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I've dealt with a lot of death in my life -- as far back as kindergarten, when my grandmother on my mom's side of the family died. As it turned out, she was just the first in a long line of close family members I'd lose before I made it out of high school. So when the idea of visiting the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp to chat with a few of the more prominent dead people in my life came up during a recent trip to Florida, I was all for it.

We talk about that trip to Psychic Town on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...

... where I'm joined by comic Genevieve Mueller (host of the Dead Things podcast and my Cassadaga travel partner) and Cracked coworkers Dan O'Brien and Randall Maynard. Up first, some historical information:

Florida Truly Is as Weird as Everyone Says

Katherine Welles/iStock/Getty Images

To be clear, I didn't travel all the way to Florida just to visit a community of mediums in the middle of the forest. I was there more for relaxation and to escape the harsh California winter for a few days. Still, when you know you're within driving distance of what's come to be known as the "Psychic Capital of the World," you make that trip.

The only other thing to do in Florida is this.

It's at this point that you'll realize something important ... fuck driving in Florida. That's not what this article is about, obviously, but it needs to be mentioned. If you're in Florida and your plans involve driving, cancel them and stay put. Everyone, just stop moving for a while. Goddamn.

Anyway, speaking of crazy, let's talk about Cassadaga. For starters, it's been around way longer than you'd probably expect. It was founded in 1874 by a man named George Colby, who was fulfilling a childhood prophecy that he'd one day move to the South and set up a spiritualist retreat.

Could you be any fucking weirder, kid?

One of his spirit guides, a Native American named Seneca, told him that Cassadaga was the place to be, in case you're wondering how a person chooses which area of rugged rural Florida swamp terrain makes for an ideal settling spot. Since then, people who believe they possess the power to communicate with the dead or otherwise "touch the spirit world" have been flocking to Cassadaga to live among their equally gifted brethren, and to partake in that beloved Florida pastime of separating gullible tourists from their hard-earned money.

Ooh, I hope it's like the George Clooney movie!

There isn't a whole lot to see there. As shown above, there's a moderately terrifying welcome sign nestled snugly on what looks kind of like gravestone. There's also a hotel with a restaurant/lounge called Sinatra's, which I'm guessing is a reference to all of those songs about the paranormal Ol' Blue Eyes used to croon back in the day.

"New York, New York" is about this building.

Beyond that, there is seemingly no end to the signs advertising the various psychics and mediums in town.

With so many options, it's hard to know which direct link to the afterlife is right for you. Luckily, there's at least one thing you can use to make your choice a little easier.

"Real" Psychics Have to Get Certified


That's right -- before you start thinking you're going to walk into some kind of den of swindle and dishonesty, I'll have you know that there's an actual governing body that certifies psychics and mediums, lest some poser stroll into town merely claiming to be able to talk to your dead cat while not possessing those skills at all.

So who exactly is in charge of making sure the channel surfers of Cassadaga are on the up and up? That would be the SCSCMA, which, of course, stands for Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association. In other words, they certify and oversee themselves. Ah well, it's not like you'd be able to tell the difference anyway, especially if the first medium I visited was any indication. I won't use her name, because I didn't write it down. Instead, let's call her "the one who was hammered at 2 p.m." I chose that name because, as it implies, she was super drunk. Look, I wasn't going to disrespect the SCSCMA certification process by picking someone who wasn't of right mind. So with that, I made my way to the information center to seek guidance.

This probably would've made a better starting point than going directly to the drunk lady's door.

Luckily, the process of finding a medium becomes a lot simpler when you know where to look. The information center (it's a gift shop, basically) features a board where the various town psychics and such post their availability and information, presumably using some form of telekinesis. From there, you just use the old-school land line stationed nearby, call someone up, and literally ask if you can come over. Good news, you can! That's provided they aren't in the process of giving a reading at that time. If you do have to wait, there's plenty for you to do, because ...

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You Must Be Prepared

Positioned right near the phone in the information center is a series of fliers, each intended to go a little further toward "opening your mind" to the experience before the clock even starts ticking on your actual face time with your chosen guide to the spirit world.

The first is titled "What Is Spiritualism?" and if you're hoping for a short answer, keep hoping. This pamphlet uses the most words in the smallest font imaginable to explain that spiritualism is a science. But also a philosophy. And a religion. It's also a religion. That seems worth mentioning.

There's something for everyone!

Now, with that perfectly explained, it doesn't take a psychic to guess what your next question is going to be -- "How can I get a reading from a SCSCMA-certified medium?" Glad you asked! There's a pamphlet for that too! It's basically a blow-by-blow account of how to use the complex whiteboard and telephone system that keeps Cassadaga running like a well-oiled machine, in case you need help. By default, if you've come to Cassadaga, you do need help of some sort, so it makes sense.

If you can't read the board, how can you be expected to read this?

