Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Search of Afterlife

Last summer’s HBO documentary “No One Dies at Lily Dale” shined a light on the historic spiritualist camp located near Chautauqua, an hour south of Buffalo. Always fascinated by synchronicity and matters of the mind, during the past decade I have visited Lily Dale several times, staying at the Maplewood Hotel and enjoying the camp’s 19th century ambiance.
New York & Florida: In Search of Afterlife
By Augustus Mayhew

New York and Florida share such a myriad of interests that you might think it would only be natural for them to share the same connection with the afterlife.

The Lily Dale Assembly at Cassadaga, New York, and the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp in Cassadaga, Florida, have been linked for more than century as a destination for those who think there is no end to the world of thought and believe an individual’s responsibilities are spelled out by the Golden Rule.
In New York, the Lily Dale camp adjoins the Village of Cassadaga on the east shore of Upper Cassadaga Lake, seen above, named for the Seneca words meaning “rocks beneath the water.”
Established in 1879, the Lily Dale, New York camp is still steeped in many of its Victorian-era tenets though during the summer months it offers a widely-diverse program of New Age enlightenments. It has recently posted its 2011 summer program of workshops and events that begins June 25 with a Native American weekend. Workshops are one-day, three-day, or week-long seminars. I have always stayed at the camp’s Maplewood Hotel, a former stagecoach stop, even once staying in a third-floor shared bath walk-up room during a summer when the temperature felt like it reached 100. I’m not sure I could walk that last steep flight again.
In Florida, the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp is set around Spirit Pond, found between Orlando’s theme parks and Daytona’s International Speedway.
Central Florida’s Cassadaga Spiritualist camp is the oldest remaining religious camp in the southeast United States, founded in 1875 by George Colby, a trance medium from New York. The 55-acre camp became associated with the Cassadaga, New York association in 1894. Some mediums still shuttle seasonally from New York to Florida but much of the camps’ original connections have eroded. The Florida hotel was sold and has become a “psychic” center. Spiritualists eschew the term psychic, as they dwell on providing direct evidence of an afterlife that connects family members and friends, while psychics deal with other energy levels, and often, predictions. The Florida camp is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Lily Dale Assembly at Cassadaga, New York
The camp library was built in 1924.
At the camp’s entrance, Cottage Row is a splash of Victorian “painted ladies,” far past their prime and veritably untouched for more than a century.
Not something to turn heads for the décor-minded but quite authentic. A reminder when the world went no further than one’s own front porch.
A façade of endless fascination. A Lily Dale cottage primed for summer.
Forest Temple and Inspiration Stump are outdoor platforms where camp and visiting mediums deliver messages. During the summer months, several hundred visitors a day come to the camp, many with hopes of connecting with departed loved ones. For visiting mediums, working the platform at Forest Temple is an inspirational event. I have found all mediums works differently, and much like finding a good attorney, it is not always easy to find one perfectly in tune with your particular fate.
The Lily Dale Museum showcases the history of Spiritualism. Medium B. Anne Gehman was featured in the HBO documentary. Above, her summer cottage, situated on Lily Dale’s lakeside. Last month, she returned to Cassadaga, Florida, where she first began as a medium.
A mini-chateau at Lily Dale.
The view from the Maplewood Hotel’s front porch. A former stagecoach stop, what the hotel lacks for modern amenities it more than compensates with welcome simplicity.
Cassadaga, Florida
Named for its founder, the Colby Memorial Temple hosts the camp’s Sunday morning service and Wednesday night message services.
A plaque commemorates George P Colby, the founder of Cassadaga, Florida.
Built in 1902, Brigham Hall is now home to Warren Hoover, whose apartment and reading room is in the lower right corner.
A medium for the past 60 years, Reverend Warren Hoover was reluctant to be photographed. “All I have are these wrinkles,” he laughed. I first heard Rev. Hoover 30 years ago and found him quite talented.
Among Hoover’s teachers he lists Arthur Ford, H. Gordon Burroughs, Ethel Post-Parish, and Lena Barnes, the veritable pantheon of Modern American Spiritualism. For several years, I sat in a meditation circle with the late Roy Burkholder who also counted Ethel Post-Parish among his inspirational teachers. Roy, a medium since childhood, was part of the Camp Chesterfield and Camp Silver Bell groups of Midwest mediums. When Roy was on, which was most of the time, he was remarkable. Right: Warren Hoover’s reading table.
Cassadaga’s cottage colony
Without the decorous aesthetic of their Lily Dale counterparts, the Florida cottages are more eclectic and rustic.
A view of the top of the hill at Palmer and Chauncey Streets.
A cottage overlooking Spirit Pond.
A certain sense of order.
Many years ago I happened on trance medium Leila Leonard at 485 Seneca Street. For many years, she and I worked for her son-in-law, theatrical producer Zev Bufman. I had not seen her in several years and was not aware she was living at the camp.
The “Easy Keeper.”
A bit of restoration work at “Easy Keeper.”
A work in progress, perhaps.
Summerland House, camp headquarters.
The day I happened on the camp, Richard Russell was the healer at the Caesar Forman Healing Center. I had never met Mr. Russell but we shared memories of the extraordinary medium/healer Gladys Reid who I had the pleasure of sitting with a few times. We also shared a memory of the late Jane Hires, who I would stop at the camp to see work if I knew she was at the Healing Center. I believe her parents were mediums and she had grown up at the camp, developing the most immeasurable talent. Mr. Russell and his family have lived at the Cassadaga camp for 14 years.
Above: “When Gladys died several years ago, I saved her writings and books,” said Mr. Russell. “I wanted to share her message with everyone. So, I found a wonderful piece of marble, had a bench made with her signature belief, “WE ARE ONE,” and put it in my front yard. Now she ministers to all who pass, forever.”

Right: Ted and Candi Franklin, of Orleans Massachusetts, take a stroll through the camp.
The Reverend Eloise Page Meditation Garden.
I was charmed by the wing chair and the birdhouse.
At first, I was captivated by the angel clutching the quartz crystal.
Then, there was something about this front yard touch of kitsch.
Unfortunately, the camp sold the hotel several years ago to someone who is not affiliated with the camp and has turned it into a “psychic center.” Nonetheless, I have stayed at the hotel several times for its convenient location.
Spirit Pond at Cassadaga, Florida.
For further information contact:
Lily Dale Assembly, Cassadaga, New York,
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, Cassadaga, Florida,

Photographs Augustus Mayhew

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