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Where the spirit world touches the earth

The quaint town of Cassadaga is home to many psychics and some (usually) unseen residents .

By COLETTE BANCROFT
Published October 22, 2006


CASSADAGA

At the Ann Stevens House bed and breakfast, guests find an Old Florida haven: screen porches and lace curtains, cozy rooms and a sweet little gazebo in the garden, a friendly gray cat and yummy home-cooked meals.

But if you come for the seances, owner Ed Gracy says, bring half a dozen friends.

"We used to just do them for whoever was staying here," he says. "But if they're strangers to each other, it can take an hour to get things going. If all the people at the seance know each other, it's much easier."

Seances are not a standard B&B amenity, but Cassadaga is not a standard town.

The Ann Stevens House is six blocks from the center of Cassadaga, where within a few blocks visitors can have Tarot readings, be regressed to past lives, get their auras photographed or spirit guides drawn, have their chakras cleansed and find out what their dearly departed are up to in the next world.

It seems as if most of the tiny town's 100 or so residents are certified psychics, mediums and healers. And you don't need to communicate with them psychically to make an appointment. Most of them are on the Internet.

Hidden away

Cassadaga rambles up and down a pocket of wooded hillsides between Orlando and Daytona. Although Interstate 4 is close enough to hear, the quiet town feels as if it's tucked away in some wrinkle in time.

Century-old frame cottages with tin roofs line narrow streets. Morning glories and four o'clocks tumble over fences, and grandfather oaks shade tiny parks lush with palmetto and beauty berry. Barefoot kids sail by on bikes.

Cassadaga was founded in 1894 by George Colby, a New York native and adherent of spiritualism, who said he was led to the site by his spirit guide. The town was originally called the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association; the site was listed on the National Historic Register in 1992.

The American branch of spiritualism, founded in 1848, teaches that the afterlife consists not of heaven and hell but of a series of spheres in which the spirits of humans continue their journey toward enlightenment. Spiritualists also believe those souls remain connected to their living loved ones, and that the dead can communicate with the living through mediums.

In the many gift shops of Cassadaga, figures of Buddha and Quan Yin rub shoulders cheerfully with Jesus and Ganesh. Bookshelves burst with volumes on goddess worship, American Indian totems, indigo children and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Herbal Remedies. There are varieties of incense named for the Christian archangels and dozens of different Tarot card decks, including the Gummy Bear Tarot.

Friendly ghosts

At the Cassadaga Hotel and Psychic Center, rebuilt in 1928 after a fire, a sign at the entrance to the Lost in Time Cafe welcomes diners to take a seat, "but don't sit on anybody!"

Fliers in the lobby advertise an upcoming Haunted Hotel Halloween event next weekend, but that may be gilding the lily. An eminently sensible friend of ours once fled the hotel in the middle of the night after she felt someone unseen sit down on her bed, and the friend traveling with her felt a head next to hers on the pillow.

But most of the paranormal phenomena in Cassadaga are more comforting than creepy. At the town bookstore, where you can sign up for "Encounter the Spirits" walking tours, a helpful clerk who looks like someone's kindly grandmother offers directions to the best spot for photographing spirit orbs, between the Colby Memorial Temple and Spirit Pond.

And across the street at the Universal Centre of Cassadaga, I find out that my aura is full of sunny colors.

Medium Matthew Greene is a soft-spoken young man in slacks and a sage green sport shirt. He specializes in drawing spirit guides, the entities he perceives around someone as he does a psychic reading.

He does my reading in a pleasantly cluttered little room a few feet from the main road through town. No tables tip, no lights dim. He invites me to have a seat, takes my hands briefly for a prayer and begins to sketch.

When I called for a 45-minute, $65 reading appointment, the woman on the phone asked only for my first name.

Almost the first thing Greene asks me is, "Are you a teacher?" I was, for 14 years, but maybe I've been using what my husband calls my "teacher voice" and tipped him off.

After Greene finishes the sketch, he has me draw a Tarot hand for a reading. Some of what he tells me could be smart guesswork. But some of the details he comes up with about me, family members and friends are startlingly specific - and correct.

And that sketch taking shape, and what Greene tells me about the person it represents, bears an uncanny resemblance to one of my grandfathers.

It was enough to make me wonder why someone had put up a poster with a photo of a lost puppy on the bookstore bulletin board. Shouldn't everybody in town know where he is?

Colette Bancroft can be reached at (727) 893-8435 or bancroft@sptimes.com.

 

CASSADAGA

If you go

- Cassadaga is in Volusia County. Take Interstate 4 north to Exit 114. Turn left on Highway 472, then right onto the Dr. Martin Luther King Parkway. Take the first right onto Cassadaga Road and drive 1½ miles to the town.

- The Ann Stevens House bed and breakfast is in Lake Helen, just north of Cassadaga. Its themed guest rooms the Laredo has a horse trough bathtub are $130 to $170 plus tax per night, double occupancy, with full breakfast. A seance package (walking tour of Cassadaga, dinner and seance) is $69.95 per person. For information, go to www.annstevenshouse.com or call (386) 228-0310.

- Restaurant choices are limited in the area. The Lost in Time Cafe, in the Cassadaga Hotel, serves breakfast and lunch. The Ann Stevens House serves dinner Thursday through Sunday nights; call for reservations. There are many restaurants in nearby DeLand.

- For information about a variety of psychic readings and other services, go to www.cassadaga.org, www.cassadaga.com or www.cassadagahotel.com.