Hidden away in upstate New York, there’s an idyllic little community that looks like it has somehow been transported here from the 1950s, free of the wear and tear of the last half a century. White picket fences surround well-maintained lawns, smiling groups of people gather at the local church to catch up with loved ones, and a glowing sign at the town’s entrance proclaims it the “City of Light”.
If you didn’t know any better, you might think the town of Lily Dale, New York was the most normal community in the America. There’s just one catch: the majority of it’s residents are either psychics.. or ghosts.
Spiritualist communities are a rare thing these days, and you shouldn’t feel surprised if you’ve never heard of one. The Spiritualist Movement was massively popular back in the 1800s, launching the idea of psychic mediums and pitch-dark seances into the public consciousness, but by the mid-1900s, the movement was almost as dead as the ghosts they summoned. But while most Spiritualist communities withered away under the heels of skeptic jackboots, a few pockets remained spread out through the country.
Many believers stayed near the birthplace of Spiritualism in New York, founding the Cassadaga Lake Free Association. Many others went south and founded their own town of Cassadaga in Florida. As skepticism around the movement grew, the New York branch rebranded their town as Lily Dale and slipped away from the public eye.
The basic premise behind Spiritualism is simple: no one really leaves when they die, and death is simply a change of state. If the living are a melting ice cube, the dead are just the water. As such, the deceased can be “refrozen” for a time to interact with the living, whether it be for a comforting chat, a bit of advice, or even just as a fun trick at parties. It’s these beliefs that have drawn some of the country’s most gifted psychics to Lily Dale, and today, it remains one of the best-kept secrets for communing with the dead.
“People come here for a lot of reasons,” Susan Glasier, executive director of the Lily Dale Assembly told the Huffington Post. “They come for the private readings, the workshops, or they come just to be. It’s a beautiful place. You don’t have to talk to anybody (while you’re here), but you’ll never meet a stranger.”
Every year, the quirky little town sees nearly 22,000 people from all over the world, most of them eager to connect with the loved ones they’ve lost. Each day, numerous services occur in places like the Forest Temple, the Healing Temple, or the Inspiration Stump, during which one of the community’s numerous psychics will deliver messages from the dead.
“We’re here to prove the continuity of life, that life goes on, to let you know that your loved ones are well, that they care about you, that they’re around you,” said Glasier. “We’re not entertainment. We’re not psychics, we don’t do tarot cards, tea leaves. We are a recognized religion by the United States of America. The sad part about Spiritualism for me is that it used to be so easy — and still would be so easy — to fake.”
The knowledge that spirit communication can be fakes through things like cold reading and parlor tricks is something that the community of Lily Dale takes seriously. But how do you tell the gifted from grifter? By proving your talents, of course. Any medium hopeful for a spot in Lily Dale must first pass a series of rigorous tests and background checks before they’re permitted to join the Lily Dale Assembly. To boot, the Assembly offers refunds to clients who believe they’ve been given a false reading. Good luck getting your local psychic to offer you a refund.
If a Lily Dale medium gets too many bad marks, their un-gifted butt is back on the streets.
In the month of June, the town officially opens up to visitors for the duration of the summer, and those looking to make contact with the other side can pay a small fee to enter the gated community. That fee gives guests access access to a rotating selection of daily activities, from spiritual healing sessions, to reiki lessons, even spoon bending parties and private consultations with the psychic medium of your choice.
One of the more interesting pieces of history found in Lily Dale is the original site of the Fox Sisters’ cabin, now a memorial for the two girls who arguably launched the entire Spiritualism movement.. even if their actions weren’t exactly on the up-and-up. Fun fact: In nearby Rochester, you can even visit their original “rapping table” the Fox girls used to contact the dead, complete with the secret knocking mechanism operated by foot.
Those who find themselves entranced by the community’s”strange vibes” can even book a week at the Maplewood Hotel with other curious out-of-towners. They might have to share their rooms with a ghost or two, but most don’t mind. That’s why they’ve come to Lily Dale, after all.
“This place radiates peace, love and a gentle, healing energy,” one medium told ABC News, “and everyone feels these things.”
If you’re planning a visit to the City of Light, whether it be for comfort or out of pure curiosity, the town locals have only one important word of advice: if you come with an open mind, you just might find the answers you’re looking for.
Have you ever been to Lily Dale? Do you know of any other psychic communities hidden away in America? We want to hear from you! Drop us a line on Facebook, tweet us @WeirdHQ, or leave your thoughts in the comments below.