The Unseen World 


What exactly happens to us when we die? In the town of Lily Dale, New York, resides over 50 spiritualists and mediums with one common answer: We don't. 


Founded in 1879, Lily Dale is considered the largest center for Spiritualists and Freethinkers in the world. With the belief that spirits of the dead can actively communicate with the living, some mediums charge up to $180 for a reading. 


Formed during the height of the spiritualist movement—when [Spiritualism] is believed to have had over eight million followers in the U.S. and U.K.—Lily Dale has attracted up to 22 thousand visitors a year. It has been the subject of numerous books, articles, and an HBO documentary, and continues to inspire those looking for life—after life as we know it.

Lily Dale Assembly's main entrance, in Lily Dale, NY.

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"We won't tell you if you're gonna die. We try to make you be positive at the end, so you're happy and inspired. You should leave in a good place, mentally. The only time that I filter is when I have a spirit who's swearing a lot ... If I get something, I'll tell you, but you're the one creating the future. You gotta make your own choices."


Former music teacher and professional violinist Colleen Vanderzyden is from Hudson Falls, NY, and has been a full-time registered medium since 2012.

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A concrete replica of "Inspiration Stump", where public demonstrations are held twice a day. Demonstrations consist of mediums connecting with spirits to give short messages to audience members. 

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A board of newspaper clippings at the Lily Dale Museum.

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The Lily Dale Pet Cemetery. Legend goes that on February 13, 1900, the cemetery was created when plow horses fell through ice on Cassadaga Lake during “ice harvesting” and drowned. 

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A 2017 map of Lily Dale. Lily Dale is located in Southwestern New York State, along Cassadaga Lake. 

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A sign at the entrance of Lily Dale Museum. 

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Audience members wait for the start of the Inspiration Stump message service on August 9, 2017.

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A plaque of the seven principles of Spiritualism hangs in the Lily Dale Auditorium.

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"Just because you had a bad reading doesn't mean we're nutcases," said Ron Nagy, Lily Dale Assembly Historian and Museum Curator. "Lily Dale is not about readings—it's about religion." Nagy conducts spoon-bending parties across the Northeast U.S., which involve the apparent deformation of objects, such as metal cutlery, without physical force.  

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The Lily Dale auditorium, built in 1883. The auditorium holds Sunday morning services and daily speaker and clairvoyant services. 

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A parked Toyota Solara in Lily Dale on August 3, 2017. 

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The Lily Dale Volunteer Fire Company station, established in 1906.  

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"I had three premonitions of meeting my wife in Atlanta.  I went into an altered state, forward in time, and saw her. Couldn't see her face, but I could see her profile ... People come to me to find closure. What I share isn't bound to happen—it's a potential outcome. We just convey the message." 


Rev. Brecht Saelens, a registered medium of two years, holds a bachelor's degree in international business, Master's in contemporary arts, and Master's of Science in metaphysical studies.

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A sketched portrait of Jeremiah Fales Carter hangs in the Lily Dale Auditorium. Carter, who is considered the father of the Lily Dale assembly, was a healer in the 1850s who, while in trance, diagnosed illnesses and prescribed 'miracle' medical cures with no background of anatomy, medicine, or physiology. 

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A display of tarot literature in the Crystal Cove gift shop.  

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Adrian Meise, left, Shauna Ransom, and Cora Lee Cossey sit on a curb while Cora Lee's sister, Terra, gets a reading. Meise, Ransom, and the Cosseys are from Rochester, NY.

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A Q&A children's guide, "Can You Ask My Dad What It's Like in Heaven?" by Rev. Dr. Janice L. Dreshman and Dr. Robin E. Connors, on display in the Crystal Cove gift shop. 

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The house of medium Bonnie White. An artistic medium, White provides her services with spirit etching—visual portrayals of individuals' links to the spirit world. 

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Artifacts and medium signs hang in the Lily Dale Museum. 

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A paper sign precedes Lily Dale's Fairy Trail—a path of fairy houses, gnome houses and small villages, built by Lily Dale visitors "for Lily Dale’s tiniest residents".

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"I always open with a prayer, then my focus goes to the unseen world. Sometimes I smell things, there's also touch. A lot of people think we're mind-readers, that we care what other people think, or we're witches. But it's really just fear, or what they were taught growing up ... When my dad died, I went to look at him in the casket for the first time. The first words out of my mouth were 'That's not him'. Who he was, was no longer there. That was my jolting moment when I knew he'd gone somewhere, but I didn't know where. Wherever consciousness resides, that's where he is. That's where everybody is." 


President of the Lily Dale Assembly Lynne Forget first came to Lily Dale in 1986, and has been a registered medium since 2002. Forget became president shortly afterwards, among an executive volunteer board of 7 spiritualists. 

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A precipitated spirit painting, annotated with medical notes based on the subject's eyes, in the museum. A precipitated spirit portrait is believed to appear on canvas during a séance without the use of a paintbrush or human hand—usually with a deceased subject. The painting is believed to have been created by the Bangs sisters in the late 19th century, who were exposed to be frauds by psychologist Stanley LeFevre Krebs in 1901. 

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