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The Burned-Over District

Throughout the 1800s religious fervor roiled Western New York. Shakers, Spiritualists,Mormons and others found solace in a land of free thinkers.

The Hill Cumorah Pageant, a techno-dazzling epic of the Mormon story of ancient American inhabitants presented by a cast of 600, draws audiences of thousands each year to a hill near Palmyra.

What was it about Western New York in the 1800s that stirred the souls of men and women?Was it the isolation of the frontier that turned ordinary people into seers and mystics? Whatever the cause, the Genesee Country certainly had more than its share of cults and true believers as wave after wave of religous revival spread across the region, thus earning it the name, "The Burned Over District."

Western New York became the birthplace of one of the world's great religions when Joseph Smith dug up the Book of Mormon on a hillside near Palmyra. Other beliefs started with equal fervor faded out after brief if sensational runs.

The three Fox sisters of sleepy Hydesville in Wayne County created an international stir in 1848, with their claims to have heard "rappings" from beyond the grave. They gave public exhibitions of their ability to communicate with the dead.

From these humble beginnings the modern role of a medium evolved, and the new religion of Spiritualism was founded. The church is now based at Lily Dale in Chautauqua County, where the work of the Fox sisters goes on.

In Yates County a group of followers of Jemima Wilkinson settled near Keuka Lake. She was a preacher who awoke from a severe illness to announce that her body was now inhabited by the "Publik Universal Friend."


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