But there’s another tourist mecca tucked away in the woods less than an hour northeast of Disney that offers a vastly difference vacation experience: the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp.
Known as “The Psychic Capital of the World,” the 57-acre camp was established in 1894 as the winter home of spiritualists from Upstate New York. Today the quaint town, a mixture of Victorian-era homes and cute cottages, is populated by nearly 50 psychics, healers and mediums. Daily ghost tours, a haunted hotel, a bookstore, classes and lectures attract a stream of visitors to Cassadaga seeking other-worldly guidance.
My first Cassadaga encounter took place shortly after I moved to Florida from New York in 2009.
I’d first heard of the town when Bright Eyes released an album named after the spiritualist camp in 2007. Two years later and living in Florida, I decided I’d take a solo road trip for a reading on my birthday. I’d never been to a psychic before, never understanding the appeal. I later realized that those who are troubled will seek comfort anywhere they can find it.
My father and sister balked at my spending my birthday alone in the car and invited themselves along. I told them I had an agenda for the day. Though they said they were fine with my plans, they complained every step of the way: about the long drive, about the vegan restaurant we had lunch at, about how late we returned home. Neither of them had readings.
The first thing you’re supposed to do when you get to Cassadaga is stop by the information center. Toward the back of the building just past the gift shop is a dry erase board with the names of the psychics on duty. The woman working at the shop told me to select the psychic whose name I felt most drawn to.
On a table next to the board is a lone white phone — the kind with a long curly cord that looked like it’d been sitting on that table since the 1980s. You use the phone to call the psychic of your choice and set up an appointment for that day.
A half hour after walking into the information center, I found myself in the home of a large, friendly woman whose specialty was contacting the dead. I don’t remember much from that reading, aside from her telling me that my grandmother wanted to know why I hadn’t written my book yet. I was deeply affected by her description of my grandmother, who had died only a year earlier.
The following spring, I took another trip to Cassadaga, this time with my friend, Shauna, and her girlfriend.
The psychic we chose, apparently a fan of arts and crafts, squirted colorful paint onto the center of a blank sheet of white paper. Then he had us fold the paper in half to squish the paint in all directions. The result was a depiction of our auras, he said, and he used the colorful mess to read our chakras. The predominant color on my sheet was blue, which told him I was very creative.
He also specialized in Native American medicine. My animal spirit was a wolf, he said, which means I’m protected at all times.
My grandmother showed up again, and yet again questioned the progress of my Great American Novel.
This past January, I took my girlfriend, Julie, to Cassadaga for her birthday. Neither of us is very good at time management, so we didn’t get there until nearly 7 p.m.
She scanned the list of available psychics and settled on Nick Sourant. She picked up the phone and dialed his number.
“Is Nick there?”
“No, Nick isn’t available right now,” said the man on the other end.
Julie paused. “So there’s no Nick there who can do a reading tonight?”
“This is Nick,” he said.
Everyone was a little confused, but he eventually explained that he had been channeling a spirit and that’s who initially answered the phone. He agreed to meet us that night, despite how late it was, and invited us to a town potluck first. We politely declined the invitation.
Nick was easily in his late 80s and had a much younger wife — they’d just gotten married a few weeks earlier — who was in her 50s. Earlier in life, he’d been a physicist, and he alluded to working on top-secret projects he couldn’t tell us about. Most of what he had to tell Julie was fairly vague and cryptic. He ended the session by striking several Himalayan salt rock bowls with a mallet to create a series of haunting sounds we were supposed to meditate upon.
We left the reading as confused as we’d been after our initial phone call.
But I’d say going two-for-three with my psychic experiences at Cassadaga isn’t bad.
If you’re interested in getting a psychic reading this Halloween season, but don’t want to drive all the way to Cassadaga, there are several local options.
Kit at Enchanted Spirits in Dunedin is a hilarious British bloke who cracks jokes and uses foul language while channeling the dead. He also told me my grandmother keeps asking about my book.
Recently, I visited Psychic Andrea at Psychics in the City in Pinellas Park. Her primary focus is on numerology, though she’s also a medium and reads tarot cards, and she’s been featured on morning radio talk shows.
As editor of a weekly community newspaper in Pinellas County, I met her while writing an article after she learned a public bus bench that featured her advertisement had been stolen. Turns out, she’d bought an ad on an illegal bench that wasn’t sanctioned by local officials, and the bench had been removed.
While talking to her, I learned she’s from the same Long Island town as me — Brentwood — had gone to high school with my mother, and used to cut my grandmother’s hair at a salon back home. She asked to give me a reading and I took her up on the offer a couple of weeks ago.
I’m in a “5” year, she told me after tallying up my birth date, month and year. This is a year of positive change, she told me before adding that I’d likely be moving very soon. Just outside, the contents of my closet were packed in my car, as I’m in the midst of moving into Julie’s home.
And while she didn’t mention my grandmother — though she did say I’m surrounded by protective spirits — she brought up the book I haven’t written yet.
“You’re going to write something famous,” she said. “So you’d better get started on it.”
Sounds like my grandmother speaking to me.
Author’s Note: This was originally published online by Tampa Bay’s Creative Loafing in October 2013. The original post can be found here.