Communing with Spirits in Cassadaga, Florida

Not your typical Florida neighborhood

One little girl in the town of Cassadaga, Florida, loves shiny pennies so much, she’s often leaving them around on the floor. Another inhabitant named Arthur, a former opera singer from New York, has a penchant for cigars and booze. On a visit to the town, you might also run into a tabby cat, a woman with a 1950s bouffant hair-do, a man carrying a fishing pole, and, oddly enough, a lady dressed in Victorian-era garb.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You are curious about the paranormal and spirit world
  • You want to communicate with the deceased
  • Good for the mildly inquisitive to the spiritually obsessed

The odder fact about some of Cassadaga’s roaming population? They’re dead.

They See Dead People

We did not see any of those people on our recent visit, although my friend Colleen swears that when she went to the porch of the Cassadaga Hotel to have a cigarette, the empty chair at her table started rocking on its own. Arthur looking for a smoke?

The living population has its own quirks: It consists of about 200 Spiritualists, psychics, mediums, and healers. I’m fairly open-minded about all that and was excited about having a reading, but was also ready to give it all an objective assessment.

“We get a lot of good spirits here because we welcome spirits,” said Lilian Selph, one of the living who guided me, along with some friends, around town on a recent girls trip to have lunch and medium readings in the old, haunted hotel.

Built in the 1920s, the block-long, two-floor Cassadaga Hotel is not your average flappers-age hostel. Besides the fact that guests report visits from Arthur, the hotel strays from the norm with its schedule of group readings, séances, and other psychic events. Inscriptions on the wall of the lobby’s ladies rooms speak of fairies and enlightenment. The gift shop carries crystals and essential oils. Then there’s the self-propelled rocking chair on the porch.

The hotel can arrange readings, although as far as the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp is concerned, it’s on the “other side of town.”

Just across the street, the circa-1905 Cassadaga Bookstore is the second headquarters for visitors finding their path through town. It carries much of the same metaphysical gifty stock, plus séance smudge sticks, stones, incense, books, and T-shirts that read “Cassadaga. Where Mayberry meets Twilight Zone.” I couldn’t have summed it up better myself.

The bookstore is headquarters for all manner of spiritualist events from bingo to transfiguration demonstrations. Its dry-erase board holds the names and phone numbers of “on-call” mediums du jour. Here is where we signed up for our guided tour of the camp, which takes place every Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.

The camp’s bookstore and information center

“The rules are different here,” Lilian started out. “Think of it like a condo association.” A condo association for certified mediums and healers, that would be. Within the confines of the “camp,” Cassadaga requires its professionals to undergo four to six years of training and an evaluation before they hang a shingle. Cassadaga Hotel is outside of the confines, but asserts its own standards.

Certified mediums don’t need to use tools such as tarot cards, tea leaves, or palms, she said. If you feel you’ve picked an incompatible personality, you can ask for another at no charge. They are extremely fraud-avoidant in Cassadaga.

Along the one-street tour, we learned the camp’s history. George Colby, after a near-death experience that turned him psychic, purchased acreage northeast of Orlando at the end of the 19th century. Thirty-five of the acres eventually became the winter camp for the Lily Dale spiritualist community in Chautauqua County, New York.

Modern Spiritualism is a science, philosophy, and religion with nationwide associations, we learned. Cassadaga, however, operates independently. Since then, 20 acres have added to the real estate of the “camp,” so-named because originally people stayed in tents while communing with the spirits and those in touch with them.

Homes along Stevens Street date to the same turn-of-the-century era. The tour, which involves President Lincoln’s history of dabbling in the spirit world, ends at the Colby Memorial Temple, where we learned about the Spiritualist religion.

The highlight of that talk was hearing about how séances are performed. We were privy to look into the séance room with its “tipping table,” but were not allowed inside the sanctified room. The table tips forcefully, we learn, as a positive response to yes-and-no questions. We were ready to sign up for one there and then, but alas, wrong night. And our readings awaited us.

Readings Sized Medium

The four of us had very differing experiences with our readings, except for MaryBeth and Colleen who both had Kat as a reader through the hotel. She was specific in a scary way about their husbands, kids, finances, spin classes, etc.

Torre, my medium, arrived to the hotel out of breath and had to catch it for 15 minutes. She told me she had been healing all day and looked worn-out by the effort. I listened to a little commercial about her upcoming Halloween witches event at the hotel. I had read that she does events at Universal Studios, so I was expecting some drama.

Her visions and communications with those “on the other side” were general. Some I could have made fit into what has been going on in my life. I did not ever feel she was inauthentic, although I did at one point think I should terminate.

There was a genuine goose-bump moment when she connected with a deceased friend, but then again she was general, and I made a connection myself. She asked if there was anything or anyone I wanted to know about, but I was more or less testing what she could tell me.

For instance, she asked me my birthdate. Shouldn’t she know that, I wondered?

Her takeaway message was that I was going to have a big change within a month. And the cards (she did use cards and palms) showed a new romance. I am happily married, FYI.

My third friend, Karyn, had a similar experience inside the camp, as if the mediums were just a little too tired to focus? (Kat was younger, although heaven forbid me for seeming ageist.) I don’t know. What I do know is that we’re already planning a trip back for a séance, a new bucket list item I’d never have guessed. And that I think this is the real thing going on in Cassadaga, Florida.

Stay long enough and you might meet some of the folks of a paranormal variety. Lilian told us stories of encounters and pictures of orbs (spirit presences) from even casual visitors. If your experience in Cassadaga doesn’t quite reach paranormal, it’s guaranteed to dwell on the far side of a normal day in Florida.



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