Friday, July 31, 2015

Research and Revelations: My adventures in Lily Dale, an historic Spiritualist community.

Inspiration Stump, Lily Dale

It has been a while since I last posted.  The truth is I have had some interesting experiences during the course of my research for the third book in the Orphans and Inmates series (tentatively titled Storyteller) and I have not been able to find a box in the attic of my brain to put them in.  The attic is where I store all of the experiences that have, in some way, shaped my life. More often than not this is not a difficult task.  Eventually I find a box in which I can place the experience, put it on the shelf and recall it when I need to.  There is still plenty of room on the shelf, but I can't seem to find the right box.

I write historical fiction that takes place in Western New York.  I recall reading a while ago that the beginnings of Modern Spiritualism were occurring in that area around the mid nineteenth century in a small town called Laona. A Spiritualist believes in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility.  Some, but not all Spiritualists are mediums or healers.  A Spiritualist endeavors to find the truth in all things and to live their life in accordance therewith. The journey leading to Modern Spiritualism has always intrigued me. Swirled into its history of floating objects and bending spoons was the rise of women's rights and the suffrage movement.  Spiritualism gave women a voice and returned to them the power to heal.  This fascinating history demanded a place in my book.  

Whether it was the Universe, my Spirit Guide, or dumb luck, I found a friend on google+ who is a psychic medium, a healer and a spiritual counselor.  She is also a former resident of Lily Dale, one of the oldest and largest Spiritualist communities in the United States.  Lily Dale is located in Chautauqua County, about sixty miles from where I live.  It strikes me that I met her when I was struggling with my book and unsure where the story was taking me.  Again, whether it was meant to be or not, my friend was visiting "The Dale" this past month and I had a wonderful opportunity to visit and speak with her.

As someone who has lost a child, it comforts me to believe that my son is still around and I often see what I take to mean as indications of his presence in my everyday life.  Having said that, I did not go to Lily Dale hoping for a message from my son.  I went there as a researcher hoping to learn more about the history of Spiritualism in Lily Dale and to write about inner senses (psychic abilities) accurately.  My experience there left me with much to think about and it is my hope that in the writing of this blog, I will find the box I need to put it all in.

The Maplewood Hotel, Lily Dale

My first impression as I went through the gate of this beautiful community on the edge of Cassadaga Lake was that I was a guest rather than a tourist.  Nestled in the Leolyn Woods, one of New York's few remaining virgin forests, The Lily Dale Assembly started out in the mid nineteenth century as a seasonal camp where like minded free thinkers gathered to share ideas.  Over time it developed into a year round community.  Then and now, one must be a member of a Spiritualist church to reside there.  A resident may own their home, but they lease the property on which it is built.  The earliest tenants paid three dollars per year on a 99 year lease.  Now The Dale is a mixture of dilapidated cottages and Victorian grandeur.  Lily Dale was established for the free thinkers.  You can visit if you want (and tens of thousands of people do each year), but to the residents it is home and they see no need to fuss over visitors.

I met with my new friend on the porch of the Maplewood Hotel.  I was nervous, not wanting this woman I had never met to think I was trying to expose a hoax, or worst yet trying to scam a free reading under the guise of research.  She was professional, knowledgeable, and absolutely fascinating.  We discussed the experiences I would write for my character and the ways in which she might process these events.  During the conversation I shared some interesting coincidences that occurred while I was doing research for the first two books.  I told her about very specific details I had made up that turned out to be completely factual, down to the names of the people involved.  At the time I had laughed them off as odd, as I had with the ghosts who had followed me home when I was working with the actual skeletons from the Erie County Poorhouse.  They provided great inspiration for the story, that was all.  She told me that they weren't coincidences, but really made no attempt to convince me otherwise.

One of the many free spirits of Lily Dale

We had lunch and my new friend graciously introduced me to many of the local people.  It was evident to me that as a resident of the Lily Dale Assembly she had been well liked and respected.  She told one of my new acquaintances of the coincidences I experienced while doing my research.  I think I might have detected the slightest hint of a smirk exchanged between them as she spoke, maybe not.  Within a few minutes my head was spinning as each of the women explained to me the concept of past lives and that my experiences were likely a result of just that.  I became alarmed when both of them warned me that I might also come across some details of a past life that were disturbing.  Yikes!  Was a I murderer in past life?  The conversation made me so uncomfortable that I asked them not to tell me anymore.

I came away from Lily Dale with my book related questions answered, some great new twists in the story thanks to the insights of my new friends, and a whole lot to think about.  Do I believe my experiences were a result of a past life?  The jury is still out, although I would argue that it doesn't matter if I do or if I don't.  I was presented with some information.  Those who presented it truly believed what they were telling me, of that I am sure, and they had only the best of intentions in doing so.  As a result of this new information, I have done a considerable amount of thinking.  The results of these meditations are numerous and valuable.  I also wrote a much better book.  So maybe I don't need a box to put this in just yet.  Maybe I need to stay on the path for a while longer and see where it leads me.