A Day in Cassadaga, Florida
At the edge of Central Florida, just past Daytona and right off Interstate 4, sits Cassadaga, Florida. This small unincorporated community is home to the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp and as a CBS Sunday Morning episode declared, the “Psychic Capital of the World.” It’s not hard to believe. Nestled among sabal palms and large oaks, almost every building on the Camp’s 57 acres features a sign or posting declaring the presence of a practicing medium. Much like if New Orleans retired to Florida. Across the street are new-age practitioners armed with tarot cards and palmistry. And further down the road is the Devil’s Chair, where a thirsty entity awaits confrontation—turns out the king of hell enjoys a warm BudLight. A single day in this small odd town will give you plenty of time to interact with all the spirits—you may even get the opportunity to spot one in a window and your medium guide will let you know whether you’ve guessed correctly and your psychic abilities will finally be confirmed.
But why here in Florida? So the Camp was founded in 1894 by George Colby. Following a near-death experience by way of baptism in freezing Minnesota waters, Colby’s psychic abilities were unlocked. One of his first messages from the beyond was a prophecy declaring he would start a spiritualist camp in the southern United States. Over the years, Colby left the Baptist Church, formally became a Spiritualist, traveled the country demonstrating his skills, and in 1875 led by Seneca (a spirit guide that Colby described as an indigenous American), he met another medium, T. D. Giddings. Together they headed by rail to Jacksonville, Florida, and then by boat along the Saint Johns River to Blue Springs Landing in search of a place matching Seneca’s description of lakes and hills. And so they came upon the area later to be known as Cassadaga (named for the lake in New York that was the location of another Spiritualist camp, Lily Dale). Colby filed for a homestead in 1880 and received 145 acres. He continued to travel and following the formation of the National Spiritualist Association in 1893, Colby and others from the Lily Dale camp organized the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association in December 1894 to which Colby donated 35 acres, later adding another 20. Over the years, the camp grew into an international destination for spiritualists.
Although the town is a draw for all types of new age beliefs, supernatural ideas, and divination, and even touted by some as a “witch town” (and it does certainly draw a crowd of humans wearing fabrics that don’t appear to breathe well), not all these practices are accepted or advocated by the members of the Camp. The camp’s physical boundaries create a strange line, ironically hard to see, between the spiritualists and other new-age practitioners. North of Cassadaga Road (outside the camp) you’ll find private businesses offering palm readings, tarot cards, crystal balls, and more. But for those in the camp, such divination tools are expressly not used. The only location in the camp that defies this is Hotel Cassadaga. (Originally part of the camp, the hotel was sold in the early 19th century and is privately owned.) To newcomers, the whole area will seem like a catch-all for supernatural experiences. You’ll also get to learn about important distinctions like the difference between psychics and mediums. Spoiler, all mediums are psychic but not all psychics are mediums.
Just about every highlight in Cassadaga can be reached on foot. A word to the inexperienced, this is advisable during Florida’s cooler season. For visitors arriving in the summer, the jaunt to the Devil’s Chair will seem like a hellish hike, pairing ungodly temperatures with hilly terrain. Hills are a rarity in Florida and their presence in Cassadaga only adds to the oddity of the town.
A Suggested Itinerary
Start Your Day with the Devil
The aforementioned damned chair sits outside of the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp in the Lake Helen-Cassadaga Cemetery along West Kicklighter Road. The chair didn’t always have such a sinister connotation. Seating areas like it have been adorning cemeteries for centuries as a pleasant place to rest when visiting the deceased. Over the years, a legend arose around this bench formed of bricks. Those who sit upon it will see the devil. It’s not clear when the devil will appear…or even when the sitting should happen. Some insist it must happen at midnight. Another legend suggests leaving an alcoholic beverage for the devil. The next day, the can or bottle will be empty but unopened. However you choose to visit or experience the Devil’s Chair, perhaps don’t litter and do be respectful.
Experience a Divination
The Purple Rose Trading Company is in a purple building right next to Camp. The store is full of metaphysical oddities and you can stock up on incense, dowsing rods, tarot cards, crystal, witchy candles, and more. But, better yet, you can make an appointment for palm reading, tarot reading, or more.
Grab Lunch with Sinatra
Cassadaga is a very small town and the only option to grab a bite is Sinatra’s Ristoranté. The food isn’t anything to speak to the dead about, but it’ll do as a reason for stepping into Hotel Cassadaga. If you’re staying there or spending the evening in town, the hotel offers a lively roundup of musical entertainment with a heavy focus on the classics and jazz.
Tour the Camp
The best way to get insight into the history and vibe of the camp is a tour. These can be booked ahead of time or in person at the Cassadaga Bookstore & Welcome Center. Participants will learn about the camp’s history, the tenants of Spiritualism and its Nine Principles, and the rigorous process by which their members become mediums. The tour includes stories of surrounding buildings and parks, along with entry to the Colby Memorial Temple.
Commune with the Spirits
Time with a medium can be scheduled beforehand or, if a medium is taking walk-ins, they’ll leave their number on the whiteboard in the Welcome Center. The full list of mediums, healers, and teachers is available on the Camp’s website.
Pay Homage to the Fey Folk
Just west of Seneca Park and the Colby Memorial Temple sits Horseshoe Park and the entrance to the Cassadaga Fairy Trail. The trail is littered, or adorned, with offerings from previous visitors. Some offerings might appear more thought out than others. However you react, please do not mess with or remove materials. The fey are known to have a mischievous sense of humor when their realm is disturbed. Take nothing.
Everything means something in Cassadaga, so truly no shortage of signs, symbols and prophecy. Wherever you wind up in Cassadaga, you’ll get to experience a truly unique piece of Florida.