Words and images by Cassidy Alexander
The spirit of the central Florida enclave of Cassadaga can be found in the details.
It’s in the tall, old houses with the wild front lawns; it’s in the seemingly high number of black cats wandering the streets; it’s in the peeling street signs bearing strange names; it’s in the drapes blowing on a front porch despite the lack of wind.
In a word, Cassadaga is spiritual. But that should come as no surprise.
The bulk of the town of Cassadaga is made up of the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. It shouldn’t be confused with an actual campground, as there is no tent-and-sleeping-bag camping on the grounds.
Rather, the camp is an area of residences, businesses and churches owned by and run by spiritualists.
Spiritualism is a religion or philosophy and its followers share many beliefs with Christians. One big difference, however, is that Spiritualism revolves around the idea that personalities survive after death.
“We believe that every individual … has the ability to contact the spirits of those who have passed on,” said Denny Groseclose, president of the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Board of Trustees. “We believe that the spirit lives on and can be contacted.”
If that sounds a little strange to you, you’re not the only one.
“There are those who feel that we deal in ‘black magic,’” Groseclose said, “which is nowhere near the truth.”
With Spiritualism, there’s “not a lot of rules like other churches,” although Spiritualists do try to adhere to things like the Golden Rule, Groseclose said.
“Most people who have a negative opinion, once they get out here and observe and listen, then usually they change their minds,” Groseclose said. Groseclose himself converted to Spiritualism in 1997. He was previously Methodist.
“To tell you the truth my wife was drawn to it,” he said of what made him consider the religion. “I listened to some lectures and read some of the philosophy, and decided that it was open, not restrictive, and a lot of other things that I was interested in.”
Groseclose made the decision to get more involved with Spiritualism, but it’s not something that always happens to visitors. Spiritualism is not a religion of conversion and the Spiritualist Camp doesn’t do much advertising to draw people in. Despite this, they are anything but isolated.
Hundreds of people come each year to experience the town and the camp from all over the world.
“It amazes me how far people come,” Groseclose said, citing Australia, New Zealand and locations in Europe as starting points for visitors. Perhaps the town’s history can account for the people who flock to Cassadaga.
The camp began in the late 1800s when a man named George Colby was told that he would be instrumental in founding a Spiritualist community in the south. His spirit guide “Seneca” led him to Central Florida to an area surrounded by hills and it was here that he founded the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association in the 1890s, and it still stands on the same land today.
Whether you’re coming for a tour to learn about the camp’s lengthy history, or to schedule an appointment with a medium to contact a spirit, there’s definitely something interesting in Cassadaga to hold your attention.
The camp has an extensive calendar of events posted at the Bookstore and Information Center, as well as online. However, you won’t find palm readings and crystal ball sessions on there. Rather, the events calendar is similar to a church’s: healing circles and classes or conversations on Spiritualism teachings.
For those less serious about the religion, two tours are offered consistently: a historical tour and the Cassadaga Spirit Encounters Night Photography Tour in which participants learn about the religion and get an opportunity to capture images of “spirit manifestation” throughout the community.
If you’re interested in staying in Cassadaga for a while, there’s the Cassadaga Hotel. While the hotel isn’t connected to the camp, it’s located right in the middle of the historic area, and supposedly haunted.
Cassadaga is also home to several large parks and lots of shady streets to walk down. It’s in those quiet moments that you may have a chance to stop, listen and feel the town’s very spirit.