Sunday, March 4, 2007

Reflect the Soul's Hopes: Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town That Talks To the Dead by Christine Wicker

Women set the tone in this lakeside community where houses are painted in pastels. During the height of the summer season, when twenty thousand visitors come to consult the town's mediums, it resembles nothing so much as a sorority sleepover for aging sisters. They laze about the hotel parlor and fan themselves in the white rockers that line the veranda. They sweep down the streets in flowing dresses. Tinsel stars and crystals hang in windows. Christmas lights twinkle from porches all year long. Stone angels stand sentry on walkways, and plaster elves march across lawns.

Doesn't that sound like the most fascinating setting for a magical realist novel, something about the daughter of the only skeptics in town? Which would be a good thing, as she goes around scaring the hell out of the local charlatans until something real turns up.

I digress.

Lily Dale, New York is one of the last lingering communities founded around the Spiritualist movement. Heard of Victorian seances, table tipping and ghost photographs? All relics of the Spiritualists, who held the belief that contact with the dead was not only possible, but advisable for a fulfilling life. Nowadays, people flock to this tiny town with dreams of greed, or love, or just talking to their Mum or Grandpa or Rover again.

Christine Wicker entered into the project of profiling the town and getting the scoop on mediums with an open-minded yet healthily skeptical viewpoint. This proves frustrating , but never boring in a town full of people like Shelley, angel-loving founder of the Lower Archy of the Pink Sisterhood of the Metafuzzies and Blissninnies, or Lynn, a mother of five well into her twilight years who still takes the time to bicycle around town, bestowing blessings as she goes. After three years of research, Wicker comes to a satisfying personal conclusion that allows balance between being open to wonder and, as Lynn would put it, chatting with the toaster every morning:

Maybe Lily Dale's stories are like ancient myths that don't have to be literally true because facts aren't the point. The point is that such stories resonate with us spiritually. They answer our deep need to believe the universe contains order and purpose. In a post-modern culture, perhaps perfectly sane but spiritually adrift people retreat into their own visions because there are so few alternatives. Maybe Lily Dale fosters that, and maybe it serves a good purpose.

This one's for the Ruby lovers who would like to learn more about the otherworldly occurances that happened to its heroine, or anyone who wants a good dark-and-stormy-night read.

Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town That Talks To The Dead by Christine Wicker
Sadly out of print, but I recommend the fine booksellers at and
You might also get lucky at (as of today, there are a hundred remaindered copies of this book), which sells overstocked books and has some of the best service I've encountered in online bookselling.


Callan's Sketchblog said...

Wouldn't Lily Dale be a marvelous name for a '20s move heroine? The kind that would dash away from a cocktail party to jump in the cockpit of a biplane to save a puppy or something ^_^
I've read all your reviews, and you're doing marvelous work- I can very much see you continuing in the grand virginia woolf tradition of the thoughtful essayist, critic and novelist who loves her subjects but isn't overly reverent of them. Well done, you.

Clicky Web Analytics