In Lily Dale, New York, the dead don't die.
Instead, spirits flit among the elms and stroll along the streets, sometimes dressed in garb more common 120 years ago, when Lily Dale was founded and suffragette Susan B. Anthony was a frequent guest.
According to Spiritualists who have ruled this Victorian hamlet for five generations, the dead don't go away and they stay anything but quiet. Every summer twenty thousand guests come to consult the town's mediums, who can hang out a shingle only after passing a test that confirms their connection to the spirit world.
On the hot June day when reporter Christine Wicker comes to the world's oldest and largest Spiritualist community, she is determined to understand the secret forces -- human or otherwise -- that keep Lily Dale alive. She follows three visitors: a newly bereaved widow; a mother whose son killed himself; and a beautiful, happily married wife whose first visit to Lily Dale brings an ominous warning.
Are the mediums cold-hearted charlatans, as Sinclair Lewis wrote of them? Or are they conduits for a hidden world that longs to bring peace and healing to the living, as psychologist William James and muckraker Upton Sinclair once hoped to prove?
Investigating a movement that attracted millions of Americans in the 1800s and now barely survives, Wicker moves beyond the mediums' front parlors and into the lives that tourists never see. She follows the mediums to a place where what we know and how we know it is the greatest mystery of all.
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Christine Wicker was raised in Oklahoma, Texas, and other parts of the South. Her mother's grandfather was an itinerant Baptist preacher, and her dad's father was a Kentucky coal miner. During her seventeen years at the Dallas Morning News, she was a feature writer, columnist, and religion reporter. She is the author of several books, including the highly acclaimed New York Times bestseller Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town That Talks to the Dead.From Publishers Weekly:
Since it's become nearly extinguished, the American Spiritualism movement seems more ripe for sociological study and amused incredulity than a topic for deep reflection or journalistic memoir. But Wicker, a Dallas Morning News religion reporter, resists her own skepticism just as Lily Dale's citizens resist letting the movement die. The result is a portrait not just of an upstate New York town built 122 years ago on old-fashioned spirituality, but also of the mediums who practice there, their clients, and Wicker herself, who lets details of her own spiritual beliefs lightly shade her travels to Lily Dale. Although the book details the town's story, Wicker uses its history merely as a framework to explore more slippery topics, e.g., the nature of faith, the value of belief and the need for solace. She explores these areas through the stories of those who visit Lily Dale annually, craving a few insightful words about deceased family members or hoping for a premonition about romances, careers or children. Some of the tales are sad ones, but Wicker's jaunty pacing and humor keep the work from growing too dark and leave the reader with a feeling of tenderness, rather than pity, toward her subjects. She also weaves in stories of trickery, giving the tales of otherworldliness a nicely earthbound counterpoint. By the end, Wicker feels subtly changed, and she offers no answers as to why that might be or how long it may last. This lack of resolution is refreshing, however, and wonderfully fitting for a book about the mystery of faith.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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