Published by Buffalo Spree Magazine.
When it comes to day trips and weekend getaways, Western New Yorkers are rich with possibilities, from antiquing trails to agri-tourism festivals to the treasures of small towns. One of these not-so-hidden gems is historic Lily Dale: “City of Light” and the world’s largest Spiritualism community. Lily Dale is located in Chautauqua County, on the shores of Cassadaga Lake. And though more and more visitors “discover” Lily Dale every summer season from late June to early September, the quaint Victorian village has existed since 1879, when the community’s founders purchased the first few acres.
Lily Dale has been featured in several documentaries by both U.S. and overseas filmmakers, and in countless newspaper and magazine articles. Full-length non-fiction works on Lily Dale can be found on bookshelves across the country, their pages lined with tales of the community’s rich past and examinations of the often-debated religion of Spiritualism — a belief of which is that the living can communicate with the dead. Readers may also recognize the the village from Wendy Corsi Staub’s bestselling thrillers — she admits that Lily Dale is one of her favorite settings — and from After Life, by Ithaca writer Rhian Ellis (rhianellis.com).
Donn Smeragliuolo is the CEO and president of the board of directors for the Lily Dale Assembly. He explained why Lily Dale makes the perfect weekend destination.
“We have so much to offer, aside from being a spiritualist community. It’s beautiful here, and peaceful. For a $12 gate fee, visitors can visit the museum and library, attend workshops, and participate in the outdoor activities. One of the best things is just walking around the village and taking in the atmosphere. It’s truly like stepping back in time,” he said. “And we’re going to keep it what it is.”
History buffs will get a thrill from the turn-of-the-century architecture and the celebrities who have stayed in the hotels and spoken in the Auditorium — people like Susan B. Anthony, Reverend Anna Shaw, and Houdini. In fact, the wooden stage in the Auditorium is original, as are many of the seats. Some visitors say they can still feel the energy of those long-gone personalities and events; it’s as if they have seeped into the wood and become part of the structures.
Several of Lily Dale’s permanent residents admit it was that very energy that drew them to the community in the first place, and the reason they now call it home. One of them is Ron Nagy, the village’s historian and caretaker of the museum.
“You’ll never forget your first day (in Lily Dale),” Nagy assured. “As soon as I got here and put my feet on the ground I felt a tingling. I knew it was something special.”
Whether visitors are “believers” or not, there are plenty of reasons to spend a weekend (or longer!) in Lily Dale.
“People come here with different things in mind; some want answers, messages from Spirit about their loved ones. Some are looking for healing. Others love history, or are out just enjoying the day and the ambiance.”
On a Friday evening, guests can stroll the grounds and enjoy dinner at one of the village’s eateries, like the centrally located Monika’s Delites. Then, walk to the beach with someone special and appreciate the sunset before retiring for the night!
Accommodations in Lily Dale include two hotels, The Leolyn and the Maplewood Hotel. Rooms fill up fast; make reservations as soon as possible by calling (716) 595-8721 ext. 2005. For a more home-like feel, visitors can stay in one of the many privately run guest houses in Lily Dale. There are also camp sites available in the park-like grounds near Inspiration Stump, one of the village’s most famous locations. The nearby Dunkirk/Fredonia area offers many hotels for those who prefer more modern amenities.
Start Saturday off with breakfast at Cup-a-Joe’s Coffee Shop, then participate in the day’s many activities and workshops. Topics vary, but are often related to healing, mediumship, empowerment, and connections with the afterlife (for the full schedule, see lilydaleassembly.com). Go on a walking tour with Ron Nagy to learn the history and philosophy of Lily Dale — visitors may be surprised at the similarities between “then” and “now.” Have dinner early enough to get a seat in the Auditorium for the night’s special presenter or concert!
Sunday is perfect for visiting the Marion H. Skidmore Library and walking the Woodland Trail. Take a moment to absorb the peace and calm surrounding Inspiration Stump, then turn back for lunch at The Sunflower Cafeteria. Be sure to get a reading by one of the village’s registered mediums for an unforgettable experience; appointments are strongly recommended during peak season. Before heading home, stop by the Lily Dale Bookstore and Souvenir Shop to pick up a little remembrance of Lily Dale — where history lives and the dead are never really gone.