I don’t need to tell you that Florida is a strange place. From the kitsch of Key West to the eccentricities of Miami to the abnormally perfect oasis that is Disney World, and all points in between, it’s a state that seems to attract the quirky. One of the lesser known destinations for the strange? Cassadaga, a historic community of spiritualists that has a distinctly Mayberry-meets-Salem atmosphere.
Cassadaga was founded by George P. Colby, a famous and well-traveled trance medium from Pike, New York. During a seance in Lake Mills, Iowa, he met Seneca, the spirit of a Native American, who he referred to his one of his spirit guides. He says that Seneca told him that he was destined to found a spiritualist community in the South, a prophecy that came true when Colby allowed Seneca to lead him deep into the Florida wilderness to a spring, where Colby founded the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association. He got the name “Cassadaga” from a town in New York near Lily Dale, a popular spiritualist community.
When Colby arrived at the spring in 1875, he was suffering from tuberculosis and claims that the spring’s water healed him. This was just the beginning of the camp’s history of strange occurrences. Of course, when Colby died, the spring started to dry up, which many saw as a bad omen.
The town still appears as if it’s kind of stuck in the 1930s, back when the camp was having its heyday. Today, there are about 55 homes on the 57-acre camp. About half of those belong to various mediums who offer consultations in their houses. The camp was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, and a surge in popularity for the New Age movement has kept the camp alive. Many of the mediums and psychics here have gone through extensive training to hone their abilities, and their beliefs are a fascinating mixture of science, Christianity, Buddhism, and old-school spiritualism. Today, you can schedule a healing or consultation with a medium, take a historic tour, attend talks, join a drum circle, learn how to meditate, or tour the energy hotspots around the camp.
One of the main gathering spots in town is the Hotel Cassadaga, which was built in 1927 and still retains its Jazz Age atmosphere. It leans a little more… New Age, than those who work in the camp. Many believe that it’s haunted by the ghost of an Irish tenor who goes by Arthur; he flickers the lights and leaves behind the scent of gin and cigars. Some claim to see him sitting by a window. Mediums use the upper floors of the hotel to conduct readings, healings, seances, and more.
Oh, yeah… the cemetery that lies on the outskirts of town has a haunted Devil’s Chair. In the nineteenth century, ornate chairs were popular to place in graveyards as a place for reflection; they used to be referred to as “mourning chairs”, but as society’s views on grief and graveyards shifted, people began to think of them as more creepy than anything else. If you leave a can of beer on Cassadaga’s overnight, legend has it that it will be empty by morning… and Satan himself has been known to appear to anyone who dares to sit in it themselves.
The nicest part of Cassadaga is that it’s incredibly welcoming to skeptics and believers alike. They know that their little community is a bit different, but their intentions are nothing but good, and that makes it worth visiting, if only for the curiosity factor.