Today I am going to Chautauqua. I don't go there very often and every time I do, I can't quite make up my mind whether I like it there or not. I love the area, the Chautauqua County wine country, Bemus Point, the Hotel Lenhart. But once I get inside the gates of the Institution I sometimes start feeling a little funny.
One thing I do appreciate about Chautauqua is how weird it is.
There is nothing like it in the country. There can't be. This odd little gated community, frozen in time, like the setting for Booth Tarkington's "Seventeen." (Remember George's and my little book club that I talked about the other day? That is one book on which we disagree. I love it and he finds it annoying.)
You would think people would at least try to film movies at Chautauqua. It is like a turn-of-the-last-century Pleasantville. Those old WASP names. Pratt Street. The Miller Bell Tower. One thing I do love is Palestine Park. I have read that it is built to scale and everything. Who could make this stuff up?
And here is what really blows my mind when I contemplate the uniqueness of Western New York. We have not only Chautauqua, but Lily Dale. Is that ever a strange place!
You would think that Chautauqua would have cinched our gold medal in the Weirdness Olympics, but no, someone had to go and create this musty moldy old community of spiritualists and mediums (media?). A whole village of them! Why is this place not played up in horror movies? How does Hollywood miss it? Just like Chautauqua, I am sure there is nothing like it in the world. There cannot be.
As a trad Catholic I am forbidden to dabble in the occult, and to tell you the truth I am happy for the excuse not to do it. I have enough problematic people in my life. Why do I want to go usher in ghosts and goblins?
What about "The Fall of the House of Usher"?
But I did have my (very few) encounters with Lily Dale. Growing up around here you cannot completely avoid it. Once in Lily Dale I went to Inspiration Stump (now there is a place name that has to be unique in the world). And to my astonishment I was contacted by Elmore James, the dead bluesman.
Not only that, but a couple of years ago, when I went to Lily Dale for a Halloween story I was writing, I am pretty sure that a medium predicted my book on Leonard Pennario.
But that is a story for another day.