Saturday, June 13, 2015

Let the Spirit Move You

This is the Maplewood Hotel, a popular gathering spot for tourists in Lily Dale.  A caption beneath the same picture in the book reads in part  "A sign in the lobby warns against conducting seances and circles in public rooms, but the side parlor is sometimes used for such.  Tales of roaming spirits, bumps in the night, and furniture inexplicably moved are common as tourists testify each morning about their night's adventures."

As promised here's more about Lily Dale, the tiny, New York settlement  whose inhabitants are known for communing with spirits. Christine Wicker's book is sometimes silly but never boring. Wicker, seventeen year religions editor for the Dallas Morning News is among the first reporters granted access to one of the world's oldest spiritualist community. She approached this investigative assignment with professional open-mindedness and lots of personal skepticism.  Previous assignments covering what she dubbed the "God beat" found her talking with a voodoo priestess in Cuba who communed with the Virgin Mary. She interviewed a man walking across America dragging a wooden cross behind him because Jesus told him to. She even pulled an all-nighter in Garland, Texas with a Taiwanese cult waiting for God to come on the television and announce the end of the word.  Eventually, her penchant for chasing the weird led her to Lily Dale.

Wicker set some goals for her visit, one of them being to discover if the mediums that gather each summer and attract thousands of seekers are just skilled performers or humans with some sort of super power to connect and perhaps to heal. She pulls back the curtain and unlike those visitors to Oz, finds a complex, intriguing and life changing cast of characters.  

One of the first people Wicker meets is Dr. Pat Naulty, an English professor at a community college. Years earlier, Pat had left - some would say abandoned - her husband and two sons to go to college. She was dying a slow, emotional death in Indiana and needed to enrich her life. Her connection to those she left remained fragile and distant, but when her phone rang early one morning and she heard her ex-husband's voice her mind automatically  flashed to her sixteen-year-old son." "John's dead isn't he?" she asked.  He was.  He had taken his own life.  Nautly went to Lily Dale at the invitation of a friend, and only for a rest and not to seek answers.  

In addition to Naulty's story (the ending of which I will not reveal) Wicker follows two other visitors to the Dale: a newly bereaved widow, and a happily married wife whose first visit to Lily Dale brings an ominous warning. 

This spiritualist movement dates back to the 1800's and the little Victorian village has attracted the likes of Sinclare Lewis, Harry Houdini and Susan B. Anthony. Yup, I'd love to take a road trip and nose around. Am I a believer? Nope. Not one bit, but neither was Christine Wicker.

Lily Dale has a detailed website  Seriously, I didn't fully understand the magnitude of this movement until I went to their website.  My goodness.  This is an organized group with a serious schedule of events along with all you need to stay busy for a lengthy visit.  There are cafes, gift shops, hiking trails and even a bookstore all focusing on the beliefs of these spiritualists.  Check it out.  You decide if this is just a merry amusement park for those who enjoy dwelling on the edge of creepiness, a concerted effort to prey on those in emotional turmoil, or a place where spirits co-exist with those who know how to harness their energy.

Wishing you stable furniture, friendly spirits, and gentle bumps in the  night.....