Victorian Weekend

LILY DALE – Looking for an escape to the good, old days? From an ice cream social and a return to 18th century spirit circles to a library book sale, Lily Dale Assembly’s Victorian Weekend offers it all.

Scheduled Friday through Sunday, the event opens with a three-day book sale scheduled from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day. One-hour gate passes are available free of charge to those attending the sale, a fundraiser for Lily Dale’s Marion H. Skidmore Library.

Take part in the Victorian Times Spirit Circles at 8:15 p.m. Friday at the auditorium and travel back through time to the 1800s when family and friends gathered with mediums in parlors to contact their loved ones in the Spirit World. The program also benefits the library. The event is topped off with classical guitar selections by David Allen Coester and desserts and other refreshments. Tickets must be pre-purchased and seating is limited to 114.

Saturday afternoon visitors are invited to beat the heat at the Andrew Jackson Davis Lyceum, where the Victorian Ice Cream Social will be hosted. There, at the East Street headquarters of Spiritualism classes and other activities for young people, volunteers will offer icy concoctions from noon to 5 p.m. Proceeds are tagged for continued revitalization of the Children’s Acre, a playground/recreational park adjoining the Lyceum lawn.

Wrap up the weekend at the auditorium, 8 p.m. Saturday with the Victorian Promenade and cake walk, followed by prizes awarded to those showing off winning Victorian outfits.

The book sale will be housed in a large tent near the entrance of the auditorium in Melrose Park, a short distance from the library on Cottage Row. Since its opening in 1924, the library has become an internationally recognized repository of many rare books, as well as other prized publications related to spiritualism.

Built in memory of Marion H. Skidmore, the elegant, brick edifice and impressive white pillars is the crown jewel of Lily Dale. In 1879, Mrs. Skidmore and her husband, Thomas J. Skidmore were among the founders of the Cassadaga Lake Free Association – to become the Lily Dale Assembly. In 1886, Mrs. Skidmore opened the first library in a tent.

Books were donated by friends and eventually by key figures of early Spiritualism. The collection was moved from building to building until opening of the new structure that apparently was renamed at some point in time. The cornerstone reads: “Memorial Building erected by Lily Dale Library Association Inc. 1923.”

The goal of the sale is to make room and money for additional books needed to maintain the library as a top-rated research center on Spiritualism, according to Lynn Forget, supervisor of the sale and a member of the Lily Dale Assembly Board. “The problem is, we have so many books that have nothing to do with Spiritualism. Books (selected for the sale) have been carefully examined and their values checked,” Forget said. “For the most part, these books have been accumulated through donations of local and area families. There are recipe books and other books, most of which have little to do with Spiritualism, but may hold interest for collectors and others out there.”

One of the sale’s greatest supporters is Maxine Meillear, a seasonal visitor to Lily Dale since 2004. “When my kids first went off to summer camp, I looked for a mommy’s camp, and I found it at Lily Dale,” she said, noting that for her the sale is a labor of love. She has helped Forget spearhead the project. A resident of Kuwait, where she owns a book store, the writer/researcher has contributed a lion’s share of time and work on the project, according to librarian Sessla Skowronski and Forget. Still, another dedicated book sale volunteer is local resident, Irene Brennan.

“Because of visitors at the library during the season, we decided to hold the sale in a tent,” Skowronski said. Meanwhile, we’re finishing last-minute work, and hoping for sunshine with no showers.”

Willa White, who heads the Children’s Acre revitalization project also hopes for a rain-free weekend. “We’ve accomplished so much over the past two years, thanks to our committee people -including my husband, Myles Johnson – all of whom have coordinated various work projects,” the young mother said.

Other Lily Dale residents on the committee are Danielle Reuther, Madeline Torres, Margaret Ferris, Joyce Burridge, and Assembly board member, Edward Williams. White pointed out that through the cooperation of Cassadaga Job Corps Academy officials, academy students, Lily Dale maintenance workers and “many, many local volunteers” have wrapped up much-needed projects such as repairing and painting play equipment, digging out old wood chips, and replacing them with new chips to an appropriate safety depth.

“We’re striving to come up with a safe, attractive recreational area for our children and for other kids who visit the Dale,” White said. “The ice cream social at the Lyceum offers visitors an opportunity see our achievements and to raise awareness of the needs of the Children’s Acre in regards to renovations of the volleyball and basketball courts, and ball field as well as the need for more playground equipment and a volleyball net,” White said.

“So many people from outside our community have reached out to help us with improvements,” she said. “For example, Margaret Allesi of Lakewood -who remembers many happy days at the Dale and visiting the playground as a child – donated funds for a beautiful, red metal bench in memory of her daughter, Colleen, and a new, bouncy four-way spring rider, added recently to the playground.”

The local Lyceum program was established in 1881, and was moved from site to site for more than 45 years. The Andrew Jackson Davis Lyceum was named for the founder of the first lyceum program. The Lyceum center and adjoining Children’s Acre became a part of Lily Dale in 1928, thanks to the efforts of Mercy Cadwallader, a persistent lady from Philadelphia.

A spiritualist pioneer dedicated to children and the Lyceum program, she succeeded in paving way for construction of a building students could call their own.

Today, White and her volunteers say they are looking forward to the fundraiser and more improvements at the Children’s Acre. What’s more they are sure Mercy Cadwallader is cheering them on.