presumably is not short of a dollar or two, then had a private meeting with the zoo’s owner, Terri Irwin, whose husband Steve died from a stingray attack in 2006. “There was no doubt that Steve was with us,” said the late Crocodile Hunter’s father, Bob, according to one report.

    Jayson Cooke, president of Griffith University’s Society for Skeptics and Freethinkers, who was in the audience, was impressed by Edward – at least at the speed at which he could talk.

    “I think that’s his secret. He suggests so many things in the space of 30 seconds that at least one of them has to be right,” says Cooke.

    “Anyone who has had even a cursory look at cold-reading techniques would have been able to see what he was doing. I was surprised, as he was not that good at it.”

    Edward has refused to be tested by the likes of James Randi and even refuses to “read” journalists, “because they are always too objective”.

    Just how much Edward earns is not known, but there are enough of these shows around to put a shiver up any sceptic’s spine.

    Saturday nights on Foxtel’s W Channel is something of a seance for this kind of stuff, with Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead, John Edward Cross Country, Britain’s Psychic Challenge and Most Haunted among the offerings.

    “Belief in the paranormal still runs at about 80 per cent in Australia,” says Dr Martin Bridgstock, from Griffith University. “But debunking these fallacies does not seem to have made the slightest bit of difference.”

    Bridgstock points out that many people have died after putting their faith in alternative remedies or faith healing, when conventional medicine could have saved them.

    After being shocked at finding 60 per cent of his science students held some kind of paranormal belief, Bridgstock introduced an elective course five years ago called Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal.

    A senior lecturer in the School of Biomolecular and Physical Sciences Bridgstock says the course doesn’t tell students what to believe and doesn’t set out to debunk the paranormal.

    “It just gives them the intellectual skills to assess the evidence,” he says.

    “People should be aware that questions can and should be asked, and if they don’t ask them then there may be dangers involved. For example, they may accept homeopathic medicine for something which normal medicine may cure easily.”

    What is it about the human psyche that enables us to suspend our disbelief?

    “There is evidence that it is wishful thinking – it is a basic motivator of human credulity,” says Associate Professor William Grey, a reader in philosophy at The University of Queensland with an interest in the relationship between belief and evidence – known as epistemology.

    He stands beside other notable sceptics and atheists who say there are links between belief in the paranormal and religious belief.

    Both, says Grey, share a “desire for there to be something after death”.

    Barry Williams, editor of Australian magazine The Skeptic, puts it more simply. “It’s easy to sell something to people that want to believe it. We are selling reason – and that just doesn’t stand up to hope.”


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