I’ve visited the town of Lily Dale, New York, several times in the last few years. As a Spiritualist minister and medium, I’ve heard about Lily Dale ever since I began studying mediumship. Most Spiritualists consider Lily Dale to be the Mecca of the Spiritualist movement. Its own small town and community, Lily Dale was established in 1879 on the banks of a lovely lake in upstate New York as a place for believers in the new religion of Spiritualism to meet and exchange ideas. Ever since, people have been flocking to Lily Dale to experience its serene energy, to take classes and workshops presented by leading speakers and teachers in the areas of metaphysics, healing, and philosophy, and, of course, to have a chance to connect with their loved ones who have passed over to the Other Side.
Currently, 40 registered mediums live and work on the grounds at Lily Dale. To be a registered medium, one who is allowed to give private readings to those seeking these services during a visit there, a person is rigorously tested by the Lily Dale Board of Directors. I have a good friend, Rev. Jaccolin Franchina, who is a registered Lily Dale medium, and I often stay with her when I make my visits. I have had the opportunity to teach classes and workshops at Lily Dale several times in the last few years, this past June most recently, and it’s always an honor for me to present there. I enjoy the tranquility of the grounds and the sense of camaraderie I experience from being with like-minded people. I dream about Lily Dale often, and I won’t pretend I haven’t thought about becoming a resident there myself at some point in the future. So when Jaccolin told me about her appearance in the HBO documentary NO ONE DIES IN LILY DALE, I was excited. I hoped that Spiritualism and mediumship would be presented accurately and fairly so that more people could see what this small, mystical town was really all about.
The documentary, directed by Steven Cantor, was made during the 2009 summer season at Lily Dale. It mainly follows three people who have lost loved ones as they seek to communicate with them through the mediums at Lily Dale. The film shows these visitors, and others, attending Lily Dale’s daily message services and sitting with mediums for private reading sessions in their attempt to bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual worlds.
For the most part, I liked the documentary. It was quite moving to get to know the seekers who had lost loved ones and to hear their stories. I found myself in tears several times, understanding and deeply feeling the anguish the seekers were experiencing. Two of them had lost children; one had lost the man she’d hoped to marry. Any loss is hard to bear, but the pain carried by these people was quite palpable throughout the film.
I was especially interested to see the mediums and how they were depicted in this film, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although we didn’t get to know any of them in intimate detail, I enjoyed hearing from several of them about how mediumship works, why they live at Lily Dale, how they interact with Spirit, and other fascinating topics. Most of the mediums featured seemed very comfortable talking about themselves, their beliefs, their homes, and their work, and they were articulate and intelligent in discussing the matters of Spirit and Spiritualism. I appreciated this very much, because I know that for many folks who watch the film, this will be their first exposure to mediumship and the people who are its ambassadors. I hope the viewers will take away many positives from their encounters with the mediums in this documentary.
Of course, I loved seeing my friend Jaccolin and her sisters featured in the film. Jaccolin and her family amaze me, as they come from a family of Spiritualists and have participated in Spiritualism all of their lives. Jaccolin also happens to be the mother of my awesome office partner, Joanne Franchina, and they’ve always made me feel just as if I’m a part of their family. I loved seeing the sisters interact, talk about their spirit relatives together, and even participate in a seance with other mediums on the grounds. This sense of community and love is something I’ve been able to witness first-hand, and it’s a joyful experience.
I also appreciated the beautiful way the film was put together. Lily Dale is a lovely place to visit, and its grounds are a treasure trove of natural beauty. These sites were often highlighted throughout the documentary, and I could feel the peace and the balance of Lily Dale’s healing energy in each of these scenes. I applaud the director for including so much of this footage.
