“Cassadaga, oh yeah. That’s where you’re going to find the center of energy.”
-Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed), Bright Eyes
The only indicator directing travelers to Cassadaga is a small sign near the exit on the highway. Those heading to the theme parks of Orlando could easily miss it, never knowing about the historic community of spiritualists. Some come in search of closure or personal growth. Others are curious about the mediums, sometimes thinking, incorrectly, that it’s all crystal balls and Ouija boards. And still more happen upon it by accident.
The spiritualist movement was founded after the Civil War as a way to bring closure to those who lost loved ones on the battlefield, often buried where they fell. The Fox Sisters were some of the first notable mediums that traveled to the homes of the wealthy to show off their talents. Names like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini were among the faithful who believe in a higher being and continuity of life.
The first spiritualist camps were set up in the northern United States, like Lily Dale in New York, and eventually made their way down south for warmer climates. George Colby and his Native American guide Seneca made their way to central Florida and established Cassadega in 1894. Visitors would take the train to Jacksonville before transfering to a steamboat on the St. John’s River that would bring them to camp.
Today, the camp consists of 57 acres with homes dating back to the 1800s. Forty three mediums live and work on property and visitors can book appointments in advance. All of the mediums go through a certification process that takes four to six years. Anyone can become a medium, the term for those who communicate with spirits. Psychics, on the other hand, read the energy of the individual they’re meeting with. You’ll see signs for both, but some mediums also offer psychic readings. The mediums come from all walks of life and faiths, as spiritualism isn’t necessarily in conflict with most religions.
Cassadaga is a 501(c)3 organization, like most churches. They hold Sunday services and sing from hymnals, not unlike the Southern Baptist church I grew up in. But my church didn’t have a seance room or perform healings. However, there are aspects of Christianity that believe in healings like those that bring the faithful to Lourdes.
I kept an open mind when I visited Cassadaga for the first time. I consider myself to be spiritual, but am not an avid churchgoer. I lived in a three hundred year old city, so I had a respectful belief in ghosts and something beyond this life, but I’d never used tarot cards or experienced a “haunting.” I never called a psychic hotline or used a Ouija board.
Friends recommended Madea Jones, so I booked a 30-minute appointment. I felt nervous, like I was going to therapy, and felt slight cynicism towards what the experience would be like. I’d been told in advance that readings are open to interpretation and it may take time for your reading to make sense, so readings aren’t necessarily “right” or “wrong.”
So with that, I sat at the purple velvet-lined table in Maeda’s office where feral cats often roam. She asked if I wanted her to focus on anything in particular and we settled on both medium and psychic readings. We both scribbled on notepads.
She started to tell me about an older woman, a grandmother type who was intelligent and ahead of her time. She aged well and was an avid learner. I couldn’t identify who that might be, but I felt at ease hearing her describe her. From there, Maeda described a fatherly man who passed before his time and had a great sense of humor. He sounded like a friend of my family who had died a few months prior. She asked me if there was anyone she should look for and I described a friend from high school who died under tragic circumstances. When she said he was sweet, sensitive, and walked his own path, I felt strongly that she was connecting with him.
From there, Maeda pivoted towards the psychic reading, which is more like describing what she sees for your future. Some things made sense while others didn’t yet. We talked about me going back to school, something I only briefly toyed with, and becoming a teacher. Of my travels in Latin America and of finding spirituality in Asia. Of living in New York and even taking up pottery. Of the unsure future of marriage and kids.
It all sounded fairly accurate or what could one day be. The rest of the day, I felt like I was in a daze, coming off of some unknown drug. I felt good knowing that those lost weren’t really gone. And that a medium named Maeda may have just made a believer out of me.
If You Go
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp is located 35 miles from Orlando and 25 miles from Daytona Beach. You can book a tour of the community during the day or at night as well as book an appointment with a medium. There are also classes, church services, and festivals that are open to the public. Restaurants and hotels are limited in Cassadaga proper, with just Cassadaga Hotel and its Sinatra’s Ristorante. The Ann Stevens House 1895 Historic Bed & Breakfast is another option. Airbnb has a few rentals in Lake Helen. DeLand, located 8 miles away, has a number of restaurants and hotels. We recommend the The Deland Hotel.
Cassadaga: America’s Oldest Spiritualist Community, Smithsonian Magazine
Seance City, Florida, The Bitter Southerner
I visited Cassadaga with Visit West Volusia, but paid for my own reading.