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Located in Chautauqua County, the small hamlet of Lily Dale is one New York’s more unusual towns. Founded in 1879, Lily Dale was a product of the spiritualist craze of the mid- and late 1800s and is famous for being almost entirely inhabited by psychics and mediums. With a population of only about 275, the summer months mark “high season” in Lily Dale, when thousands of visitors from around the world come to the town to attend a healing or to meet with a medium for a reading. The Lily Dale Museum, though small, holds hundreds of artifacts from the community’s history, including spirit paintings and a Bible that belonged to the Fox family, who were intimately connected to the early spiritualist movement.

The Lily Dale Museum

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The Forest Temple at Lily Dale

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Sixty miles south of Buffalo, New York, is the curious hamlet of Lily Dale. The small town, home to fewer than 300 year-round residents, traces its history back to a curious chapter in American history. In the early 19th century, this part of upstate New York, known as the "Burned-Over District" - a nickname given to the area because it was the birthplace of countless religious reawakenings and ceremonies that often included firesides and torchlit events in addition to "fire and brimstone" preachers and new converts who expressed their conversion experience in fiery terms.

The area was home to several communes, new religious sects, reform movements, and social experiments. One of the longer-lived movements to emerge from the Burned-Over District was the spiritualist movement, which rests on the belief that the dead can communicate with the living. The movement flourished into the early twentieth century, with hundreds of people offering their services as psychics and mediums.

In 1871, a group of spiritualists began holding meetings at Cassadaga Lake. They eventually built roughly 200 cottages, a hotel, and numerous outdoor facilities, many of which still exist. The meetings, originally known as Lily Dale Assembly, eventually led to the formation of Lily Dale, a settlement of some 173 acres. The hamlet appears today much as it did then, with Victorian homes lining its narrow, tree-lined streets. Lily Dale bills itself as "the world's largest center for Spiritualism." The Lily Dale Assembly owns all of the land in the town, and cottages can only be sold or rented to other Spiritualists. In its late 1800s heyday, Lily Dale attracted all manner of free thinkers, not all of whom were spiritualists, including suffragist Susan B. Anthony.

Many of the residents of Lily Dale are registered mediums or healers, and the ones who aren't are apparently amenable to those practices, as they are the lifeblood of the town. Healings and psychic readings are a cottage industry in Lily Dale, and its high season--the summer months--can see as many as 30,000 visitors arrive there. The number of mediums and healers also grows to roughly 40 during the summer, and there are numerous public readings in addition to the private sessions that can be scheduled with a medium of one's choice.

Housed in a former one-room schoolhouse, the Lily Dale Museum holds many records and artifacts related to the town's history, including mementoes of the Fox family, whose teenage daughters played a significant (and controversial) part in launching the spiritualist movement, as well as "spirit paintings." The Fox cottage was moved from Hydesville to Lily Dale but was destroyed in a fire in 1955. The spot where the cottage sat is still maintained as a quiet place of meditation. The museum is open to the public from June 25 to September 5.

In 2010, the town was the subject of an HBO documentary, "No One Dies in Lily Dale."

History , Lily Dale Assembly . Accessed January 30th 2022.

Green, Penelope. Meet the Mediums of Lily Dale , New York Times . August 4th 2018. Accessed January 30th 2022.

Lily Dale Spiritualist Community , Atlas Obscura . Accessed January 30th 2022.