I do have a few criticisms of the film. Well, perhaps they’re more frustrations than anything else, but they are there. I was curious as to why a visiting medium, Michelle Whitedove, was featured so prominently in the documentary. Ms. Whitedove is not a registered medium at Lily Dale, and yet she was filmed doing a private reading for one of the seekers followed in the film. Granted, the seeker did seem to find some closure and some healing after her reading with Ms. Whitedove, but I couldn’t help wondering why another Lily Dale medium wasn’t suggested to this client. Ms. Whitedove has an entertaining and rather larger-than-life personality (and some killer shoes, no less), and I found myself thinking that she was selected to be featured in the film for this reason. That’s not a criticism of her work, simply an observation. I don’t make it a habit to criticize other mediums because I know that every medium receives her information differently and presents it in line with her own personality, and I like to believe that everyone who does this work is doing it from her heart and to be of service to Spirit and humanity. I was surprised, however, to see Ms. Whitedove give medical intuitive readings on the platform at Inspiration Stump (one of the venues where the public gathers daily at Lily Dale to receive spirit messages given by the student, visiting, and registered mediums). At every Spiritualist institution I have ever worked, giving medical advice is prohibited because mediums are not medical professionals. A medium giving medical advice can place the institution in legal danger by doing so, and Ms. Whitedove brought through a great deal of medical information while at Inspiration Stump. Perhaps Lily Dale bent the rules for her just for the filming of this documentary, but I hope that this won’t continue in the future. My student mediums don’t need to be confused by seeing someone do something they know they’re not supposed to do!
I was also a bit puzzled by one of the seekers that came to Lily Dale. This lady was a fundamentalist Christian, and she’d lost her son to cancer. Because the director had made a point of showing evangelical Christians protesting at Lily Dale’s gates about the damnation of the mediums and anyone who entered there (honestly, something I tend to think was set up for entertainment purposes, as I’ve never encountered or heard about other protests taking place at Lily Dale in all the years I’ve been going), I was very surprised to see this lady take any interest at all in anything a medium would tell her about her son on the Other Side. At first, she seemed open to receiving whatever healing she could through the experience; she said as much when she first appeared in the film. However, she certainly was not open to anything the medium who read for her had to say when she sat with him. I have encountered similar experiences, and it’s definitely not fun. Again, this lady is entitled to her opinions and her beliefs, and I’m sure it makes for entertaining viewing to see two people arguing about religion and the existence of Spirit. But honestly, I couldn’t figure out her motives. If she wasn’t really open to the idea of spirits communicating and felt it was wrong according to the Bible, then why come at all? I felt the medium dealing with her handled the experience very well, but it left me feeling sorry for him and even sorrier that she wouldn’t be able to receive the healing she so desperately needed.
I also found another seeker’s reaction to her first reading at Lily Dale to be rather exasperating. So many people come into a reading with a very definite expectation of what they want to happen. They want to hear what they expect to hear, and if they don’t, it negates for them the validity of the whole reading. Granted, we did not see the entire reading during the documentary, but the seeker was obviously dissatisfied with the results and complained bitterly about how she just didn’t believe it. I couldn’t help wondering what she wanted to receive from a reading that she felt was missing. This seeker did receive a second reading that seemed more in line with her expectations, but again, I think it’s unfortunate when folks can’t keep an open mind, which will help them to realize that not everything that comes through in a reading makes sense right away. It’s also important to remember that so many of these folks are grieving when they come for help, and this can block the process and make giving and receiving a reading more difficult.
All in all, I found NO ONE DIES IN LILY DALE to be a rewarding viewing experience. Seeing Lily Dale on film was wonderful, and I do feel that everyone in the documentary, mediums and seekers alike, were treated fairly, respectfully, and compassionately. Death is not an easy subject to deal with or to document, and it’s difficult to even know what to say to someone who is grieving a catastrophic loss. Healing from this pain can happen through mediumship work — I’ve seen it myself countless times, and I’m always, eternally grateful for it — and I was especially glad to see that some measure of healing came to some of those who made the pilgrimage to Lily Dale.
I look forward to visiting Lily Dale many more times in the future. I hope you’ll consider a trip there, too. In the meantime, NO ONE DIES IN LILY DALE can give you a taste of what this special place is really like.