There were a lot of details left out of my recent article on Lilydale which didn’t really fit into the story that well. We wanted to get to the punchline of having the medium identify Taibbi and Randi as spirits around me before boring people with too much of the minutiae, even if some of it was kind of funny/interesting.
Before we even got into Lily Dale, we stopped at the National Spiritualist Association, which was a small one-story building overlooking the Cassadaga Lakes. It was all very scenic. If I were setting up some kind of pyramid scheme targeting gullible hippies, that’s the kind of place I would pick for a headquarters.
We were only inside for a moment before being escorted out by a nice woman named Paula, but that was just because there was some kind of private class going on and not because we stormed in wearing orange jumpsuits while waving dowsing rods around and yelling about how we were picking up very powerful energy vibes of gullibility in this location. That was something we’d talked about doing but laziness and a lack of funding made that impossible.
This is totally a cliché, but every group setting in Lily Dale just reeked of Patchouli. We’ve all known people who might go overboard with that stuff even as potent as it is, but imagine that times a hundred.
The woman doing the warm-up act said that Lily Dale was on one of the only old growth forests in the Northeast, even though there are 210,000 acres of old growth forests in NY state alone.
Just before I got my reading, two young African-American women raised their hands to get a reading by request from a medium. I was under the impression that doing readings “don’t work that way” and that the spirits are very mysterious about how they go about communicating. But the medium complied and told them that they were being visited by their grandmother, who was – GASP – from the South! And what’s even more surprising is that she was very spiritual and liked to sing a lot. Another Indian woman was told that she was visited by relatives from another country who wanted her to hold on to her cultural heritage.
In other words, anything that distinguished someone from the crowd at all was the basis for their reading. Guys, including myself, were told that it was time to advance their career. Younger people were contacted by the old, and vice versa. If the mark looked confused by a medium’s use of a stereotype, then the medium would tell her that this was a long-forgotten ancestor from several generations back. The rest was just random guesses, which is where confirmation bias did its thing.
I had kind of guessed beforehand that the crowd would be mostly female based on footage I’d seen of similar events, but I had really underestimated the proportion – at least on the day we went. It was at least a 95% female audience. And yet still my smoothest “Lllladies” yielded no positive results.
So lastly we were pretty lucky I guess to get a public reading for a couple reasons. One is that there were tons of witnesses – not that we know any of them and could get them to verify what happened, but still. The other is that according to the official Lily Dale website, the cost of a private reading starts at $40. Maybe that would’ve yielded a lot more funny material, but I’ll have to leave that to other skeptics with bigger bank accounts.