Wanting a retreat with a twist, my sister and I head for quaint, quiet Cassadaga -- a place where, I've heard, mystery and the metaphysical mix, and visits from the spirit world are everyday events. I've booked a reading in hopes that a medium can look into my past and offer guidance for the future.
Halfway between Daytona Beach and Orlando, we leave Interstate 4 at exit 114. As we travel the last few miles east on a winding, wooded country road, we begin to get into the spirit of this small, charming community established by the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association in 1894, and now known as "the Psychic Capital of the World."
Our first stop is Cassadaga Bookstore, where we make our way through crystals, dream boxes and incense to the welcome center for information about mediums, readings and events. We make reservations for an intuitive class and a nighttime tour. We're instructed to bring our cameras, because the walking tour offers a chance to capture orbs (spirits) on film.
Map in hand, we step outside to explore the narrow streets and unpaved tree-canopied paths of this small town, basically eight square blocks. We feel our senses open up to the charms of wind chime choruses, peaceful meditation parks and unpretentious homes built and lived in since the late 1800s and early 1900s. A playful yard sign that reads "I believe in ghosts," isn't kidding. Many of Cassadaga’s residents are certified mediums who offer spiritual guidance, readings, past-life regressions, healings and séances.
Notes from a Beatles song drift from a nearby house as we approach the Caesar Forman Healing Gazebo, but inside only soft temple music and the voice of Lorraine Peterson, a healer, can be heard. The sweet scent of old wooden pews permeates the air. Six minutes of meditation with the medium/healer sets the tone for our relaxing weekend getaway.
Rooms with Spirit
Built in 1901, destroyed by fire in 1925 and rebuilt in 1927, Cassadaga Hotel's comfortable Victorian furnishings fill inviting alcoves and public areas, perfect for visiting with friends (and sometimes, departed relatives).
Checking in, we learn the hotel's mischievous spirits have been quite active lately, opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, making noises in the halls and rearranging belongings. We make a mental note to leave out some items for a little girl spirit who we are told likes to play with makeup and jewelry. Unlike other places where ghosts are often associated with historic buildings or tragic events, Cassadaga's ghosts seem to have no such attachments, and little is known about them save their manifestations and pranks.
A queen-size four-poster bed, armoire, night stand and stand-alone sink filled our small room, which opens onto the hotel's wrap-around veranda. Here you can relax, visit and people-watch. Standard rooms have private baths, but no televisions or phones.
Anticipation heightens as we gather at Spirit Pond at dusk, cameras ready, for the orb photography tour. As our guide calls attention to the town's history and architecture, we focus into the dark hoping to capture orbs or spirits on film. After a couple shots, my camera batteries mysteriously die, as do several others.
Back in our room, we sip Chai tea and retire with hopes of a visit from the spirits we had heard about at check-in.
Morning's light reveals no evidence of spirits, but we learn later that several guests heard children playing in the halls -- which was odd given the hotel's no-guests-under-21 policy. The desk clerk is sure it was spirit children.
The hotel's L’Aldila Restaurant serves a complimentary continental breakfast at 9 a.m. and opens for business from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bright, airy and clean with simple furnishings and wood floors, the restaurant serves authentic Italian cuisine.
Back at the Andrew Jackson Davis Building for the weekly free Sunday Message Service, we are part of a large audience of people who have come to receive short readings from one of several mediums. Those who receive readings seem to take them quite seriously.
We attend the Lyceum (Sunday school) but decline the invitation to the community potluck dinner, having reserved a place in our last event of the trip -- the intuitive class, where we and four other people are paired off by the medium/teacher. My partner holds his hand on my shoulder for several minutes and begins to speak. I am amazed at what he "feels" about me: I am a writer, spend time in the mountains, collect books, have an interest in the food industry and have a South American connection -- all of which are true.
If You Go
Cassadaga (for tours, events and mediums), 386-228-3171, www.cassadaga.org
Cassadaga Hotel, 386-228-2323,
L’Aldila Restaurant, 386-218-3806