Lily Dale
Christine Wicker
book reviews:
· general fiction
· chick lit/romance
· sci-fi/fantasy
· graphic novels
· nonfiction
· audio books

Click here for the RSS Feed

· author interviews
· children's books @
· DVD reviews @

win books
buy online


for authors
& publishers

for reviewers

click here to learn more

Buy *Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead* online

Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead
Christine Wicker
288 pages
April 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

buy this book now or browse millions of other great products at

previous review next review

Spiritualism in America began in New York in the mid-1800's, arguably when a ten-year-old farm girl named Kate began interpreting a knocking sound as messages from another world. In the same part of the state revivalism of all sorts flourished, Joseph Smith saw the angel Moroni who presented him golden tablets, and the Shakers established their original sanctuary. The spiritualist movement progressed through years of high boil notoriety and the public exposure of blatant chicanery in the early part of the 1900's, and survived to its present simmer. The town of Lily Dale is actually an unincorporated village where an assortment of mostly women claim to communicate with the unincorporated departed.

Journalist Christine Wicker penetrated into the mysteries of Lily Dale and has written a delightful and intriguing chronicle of her relationship with the town and its inhabitants. The word "relationship" applies, because though she began her encroachment as a reporter, she ended by becoming a believer. Or at least partially so:

"One minute I could believe, and then someone would push me too far. I would hit the eye-rolling threshold and stop. As far as Lily Dale was concerned, I was in for a penny, but not for a pound.
Wicker had sessions with some of Lily Dale's best visionaries, psychics, or sensitives, whatever term best applies. After the most significant of these, she counted five hits and three misses in the factual details she had been given. Many people predictably told her that the book wasn't why she'd come to Lily Dale -- that it was about her heart. That she would learn to open her heart.

After one too many of these generic pronouncements, with which Lily Dale unfortunately abounds, Wicker finally declared that she thought her heart was open pretty well, thank you. But she admits in many different ways that the knowledge shared with her by Lily Dale's denizens did change her heart and open her mind, helping her detach from stress and develop a more aid-back approach to her work even as she did her writerly task of reporting.

Wicker's book looks at the spiritualist movement warts and all. It's a group think which always has the next answer waiting and can slough off the obvious failures and inconsistencies because inconsistency is a built-in part of the phenomenon. It's also highly individualistic and celebrates independence of mind. Spiritualism is for the most part a gift given to women, and it has been suggested that the women in question are physically weak, perhaps abused or neglected as children, who cope with pain and sorrow by dissociating. They become sensitive to personality, and link this sensitivity with imagined (or real?) entities which they characterize as guides or angels. They develop, or innately possess, an ability to "see" or "hear" messages transmitted from another world. This world they believe is where the spirits of the dead reside.

It doesn't get much muddier than that. Or much clearer. Wicker points out that people who come to Lily Dale are pretty normal folks, many of them in a state of grief and looking for real answers about a particular lost loved one. Others want to develop their own powers of extra normal perception, perhaps building on experiences they have had since childhood.

Some want to see tables move -- and when a large top-heavy table falls after considerable bouncing about, that seems pretty much in line with natural law -- but how does it right itself? Surely fingertips didn't do that! So Lily Dale and its wispy wacky mediums win out as often as they lose. Some mediums will tell you that commercialism caused the movement to fall into disrepute, but this was not because the mediums of that time were dishonest but because they were responding to demands by the clients they so submissively served. Others will say that if mediums don't charge enough for their services, they will not give as strong a reading. The inhabitants of Lily Dale don't just respond to criticism -- they welcome it and laugh it off with a merry, fairy tinkle of spirit gaiety. It's like they invented paradox!

The contradictions multiply and Wicker, for all her pushing against it, couldn't break the code. She ended up being bent, happily, by it. She quite amicably describes Lily Dale as "dreamy and full of good will...that's partly why people who move there think they've found a little paradise. Neighbors help one another. Old people are looked after and included in gatherings. When someone falls sick, everyone knows it and helps." She compares it to Mayberry!

A Mayberry which derives its raison d'etre from sadness. But the good witches, as we might call them, of Lily Dale, learn to ignore sadness by trying to help seekers build on the possibilities for hope and good old optimism. The medium nowadays is more of a (Lily) Dale Carnegie graduate, sunny and somewhat sassy, than a spooky figure lurking in a darkened Victorian parlor. When the parlor tricks are taken away, and the sincerity laid on, Lily Dale comes into its own as the Mayberry of muddled mediumistic madness.

© 2003 by Barbara Bamberger Scott for Curled Up With a Good Book

buy *Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead* online
click here for more info
Click here to learn more about this month's sponsor!

fiction · sf/f · comic books · nonfiction · audio
newsletter · free book contest · buy books online
review index · links · · authors & publishers

site by ELBO Computing Resources, Inc.