Medium burned by poorly-Photoshopped ghost of James Randi
BY JOSH BUNTING
In the mid-19th century, three sisters from a sleepy upstate NY community managed to convince the world that they could communicate with the dead. Late in their lives, two of the Fox sisters demonstrated how they pulled off this fraud (one of them simply cracked the knuckle in her big toe). Unfortunately, their confession wasn’t enough to change the minds of true “spirit world” believers, and the legend continues to the present. So does the tradition of bilking the gullible.
Today, Lily Dale is a quaint gated community of about 10 square blocks. There’s a “healing temple,” a souvenir shop and a few other places for tourists to check out. The rest is housing for the “mediums.”
After BEAST editor Ian Murphy and I paid the $10/person entrance fee, our spirits were low. Then we saw a sign:
So it’s not Inspiration Tree or Inspiration Lake or anything like that. It’s Inspiration…Stump. We were curious as to how a stump could be inspirational, so we decided to check it out.
Inspiration Stump was basically a little outdoor chapel with a concrete-reinforced stump for an altar and an American flag for a crucifix. Murphy pretended to pray, as misdirection, and yoinked a bunch of quarters from the stump. (Thank you, misguided donors of Lily Dale, for buying us beverages.)
Later, we found a “Message Service” near the site where the Fox sisters’ cabin once stood. Several of the mediums took turns giving readings to the crowd of about 250. The best one was Gretchen, who consistently failed hard. At one point she got a little pissed:
“Can I have your voice, please? The young lady in the back with the sleeveless shirt,” She pointed to a crowded corner. “No! Not you. In the back!”
“We don’t know who you’re talking to!” one of the possible candidates shot back.
“Well then…Just forget it. I’ll move on.”
A few more mediums performed. It was funny how everyone “in the spirit” was so friendly and selfless while so many people here “on the Earth plane” could be so petty and selfish. Don’t dead fuckwads ever want to communicate with the other side? Apparently, after you die, you somehow turn into a disembodied poster child for antidepressants. You would think the constant barrage of cheerfulness from the mediums would make more of these people suspicious, in the same way it does when a used car salesman is telling you what a great deal he can get you on this 1989 Volkswagen Jetta. But no such luck. The audience had checked their critical thinking skills at the security gate, smiling and nodding to just about anything the mediums made up.
We managed to get good seats for the next “Message Service” back at Inspiration Stump. The clipboard-toting MC warned us “you can’t hide from your spirit people. They are always watching—even in private moments.” Perverts. She said many in the audience had a “blue flame” over their heads, which signified their own fledgling psychic powers. She then introduced a “student medium” from Gettysburg, PA called Penelope.
“I’m sensing she must have passed from a problem with her body,” Penelope told a woman. No, grandma’s dead, because she had a problem with her cable bill. But the woman nodded, as if to say, “Yes, it was body death what caused her body death.” Impressive.
We had decided to bring along some Photoshopped pictures of living people in an attempt to goad the mediums into identifying someone “in the spirit” when they were, in fact, still “on the Earth plane.” So we decided to force BEAST founder Matt Taibbi into going undercover with us as a dreadlocked hippie without his knowledge or consent:
About a half hour into it, a medium named Eileen called on me. I held up Taibbi’s picture, and she told me that she saw lots of spirits around me and explained that this was because lots of people in my family had died. This was true. In fact, everyone in my family is dead except for the many who are still alive. She told me that the guy in the picture was trying to get my attention “with things moving and lights.” This was an amazing coincidence because I see lights and things moving ALL THE TIME!
We left immediately after my message. Judging from the crowd’s reaction to our hasty departure, this was very rude. Up ahead we could see Eileen, who seemed to be in about as big of a hurry to leave Inspiration Stump as we were. “Excuse me,” we called to her, and asked her to again look at the picture of our dearly departed.
“He died in 9/11,” Murphy blurted out.
“You will understand, please, that he died suddenly,” she told us. “He never had a chance to get his affairs in order.”
Our private interview was going well, so we showed her another picture, this one chopped very roughly from a picture from an earlier story. Here’s the original:
Murphy pasted the famous conjurer/skeptic James Randi over his own face.
Between the April Fool’s date and Randi’s status as a well-known debunker and skeptic, and his total lack of neck, we were sure this would cause an awkward but hilarious conclusion to our day. Eileen stared at it intently for several pregnant seconds and said that she saw him around me too, and that he had helped raise me. There are a few problems with that, like 1. Randi’s still alive, and 2. I’ve never met him.
I tried to find out why no assholes seem to “speak through the spirit.” She told me that I would be surprised at how much wiser people get when they shed their bodies.
“But wouldn’t that mean that they’re not really the same people after, uh, passing through?” I asked.
“No,” Eileen explained.
“They shed their bodies!” Murphy sounded annoyed at my questions. “Their bodies!”
To her credit, Eileen was eager to let us ask her a few questions on the walk back to the road. She could just as easily have told us to pay for a private reading or to fuck the fuck off. But she didn’t. She wanted to help us. Under different circumstances, she really could be helping people. There was no reason to think that she was anything but an honestly mistaken person who managed to trick herself into believing she has powers which she does not have. Murphy, however, seemed to think she was a con-artist savant. And truly, we don’t really know either way. We don’t have psychic powers; no one does.
Bunting blogs about stuff at Nanobots Will Enslave Us All.