Lily Dale Postcards

This collection includes postcards depicting several events, activities, local individuals, buildings, and landmarks of the spiritualist community in Lily Dale, New York, made famous by the Fox Sisters. Lily Dale is a small community of psychics and mediums, and it also happens to be the oldest spiritual community in North America. Lily Dale is a site of spiritual worship where tourists can get in touch with the occult and supernatural. Today, spiritualism still thrives in Lily Dale as strongly as when it was established by the Fox sisters.

History of Spiritualism and the Fox Sisters

According to the Lily Dale Assembly, Modern Spiritualism can be defined as, "...one who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility. Some, but not all, Spiritualists are Mediums and/or Healers. Spiritualists endeavor to find the truth in all things and to live their lives in accordance therewith."

Spiritualism first appeared in the 1840s in the “Burned-over District” of upstate New York and a reformed movement was started circa 1848 by the Fox Sisters—Leah, Kate, and Margaret—of Hydesville, N.Y. They reported they had made contact with the spirit of a murdered peddler and claimed that this "murdered peddler" communicated through rapping noises which were audible by onlookers. These events appealed to Americans and made the Fox Sisters an overnight sensation.

In 1888, Margaret confessed that these events and their "rappings" were a hoax and demonstrated how they did these events. She then attempted to recant her confession the following year, but their reputation had been ruined and Spiritualism continued as if the confessions of the Fox sisters had never happened.

History of Lily Dale

Lily Dale is located in the Town of Pomfret by the Cassadaga Lake in Chautauqua County, New York. Since the relocation of the Fox Cottage in 1916, Lily Dale is now the center of Modern Spiritualism with most of its population consisting of mediums and healers. Many of the operations are run by the Lily Dale Assembly. The Assembly is affiliated with the National Spiritualist Association. Today Lily Dale remains a place of pilgrimage for many Spiritualists and others interested in the paranormal because mediums and healers give readings to their visitors. Most of the landmarks within the postcards in this collection may be seen today.

These postcards were sold at Lily Dale in the early 1900s and feature scenes like picnics, gatherings, and buildings from the Lily Dale area. It is important to note that most of the postcards in this collection were made from a specific type of printing process known as Albertype. The Albertype Company is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was hired by a specific individual in Lily Dale only known as either "Evielena" or E.P. Bach. The Sunflower Pagoda at the Lily Dale Assembly was run by Evielena Bach, who sold books, took subscriptions to Spiritualist publications, and sold supplies such as stationery, postcards, ice cream, candy, soft drinks, novelties, and cigars. Her husband, William Bach, built the building in 1898.

The Brooklyn-based Albertype Company, owned by Herman L. Wittemann, published postcards along with other items such as souvenir books and pamphlets from around the late 1890s to the early 1950s, using a process invented by photographer Joseph Albert. Albertype was unique because it employed a collotype coating on glass plates. This processing permitted high-speed mass production of photographs for the first time. Prior to this, a copper plate was used instead of glass. Another advantage that Albertype photos have is that although the paper may yellow over time, the inks, unlike normal photographs, do not fade. The company would have photographs taken by its own agents and would also arrange to utilize photographs taken by others. Thus, Albertype postcards provide a valuable documentation of buildings and locations that may or may not exist anymore.

Additional Resources

About the Collector

Dr. Joe Nickell is a senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry, and is a well-known skeptic who researches and writes about everything paranormal. This collection, a result of years of collecting, ties into his various life interests, which include deltiology, the study and collecting of postcards.

Collection owner: Center for Inquiry Libraries