By Pat Foster-Turley
August 26, 2022
If you are looking for a strange but interesting place to visit in Florida, you can’t beat Cassadaga, the “Psychic Capital of the World.” The town is located outside Daytona Beach, just off Interstate 4, but it is another world entirely. I’ve passed through this town on road trips before, but this time I convinced Bucko to accompany me for an overnight visit at the Cassadaga Hotel. And, believe me, this isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Before our weekend, I did my Google research, and learned about the Devil’s Chair in the Lake Helen/Cassadaga Cemetery, so this was our first stop upon entering town. We followed online instructions, and left a can of beer on this brick chair. Supposedly if we returned the next day the beer can would be unopened but empty. This devil likes beer, I guess. We will see.
A few minutes away we checked into the Cassadaga Hotel, a historic hotel that is the centerpiece of this unincorporated town of Cassadaga that was founded by a spiritual medium from New York and his followers in 1875. Since this time, mediums, spiritualists, and new age seekers of all types have settled here too. The few streets in town are lined with palm readers, fortune tellers, crystal purveyors and all sorts of other establishments that cater to those seeking guidance from the spirit world. The old hotel itself is a hub of such activities. The hotel is definitely creepy, with old furniture, velvet curtains, and a bookstore/gift shop selling all kinds of psychic paraphernalia. To get to our room, we were directed past the ladies room in the lobby to a hidden narrow hallway leading to the guest rooms. Once in our room we were greeted by an overly loud freestanding air conditioner and water taps that barely produced any water. And that was just the start of things. To get the full Cassadaga experience I signed up for a séance that evening with Kathy, the medium on duty. Bucko opted to wait for me at the hotel bar. Neither of us are believers, but I’m up for anything, Bucko not so much.
The séance was a mixed bag. There were four of us participants. One by one Kathy asked us who we would like to contact in the spirit world. When my turn came, I suggested the name Jean, a dear friend who died a few months ago. Kathy closed her eyes and tried to summon her, but she didn’t come up with anything that resembled Jean. Kathy claimed that she could smell biscuits baking but that didn’t have anything to do with Jean that I could relate to. But then Kathy said that her own mother used to bake biscuits—maybe her mother was trying to come through. And just as she said that, no kidding, loud thunder and a flash of lightning lit up the room. It indeed was a “dark and stormy night.” Perfect.
The medium Kathy was still haunted by the biscuit-baking smell, and took a break to spray the room with something she said would make that smell go away. None of us smelled anything. But afterwards Kathy was still eager to show me a sign that my friend was “there.” At long last she closed her eyes again, put her hand to her forehead and said, “I see a long silver chain, a plain one, with something round at the end, maybe a sphere or something.” And, what she didn’t know was that in my pocket I had a silver chain Jean had given me with a silver horseshoe crab brooch at the end. The silver chain was long and ordinary; the horseshoe crab was round! Go figure.
After the séance I joined Bucko at Sinatra’s, the restaurant/bar, which, now that night had fallen, had turned into a neon-lit double piano bar, with lots of people enjoying the singer/piano player’s music that was illustrated with old videos of the originators of the songs he was singing. When he did a riff of Hotel California, called Hotel Cassadaga in his version, the video above him was a creepy set of photos of the hotel and ghosts. Outside the hotel the storm was in its full glory, heavy rain, loud nearby thunder, and flashes of lightning that lit up our window-side table. Our meal of Italian food was wonderful and the atmosphere was out of this world, if you catch my drift.
There was more to come for us in Cassadaga the next morning, and yes, we still had to check on whether the devil had consumed our beer. Stay tuned for the next column to learn more.
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. firstname.lastname@example.org