Visiting Lily Dale: A Trip to a Contemplative State of Mind

The pastels flew furiously on the art paper. Large chunks of colors filled the page, large grey silver, the size of a dessert plate was in dead center. Surrounding it was green for balance, pink for healing ability, and so on.  This was my aura, or my spiritual “atmosphere” as interpreted by Rev. Sherry Lee Calkins.  Sherry begins the session by saying that she has no artistic talent, and that her hands are controlled by a very artful spirit.  Before she began, she inquired about a family member who was present, on my father’s side.  “Very beautiful,” she said.  My Aunt Anne, who incidentally was an artist herself; I still have her tiny little paintings on teeny weeny canvasses.  My finished aura drawing also included whatever messages came to Sherry as the picture emerged.   She spoke of recent experiences that only those close to me would know and forecasted what lies ahead which did align with things I’d been thinking about. I’d had readings before, but never with a piece of art to bring home and hang near my desk.  All this took place in Lily Dale, New York, in the northwestern part of the state where, if you went any further west, you’d find yourself in the waters of Lake Erie. 

The village is on record for being the first meeting place free thinkers and spiritualists from the days before Edgar Cayce, the famed spiritual communicator who began seeing visions in the late 1880’s.   Lily Dale beats that by about 45 years as newspaper clippings and on-site photographs recorded an event in 1844 when a “mesmerist” travelled to a local’s house for a group reading.  The community was originally called the First Spiritualist Society of Laona, then the Cassadaga Lake Free Association, changed again to The City of Light, and finally in 1906 (because of the abundance of lilies in Cassadaga Lake) it was changed simply to Lily Dale.  Its simple and charming village harkens back to simpler times; one feels miles away from the chaos of the world.  Lily Dale is more a “state of mind” than anything else.  In the almost 175 years since that first reading, the community’s leaders have continued to provide classes, readings, workshops, social events on all things spiritual in a safe, meditative and rustic environment.  It’s so far off the beaten path, yet thousands from around the world have found it, coming by plane, car, or busload every summer.  

The eight-hour drive from Long Island was an enjoyable ride which provided a buffer between the 9 to 5 workday and the spiritual realm; talk about a 360 degree turn. My travelling companion was another like-minded adventurer, and as we both celebrated milestone birthdays this year, a trip had been planned for a few months. Lily Dale is your typical small town with old fashioned Victorian homes, inns, restaurants, gift shops, a library, museum and gathering places for services and meetings.  Some of the homes have wrap-around porches, or ample front steps which encourage conversation. Most of the homes are rented or owned by the 60 or so mediums who stay on-site for the season — mid-June to sometime in the Fall – with some remaining for the winter or headed to warmer climates.   There are a handful of guest houses, two hotels, and an RV/Campground on site, with enough accommodations to handle up to about 140 people. 

The first morning, we opted for a broccoli and egg quiche at one of three eateries with outdoor seating. This gave us a chance to breathe a little bit, get our bearings and plan the day’s activities.  There were guests already milling about from the meditation and healing service offered at 8:30, the grounds already felt relaxed and refreshed. Later that afternoon, we planned on attending the daily outdoor message event where a sampling of the onsite mediums gave impromptu readings to a few lucky audience members.  These mediums also conduct some of the workshops like “raising your vibration,” or “listening to your own intuition”; teachers from around the world are invited as guest lecturers or performers, and that night, visiting Tibetan Monks were giving a healing chant performance. Some events are part of the day’s ticket ($15), and some range from a few dollars, to a few hundred depending on the instructor and length of the workshops.   

Among its many charms is the Faerie Trail, which is exactly that – a wooded path through the forest which offers time for solitude among the quiet.  Figurines of faeries, angels, gnomes, are placed along the path, or are hanging from tree limbs, and it’s meant to remind us of this magical unseen world.  In one late afternoon walk, I took pictures with my cell phone and captured bursts of bright light that can’t really be explained away, and maybe, just maybe, I caught a glimpse of one of the occupants of the forest.  Other guests who have taken nighttime walks have caught orbs, perfectly round bursts of energy which some believe are other signs of the spiritual world.  Take it as you want, but there is a distinct and palpable energy that is felt the moment you enter its gates.

Susan Glasier is Lily Dale’s Executive Director and coordinates the day to day activities, special events, manages the big groups coming and going, and with her small staff, assists with the guests needs whether it be switching tickets for another event, giving directions, or day trip ideas.  Despite its rural location, and not much in the sense of a marketing budget, the site still welcomes thousands of guests, and last year alone, Susan estimates that 22,000 or so came through its gates. When they leave, her only hope is that each visitor experienced what they came for, whether a healing, a meaningful spiritual reading, connection with past loved ones, or just for the positive energies the place provides.  She’s been at the helm for the past 38 years and couldn’t think of being anywhere else.

The season runs from the last Friday in June until Labor Day Weekend. 

For more information: website for Lily Dale Assembly

Download the online brochure 

Day Trip from Lily Dale

Chautauqua Institute. Within a half hour drive from Lily Dale is the Chautauqua Institution, a not-for-profit, 750-acre community on Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State. Approximately 7,500 persons are in residence on any day during a nine-week season, and a total of more than 100,000 attend scheduled public events.   There is an eclectic mix of programs on social issues, philosophy, world religions, literature, dance, and music.  A day visit may include an orchestral performance, a lecture series on grace, a dance recital, or an arts and crafts fair on the great lawn.  Restaurants, ice cream parlors and souvenir shops are on-site.

It’s been in operation since the mid-1800’s and began as a camp and meeting place for spiritualists and freethinkers.   

Lily Dale photo used by permission

About MJ Hanley-Goff (169 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to Woman Around Town since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday in the early 90’s and has continued writing professionally for other New York publications like the Times Herald-Record, Orange Magazine, and Hudson Valley magazine. Former editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, she also contributed stories to AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. to offer writing workshops and book coaching to first time authors, and also college essay writing help to students. MJ has recently made St. Augustine, Florida her home base, and is thrilled and honored to continue to write for WAT and the amazing adventures it offers. Despite the new zip code, MJ will continue to keep a pulse on New York events, but will continue to focus on the creative thinkers, doers, and artists wherever they are.