Spiritual values

No, they’re not psychics. But the spiritualists who live in this town define what makes a community great
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Shelby Toth

On a rainy Sunday in October at Lily Dale, the assembly is a ghost town. After church is over, residents retreat back to their homes, only emerging to walk dogs or visit one of the few open stores.

But in the summer, the town comes alive.

Nestled an hour south of Buffalo close to Lake Erie, Lily Dale Assembly bills itself as the World’s Largest Center for the Science, Philosophy and Religion of Spiritualism. The assembly brings in 20,000 to 30,000 guests during its busy season and has no shortage of opportunities for those who venture beyond its gates. There are free events daily, including frequent talks. There’s also the fairy trail, where people leave mementos to loved ones who have passed, and a pet cemetery that dates back decades.

The gem of Lily Dale, though, is the community that makes it. Simon Caudullo, a registered medium hailing from Brooklyn, felt a shift the minute he entered the community. “People will tell us that when they drive into the gates, they can feel the shift in energy, and they get very excited. I know when I first came I didn’t know anything about the place … drove in, and was like, ‘wow, something really different happening here,’” he says.

With roughly only 300 full-time residents, those who choose to live within the gates have their hands full when it comes to planning for the summer season. Most of the planning happens during hours of dedicated volunteer work, and the fruits of this labor are easy to see when the guests start arriving come June.

Lily Dale, unlike other tourist towns, attracts visitors not only for its events and beautiful scenery but also for the mediums who live there. Many come searching for the kind of healing that comes with communicating with those on the other side.

“For me, being a medium is really a privilege,” Caudullo explains. “I think first and foremost a mediumship is about healing. We can see the process that goes on when someone comes to us. And most of the time it’s about connecting with someone that has passed … the healing takes place when the connection is made.”

The mediums of Lily Dale pride themselves on being evidential mediums, being able to describe details and give evidence to confirm that they are talking to the deceased.

Mediumship also comes with a toll, both mentally and physically. It’s important to keep your body healthy in order to deal with the exhaustion that can come with readings. There’s also the mental strain that can linger after a particularly sad reading, but being able to foster that healing is what mediums are there for.

“After season, some people rang my doorbell,” Caudullo begins. “And it was late, like five o’clock in the afternoon, and I kind of knew they wanted a reading and that they wanted it as a group reading. I was like, ‘okay, come into the reading room.’ As soon as they sat down, this young man came in with them, and I identified this man  … was in the service and that he drove a pickup. And they were identifying with the things I was giving them.

“Then I realized that he had taken his own life. He had suffered from depression after service, and he talked about that. He talked about not wanting the one sibling, to—they were feeling terribly guilty. And I remember they were supposed to have been with this person and that they weren’t, so they were feeling like if they had … so this spirit had said ‘no, no, I don’t want you to feel guilty about this’… What happened was amazing because I could see them just shocked to relax. I could see the healing taking place. I could feel it.”


Respect the community

Lynne Forget is a registered medium who has lived in the assembly since 2001. During her time she served as a board member and as president of the assembly. Forget also emphasizes the tightknit aspect of Lily Dale and how its values drive the community.

“We believe in personal responsibility—that’s crucial,” Forget explains. “Some people think that just because they’re ‘spiritual’ it makes them ‘spiritualist’ and they don’t know anything about the founders of our religion or really what it stands for, that it’s a science of religion and philosophy.”

Spiritualism, at its core, is the belief that communicating with those who have died is possible. From this comes a science, religion, and philosophy based on spirts and the Spirit World. Contrary to what some might expect, spiritualists believe in God and aim to follow the teachings and principles derived from higher power.

If you visit the town, don’t be surprised to feel like you’re entering a different world. But make sure you remember that those who live in Lily Dale are still human beings.

“Sometimes people will walk in your house thinking that everybody’s house is just welcome,” Forget laughed. “So, quickly, you learn to lock your front door.”

Make sure to enter with an open mind and a decent pair of walking shoes. And if you walk in expecting to “debunk psychics,” leave that energy at the gate. Deep in the throes of the busy summer season, you may find yourself leaving with more than you expected.  


Shelby Toth was (585)’s editorial intern.

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