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Lily Dale attracts visitors looking for spiritual answers, comfort

LILY DALE - “I have a gentleman here who would have been a golfer,” said a medium, scanning a crowd for the golfing spirit's relative.

About 70 people were sitting in folding chairs in the open-air auditorium at Lily Dale, a 140-year-old community of mediums and spiritualists located about an hour south of Buffalo in a tiny hamlet on Cassadaga Lake. During these group medium readings — normally held at Inspiration Stump, a magical tree stump that is supposed to open one's spiritual energies — you're supposed to raise your hand if something a medium says applies to you.

So a woman raised her hand.

“Was he tall?” the medium asked. The woman nodded. The medium continued to describe the man — spirit — that she was seeing. “Truly genuine and humble. The greatest temperament, he had.”

The woman receiving the message sat, weeping. She continued to sit there after the service ended, while her friend rubbed her back.

Her name is Sharon Weixel, and she drove three-and-a-half hours from Mill Hall, Pa. to Lily Dale for a weekend of healing. In April, her husband died after a short illness.

“It’s very raw,” Weixel said, wiping away tears after the emotional church service-meets-psychic-reading. “After being married for 37 years, it’s really hard.”

The same impetus that brought Weixel to Lily Dale brings many here. It's a need for answers, or at the very least, comfort in the wake of a loved one's death, and a way to cope with our own mortality.

“It’s just nice confirmation,” said Beth McKee from Rochester, who was visiting Lily Dale for the first time. “That you live on.”

Lily Dale's open-air auditorium seated about 70 people for a recent group message service, which it holds twice a day. (Francesca Bond/Buffalo News)

Entering Lily Dale’s wrought-iron gates, for a fee of $15 per person, feels a bit like landing in Oz. Brightly colored houses, painted lavender and blue-raspberry and magenta, border cracking, sometimes-paved roads, with imperfect gardens crawling up exterior fences. Tiny signs stand in many of the front lawns, denoting the name of the person who lives there, followed by the word “medium.”

Penelope Green put it best in her New York Times story about Lily Dale last summer, that mediums in Lily Dale supply evidence "that life continues."

Watch: Tibetan monks' ceremony in Lily Dale

Golf carts are the main mode of transportation in Lily Dale. (Francesca Bond/Buffalo News)

Of drum circles, workshops and hula dancing

Lily Dale is similar to a campground, golf resort beach town, or a gated retirement community. Visitors stroll the streets by foot or golf cart, making their way from one workshop to the next, stopping by restaurants, cafes and gift shops. It’s relaxing, if a bit eerie. Life moves slowly here. Perhaps it's the one place where it doesn't make all that much sense to rush.

Group message services are free and happen twice a day, every day. After that, all other services cost additional money, ranging from $7 for a Friday night improv drum circle lesson to $100 personal medium readings.

Nearly every single house in Lily Dale has a colorful garden. (Francesca Bond/Buffalo News)

You could gorge an itinerary with yoga classes, sweat lodges, mediumship lessons and ghost walks. Then there's the medium reading, which seems to be the Mecca of Lily Dale and Lily Dale is the Mecca for it. Spiritualists offer workshops in topics such as spoon bending and exploring your sixth sense, along with some less predictable ones, like hula dancing, facial yoga and intuitive candle pouring.

Guests visit for the day or stay overnight in campsites or hotels. A beach has swimming access. Each turn presents a new interesting detail, from the fairy village of tiny houses to the pet cemetery, to the library apparently containing the world's largest collection of spiritual books (after Amazon).

And yes, they fit all of this within 160 acres and two-and-a-half months.

During a recent visit, Beth McKee and Marylou Herrmann were sharing a wrap and garlic soup at Monika's Delites, a healthy cafe just outside the auditorium.

McKee's mom is sick. She doesn't know how much longer her mom will be alive. Lily Dale's message that the dead live on assuages her grief.

"To know that they’ll have peace and comfort after..." McKee trails off. “It doesn’t just all go black. I mean, nobody knows.”

During the group message service, mediums choose seemingly random people from the crowd and ask them questions, or they just put a question out there and wait until someone raises their hand to say that resonates with them. Some were off. Some were way off. Some seemed to be true enough, and some were accurate, especially one poignant moment.

Meander through Lily Dale's nature trails to find Inspiration Stump. (Francesca Bond/Buffalo News)

A medium approached a woman who said she knew someone named Robert. He was her dad. The medium then said some things about Robert that seemed to make sense to the woman. As the medium turned around, she had another thought.

“Who’s Penny?” the medium asked. The woman looked shocked and told her that is her daughter’s name. Robert wanted to say hi to Penny, apparently. The medium then asked about a dog named Max. Again, the woman stammered that her dog is named Max. The room was silent.

Everyone has a dog named Max. I have a dog named Max. But Penny? What are the odds?

After the service, Weixler said it had helped her.

“I need healing and I’m getting it,” she said. “I really think I did.”

Every Friday night, a drum circle meets on the beach in Lily Dale, N.Y. (Francesca Bond/Buffalo News)

Lily Dale

The season runs from June 21 to Sept. 1., with daily events and workshops. Admission costs $15 per person and includes parking.

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