Snowbird Trail is a 12-part series on unusual or different attractions for snowbirds in the sunbelt.
Deep in the heart of Florida is a tiny place called Cassadaga, often referred to as the "psychic capital of the world."
Located midway between Orlando and Daytona Beach, the town became a home to many psychics, mediums and other spiritualist sorts after the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association was founded there in December of 1894. It's also become a destination for those seeking guidance and enlightenment.
Upon arrival, it looks like any other southern U.S. small town, except the newest house built dates to the 1930s. In the latter half of the 19th century, camp founder George Colby was instructed by one of his spirit guides, named Seneca, to travel there and set up a religious community for spiritualists. Originally established as a winter retreat for practising mediums from upstate New York, the camp has remained almost unchanged, and was declared a national U.S. historic site in 1991.
Today it is the largest spiritualist camp in the United States, with more than 100 people residing here, and approximately half are practising certified mediums of varying sorts who work from within their homes. The camp believes that everyone is psychic, and it is our sixth sense that utilizes thought vibrations to obtain information. Certified mediums can spend up to 10 years developing this sixth sense, with practices such as palmistry, crystals, tarot cards, astrology and clairvoyance among others.
Visitors are encouraged to roam the dozen or so streets at leisure, admiring the early 20th-century residences, relaxing in one of the many meditation gardens or just getting a feel for the surroundings. There's a wide array of psychic services, such as readings, healings, counselling, classes and seminars. The Welcome Center is the place to find out about workshops and to book appointments. There's also a bookstore and education centre for those wanting to further develop their own sixth sense.
Cassadaga attracts a mix of believers, skeptics and the curious. Many visitors opt to take one of the historic tours that offer an insight into the past and present day happenings at the camp. The camp is closed to visitors at night, except for evening "orb tours" where individuals can snap photos of supernatural paranormal phenomena, such as spirits, ghosts and energy fields. Spirituality is based upon the principle of continuous life demonstrated through mediumship. A room in the back of the Colby Memorial Temple is reserved for seances, where a group of individuals gather around a table in a darkened room hoping to hear from spirits of the past.
There are also other buildings separate from the camp, such as a café, post office and the supposedly haunted 1920's era Cassadaga Hotel, which offers overnight accommodations to those seeking a full mystical experience. (Standard rooms average $80 U.S. a night. Several B&Bs can be found in nearby towns for the more timid visitors.)
In one Cassadaga Hotel legend, an Irish tenor resided in Room 22 on the second floor during the first half of the 20th century, until the time of his death. Some guests in this room have been known to have paranormal experiences, catching glimpses of this gentleman staring out the window, while others have enjoyed a peaceful night of rest. Period pieces of furniture and artifacts are found throughout, including the lobby and the rooms. There's also dining area and bar on the main level, where weekend entertainment is often scheduled. The upper floors are reserved for mediums that provide on-site services.
Debra Jordan, public relations chairperson for the camp, estimates that there are approximately 15,000 visitors annually, with readings and healings being the most sought after. Various activities and events happen throughout the year including Gala Days, which includes special workshops, mini readings, a variety of healing modalities, street vendors and more. Mediums Night is held on the first Monday of every month, where 15-minute readings by certified camp mediums are $20, and student camp mediums are just $10.
The town has also been referenced many times in popular culture, in novels by Stanley Elkin and Carl Hiaasen, through music by Conor Oberst's band Bright Eyes (which titled one of its albums after the town) and in U.S. independent horror film Cassadaga. Colby, the camp founder, is supposedly buried in the nearby Lake Helen-Cassadaga Cemetery, although various stories suggest otherwise. It should be noted that the camp shuts completely for Halloween, because of past situations where crowds have shown up for the wrong reasons.
So if you're driving across Interstate 4 and are suddenly compelled to head toward Cassadaga, it might well be the local spirits tugging at the wheel.