- Hardcover: 282 pages
- Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco; 1st edition (March 4, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060086661
- ISBN-13: 978-0060086664
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 56 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead Hardcover – March 4, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Since it's become nearly extinguished, the American Spiritualism movement seems more ripe for sociological study and amused incredulity than a topic for deep reflection or journalistic memoir. But Wicker, a Dallas Morning News religion reporter, resists her own skepticism just as Lily Dale's citizens resist letting the movement die. The result is a portrait not just of an upstate New York town built 122 years ago on old-fashioned spirituality, but also of the mediums who practice there, their clients, and Wicker herself, who lets details of her own spiritual beliefs lightly shade her travels to Lily Dale. Although the book details the town's story, Wicker uses its history merely as a framework to explore more slippery topics, e.g., the nature of faith, the value of belief and the need for solace. She explores these areas through the stories of those who visit Lily Dale annually, craving a few insightful words about deceased family members or hoping for a premonition about romances, careers or children. Some of the tales are sad ones, but Wicker's jaunty pacing and humor keep the work from growing too dark and leave the reader with a feeling of tenderness, rather than pity, toward her subjects. She also weaves in stories of trickery, giving the tales of otherworldliness a nicely earthbound counterpoint. By the end, Wicker feels subtly changed, and she offers no answers as to why that might be or how long it may last. This lack of resolution is refreshing, however, and wonderfully fitting for a book about the mystery of faith.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“Thoroughly engaging.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
“A probing study of the nature and power of faith, Wicker’s story is often a hoot as well....” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
“Royally entertaining.” (Dallas Morning News)
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Fortunately, though, Christine Wicker has saved us from this fate with her book Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town That Talks to the Dead. Never has there existed a voice so perfectly suited to write on this topic. Wicker was formerly the reporter for the religion section of the Dallas Morning News, and subtracting from the richness of her own experience in the topic, she approaches all of her topics from the objective lens of a journalist. She isn't a believer in out-of-the-ordinary things, but she respects everyone she encounters with compassion and empathy, and gives validity to their experiences. She points out ridiculous things when she sees them (and there are plenty of them in this book), but she avoids condescension as much as she can. She humanizes her subjects (which, in this case, are generally widows) by explaining their life stories and how their beliefs have helped them overcome struggles.
In this book, Wicker travels to the town of Lily Dale, a community in New York which was designed as a summer camp for Spiritualists during the religion's late 19th century heyday. While this place is perfectly real, it sounds like something out of a young adult fantasy novel: in order to own property in Lily Dale, one must prove one's abilities as a medium before the community's board.
Every summer Lily Dale hosts workshops on all things arcane, and people come from all over in hopes of communicating with the dead, seeing into the future, and getting supernatural healing. On top of that, Lily Dale actually contains the U.S.'s best examples of Victorian gingerbread architecture, making it the ideal setting of any horror novel.
I read this simply because I was fascinated with the idea of anyone continuing to believe in Spiritualism. While it once had a million followers, most of its respected mediums had their feats disproven during their own lives. I imagined that any contemporary practitioner would have to do as much as possible to create distance from these charades, but I was quite wrong.
At the workshops she attended, Wicker was informed very precisely how one could replicate the psychic forgeries that were well-known in the past. (In attempts to avoid more of these, Lily Dale has banned its residents from accepting money to produce physical displays of medium abilities, but there are still people in the town who claim to have experienced it.) The people of Lily Dale readily admit their forefathers' frauds and continue to sell psychic feats to a public that doesn't seem to mind at all.
Wicker thoroughly investigates the community's residents and visitors in the book. Her prose is lovely and she treats everyone with respect, even though they're all bizarre, and she does all of this without losing humor. If the topic appeals to you, there's no reason that you shouldn't thoroughly enjoy the book.
This book also serves as a spiritual diary of discovery for the author herself. Her chapter recounting an encounter with the Dalai Lama is extremely profound and moving. Observing the empowerment of women with low self-esteems and extremely difficult lives, that blossom through affiliation with the movement is insightful from a sociological perspective. And the comfort for the bereaved which Spiritualism has offered since its inception is well illustrated in a non-sensational manner.
As with all religious/spiritual movements, we see the sublime as well as the ridiculous of human fraility at play with petty politics, back biting, artificial hierarchies, and the desire for power. But at the conclusion of the book one comes away with a sense of the nobility of the human spirit both in this life and just maybe in the next...
The people who live at Lily Dale are devout, religious people, who do not have self-promotion as a primary goal, so the town is not well known. That may change with this wonderful book that perfectly captures the town.
The author approaches her topic with respect, but not with blind credulity or harsh sarcasm, and the reader is taken along on a voyage of discovery with her. Believers and Non-believers in the supernatural will be entranced by the fascinating people and anecdotes. The author depicts both the Mediums who contact the "other side", and the people who visit the town. Some episodes are profoundly moving, some are hilarious, and some indeed are "spooky" and hard to explain.
I loved this book!! In addition to being a fascinating sociological and historical report, it challenges the intellect and the heart. People who have either one should read it.