In Lily Dale, New York, the dead don't die. Instead, they flit among the elms and stroll along the streets. According to spiritualists who have ruled this community for five generations, the spirits never go away—and they stay anything but quiet. Every summer twenty thousand guests come to consult the town's mediums in hopes of communicating with dead relatives or catching a glimpse of the future. Weaving past with present, the living with the dead, award-winning journalist and bestselling author Christine Wicker investigates the longings for love and connection that draw visitors to "the Dale," introducing us to a colorful cast of characters along the way—including such famous visitors as Susan B. Anthony, Harry Houdini, and Mae West. Laugh-out-loud funny at times, this honest portrayal shows us that ultimately it doesn't matter what we believe; it is belief itself that can transform us all.
This is my second Christine Wicker book; the first one was Not in Kansas Anymore, which I remember liking except for how she kept sticking her own memoir into it. I wanted it to be a straight-forward account of the history of magic in America, not some random person’s quest to meet magical people and see if they’re real or not.1
Lily Dale is exactly the same thing Not in Kansas Anymore is: some random person’s account of life in Lily Dale, with some history and theories and interviews and whatever. Except this time it totally worked. I liked the mix of personal and professional! I liked how she questioned things and tried to work stuff out for herself. It was all so fascinating.
[…] religious accounts are worth listening to, no matter how farfetched they seem, and that a good way to judge a religion’s validity is by the effect it has on people’s lives. My first question is, do they really believe it? The second question is, how does it affect their lives? That’s the story. (I forgot to write down the page number, sorry.)
Maybe the difference is that Lily Dale is so tightly focused on one particular place and one particular thing.  tried to cover a whole heap of subjects, including hoodoo and vampires. Lily Dale only had one subject: Spiritualism! There’s less distracting stuff, basically.
Another thing is that she took the time to explain her background a bit more, so now I know she’s not just a random person. She’s a religion journalist! She also talked a lot about her own beliefs and the beliefs of other people in Lily Dale. Everything felt very balanced– she didn’t overtake the book or anything.
I actually don’t give a hoot about Spiritualism except for that it makes interesting reading. I love learning about people’s religious/spiritual beliefs and I’m fascinated by an entire town dedicated to doing one thing: talk to dead people.
So I had a good time with Lily Dale! I wonder if Christine Wicker’s written anything else.
Read: October 29, 2014
- Here is my entire review of Not in Kansas Anymore from 2012, for reference:
This is one of those weird books where you think it’ll be scholarly and interesting because the writer is a journalist and also apparently she started researching modern paganism stuff as part of an assignment for her newspaper (magazine?) BUT ACTUALLY it’s more like a memoir of how she stopped being afraid of the ookier parts of life/magic/whatever and met lots of interesting people. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but when someone talks about specific things in a religion(/whatever) that they aren’t a part of and haven’t really spent any time around, and there aren’t even any footnotes, I start to get side-eye-y. So. ↩