I’ve always had a strange fascination with the mysterious town of Cassadaga, and after my first visit in 2012, that obsessive interest only grew deeper. If you’ve never heard of Cassadaga, Florida, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The tiny town is the kind of place you only find if you’re looking for one thing: to commune with the dead.
Founded over 120 years ago by spiritualist and trance medium George Colby, Cassadaga came about after a seance conjured up an entity that informed Colby he was to become the figure-head of a large Spiritualist community in the South.
Led by his spirit guide “Seneca”, Colby trekked through the Florida wilderness in search of a “holy place” where he could settle his community of healers and psychics, and in 1875 he found it in the woods of what is now Volusia County. According to Colby, he had seen the land and surrounding lake during a seance in Iowa, “…near Blue Springs, Florida, on high pine hills overlooking a chain of silvery lakes, [on] the outskirts of the village [to] find the seven hills. This will be the place.” By December of 1894, Colby had his charter, and The Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp was born.
The word Cassadaga comes from a Seneca word which means “water beneath the rocks”, and in its infancy, water played a massive role in helping establish the community. At the time, Cassadaga was not only surrounded by a crystal-clear lake, it was also home to a holy spring, which according to Colby, completely healed his tuberculosis.
By the 1920s, Cassadaga had become a village where the country’s most gifted psychic mediums would come to spend the winter surrounded by their peers in the “psychic center of the world”. Spiritualists came from all over the world to relocate to the small community where they could attune themselves with the mystical energies of the enchanted land.
By the time Colby died on July 27, 1933, it seemed that much of the mystical energy left with him. Shortly after his death, the lake and healing spring dried up, and locals claimed that the energy of the land changed dramatically. It was as if the soul of the community, the sacred water, had passed on with Colby himself.
Still, the area has a wonderful nostalgic vibe, like the whole village is still inhabited by the ghosts of its past.
Back to my obsession…
I’ve wanted to stay at the Cassadaga Hotel ever since spotting the gorgeous, giant Spanish revival at the top of the hill, like a metaphorical beating-heart at the center of the community. The hotel, which isn’t actually part of the original camp, is said to be haunted by many ghosts, the most famous being that of an Irish man named Arthur who is said to have stayed at the hotel in the 30s. Arthur, like most of us, is a fan of cigars, alcohol, and company, so when I finally got my chance to experience an evening at the hotel, that’s exactly what I brought him in the hopes that he would meet me halfway.
At around 1:00 am, fellow Week In Weirder Greg Newkirk and I headed out onto the old wrap around porch, cigars and hooch in tow, hoping to contact Arthur.
There’s an undeniably spooky vibe in Cassadaga once the sun goes down, a feeling that transcends the daily “love and light” attitude so familiar to its many psychics. In the moonlight, it’s hard not to feel the ghosts of old come seeping out of the cracks, corners, and basements where they’ve been hidden away, now eager to run wild in the humid night.
It’s true that its easy to let your imagination get the better of you, particularly knowing the strange history of the area, but regardless, there’s a pretty undeniable energy in the air courtesy of the surrounding heat, chorus of insects, and silhouettes of imposing old buildings against the stars. For a moment, I was sure old Arthur was there with us, so I snapped a couple of pictures, hoping I might catch him drawn to his favorite vices.
Upon reviewing the images the next morning, it appeared that I ended up capturing a few intriguing images that I can’t really explain. At the time, Greg and I were alone in the hotel, aside from a pair of ladies who where stationed at the opposite side of the buling. The staff, who all live off the camp, lock the main hotel during the night, which means the only way to reach your room is from an outside patio door. After snapping a few images to the left of the outdoor patio, it certainly looks like someone tall and thin steps out from around the front facing deck. Not only was there no one around at 1am, the motion lights would have clicked on had there been someone hiding in the darkness.
There are a handful of places in this country that call to me, for whatever reason, and Cassadaga is one of them. Though she doesn’t hold the rich history or paralyzing magic of New Orleans, Cassadaga does still feel like an ancient compound, haunted by its founders, mystics, and healers. At night, if we’re patient and willing, those old ghosts come up out of the humid Florida swamps to commune with us, as long as we’re willing to transcend safe ideas and meet them halfway.