Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair(s)

Jeannie Banks Thomas


Jeannie Banks Thomas


Lisa Gabbert


Bonnie Glass-Coffin


Every summer, Lily Dale, New York, a community founded on spiritualist beliefs and steeped in an eccentric explosive past, hosts thousands of visitors seeking to communicate with dead friends and relatives, while the residents lead ordinary lives in the midst of the supernatural hype permeating their town. Their stories are considered by most to be secondary to the illustrious trappings of the community in which they occurred. My research employs oral histories prompted by personal photographs to showcase the residents' everyday experiences amidst the town's infamy, illuminating the undervalued individual experience of those living in communities of such extraordinary repute. The attitudes of the residents displayed when sharing their memories is contextualized in the material behavior exhibited historically in the Spiritualist religion, spirit photography, and the formative years of Lily Dale's growth from a summer camp in the late 1800s to a town of permanent yearlong residents practicing unorthodox beliefs. Through the residents' sharing of images and memories, they reveal that their "ordinary" lives include a deep-rooted understanding of the Spiritualist lifestyle by unconsciously weaving spirit encounters and metaphysical events in and out of their conversation without making distinctions that they are in any way unusual. Spirit is not only in the air in Lily Dale--to the residents it is the air.




This work made publicly available electronically on November 29, 2010.

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