Lily Dale: The Town That Talks To The Dead by Christine Wicker

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This year, in November, I set myself the task of writing a book. It had been germinating in my mind for a while, and I needed to get it down on paper. The story itself has aspects of Victorian Englands obsession with death and greiving, and the phenomenon of Spiritualism that rose up in that era.

I needed to do a little reading up to get a grasp on the language, the concepts and that type of thing, and I’ve always been a bit fascinated with the concept of ghosts and seances, so I popped onto Amazon and Google, and came across this. Lily Dale. It’s a real place in America populated entirely by mediums and spiritualists. Literally, the whole town talks to the dead, and has done since it’s founding.

Something about this really tickled me, I love the idea of this place, and had to wait for my copy of this book to arrive from an American seller. But when it did, I was so happy. The author, Christine Wicker, is a journalist, so her exploration of the place and the people is insightful and empirical. In some ways she wants to believe, and in others she can’t, but she goes into the place with an open heart, an open mind, and rather than investigate or find out flaws, she observes and experiences.

So much about Lily Dale is fascinating, from it’s founding, it’s stories, to it’s current system of self governance, and I wondered why I had never heard of this place before. The pictures in the centre of the book show beautiful, fading Victorian structures, and old and young faces staring out with serious but kind looks.

A great deal of spiritualism and table rapping has gone out of fashion since it’s huge popularity, and I love to think about how creepy and exciting such a performance might have been in that era, when tables rose, ectoplasm poured out of people, spirits passed around the table, and otherworldly knocks on walls and tables might have been heard. They were convincing enough to fool Arthur Conan Doyle, that intellectual who wrote the Sherlock Holmes books, amongst other works, though the great illusionist and escape artist Houdini abhorred the practice, and became a great debunk-er of practices using trickery, and is known to have gone to Lily Dale.

Reading this book was quite a moving experience. The author is a kind person, and her fascination with the place comes across so well here. I loved the way she was torn between attending seances and classes, and her skepticism. I also liked the way she described the lifestyle of the people who live there, they seem like such happy, gentle, centred people, though not without their human frailties, and it really made me want to go there and connect with them. I really loved reading this book, and I think those of you with an interest in the unusual, the amusing or the afterlife would really enjoy this read as well. Fascinating.

Read It If: you’ve ever been curious enough to visit a psychic, or ever wanted to, or if you just love all that Victorian spiritualism claptrap, it’s a delicious book.

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