The final pamphlet is the real workhorse of the group, though. It's called "Suggestions for a Good Reading" and it lays out in bullet-point detail the myriad ways that a good reading can go bad, and most of them involve you not getting your stupid, cynical mind limbered up enough to be convinced that a stranger correctly guessing that someone in your life has died at some point amounts to a connection to your dead relatives. All along the way, the instructions read like a prenuptial agreement that binds you to admitting that if things don't go well, it'll probably be your fault.

Spirits are people just like you, except not anymore.

Despite everything I'm telling you now, I didn't actually look at any of this prior to my reading. I saw it laying there and just folded it up and put it away, unwilling to let whatever they had to say cloud my healthy and abundant sense of skepticism. Instead, I turned my attention to selecting the perfect medium for my unique set of needs. As it turned out, the decision was basically made for me.

Technology Has Not Reached the Spirit World

Rayes/Photodisc/Getty Images

Here's a quirky little detail about Cassadaga: Despite the fact that almost none of the storefront psychics accept credit or debit cards, the nearest ATM is a mile away in a different town. For a while, this gave me some sense of hope that Cassadaga and its residents wouldn't turn out to be a collective of con artists. After all, if you're the only game in town, you can charge almost any fee you want at your ATM. That they've resisted the urge to get in on an exorbitant withdrawal fee scam is impressive.

DAJ/amana images/Getty Images
I'm looking into putting an ATM there myself.

Also, this made picking a medium significantly easier, seeing as how there was only one who accepted debit or credit cards. The lofty decision of who was best to guide me into the spirit world came down to who was most comfortable letting my 9/11 commemorative edition Chase Bank debit card into the inner circle of trust and awareness.

After a quick phone call, directions were dispensed and we were "on our way to Cassadaga to commune with the dead," as is said in the one good song from the otherwise shitty album indie rock act Bright Eyes recorded at the spiritualist retreat a few years ago.

In a few short steps, we were at the doorstep to death's doorstep, or something along those lines. It was some woman's front yard, basically. As such, I didn't feel completely comfortable taking pictures.

Except this one!

We knocked on the door. We went inside. What happened next ... probably won't shock you much.

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They Don't Have to Be Right Once You're There

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I said "we" in the last paragraph because, as mentioned way up there in the intro, I didn't come to Cassadaga alone. My girlfriend (comic, podcast host and all-around best person Genevieve Mueller) came along, intent on speaking to dead people of her own. We decided to go to the same medium, because again, who the fuck carries cash? Our options were limited. We passed on the "couple's session," which sounded way too swinger-like to me, opting instead to go in separately and compare notes after. What I didn't realize at the time was that this meant I'd be spending 30 minutes alone in a front yard in broad daylight in Florida. I promise that's way scarier than it sounds, especially when you're already in town to potentially infect yourself with a poltergeist or Babadook of some sort.

Ghosts weren't my concern, though. What bothered me was that, as we approached the door, I saw a bunch of legs scurry out of sight on the handrail. I'm legendarily terrified of bugs and, assuming this was just an example of one of the steroid-sized bugs that people so often credit Florida as being inhabited with, I was on edge over the thought of one of them scurrying up my leg or some shit, thus forcing me to squeal like a schoolgirl in plain sight of all my best dead relatives.

I saw that same scurry out of the corner of my eye a few times before it dawned on me what I was actually seeing.

Nicholas Cope/Digital Vision/Getty Images
An insurance ad?

Lizards. Just fucking everywhere. Way less scary to me than the idea of bugs that size, but still. I'm from the Midwest -- I'm not used to a yard full of brave reptiles accompanying my milestones in life. Hey, speaking of stones, it was while taking count of all the lizards around the yard, for battle purposes if nothing else, that I spotted a stone of a different kind. It was a grave stone, and by that I mean it was a cinder block with an animal's name (I hope) written on it. There were three more next to it. There was a pet cemetery.

At least I hope it was just a "cemetery."

I noticed all of this within five minutes or so, then spent the next 25 reminding myself to ask my dead family why I had to come to fucking Florida to talk.

Oh, about that! When I finally made my way into the room, there was a quick prayer, then I was asked to hand over a personal possession of some sort. Something about energy and vibrations. I gave her a lighter. After telling me she saw lots of trips in my future, she zeroed in on a male figure who was reportedly watching over me. His name started with a J. She saw a keyboard. I have a cousin named Jason who used to play keyboards, but he didn't stop because he died -- he stopped because he started playing guitar, like an adult. I asked her if Jason died and this was how I was finding out. She assured me he's fine.

After a few more tries at identifying my spirit guide, she concluded that maybe it was just that no one close to me has ever died. I told her my dad died. That's true, and as so often happens, we were pretty close. At least, we were until he died. That kind of split us apart, but pretty close up to that point.

At one point she said I'd get married to someone who was "creative" like me. I took this less as a prediction and more as something you toss out there assuming that if the girl you just talked to is willing to travel alone with a dude to some desolate part of Florida, things can't be going too badly in their relationship.

George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty
It's one step away from just agreeing to get in an open trunk.

I said "totally" and remained completely unimpressed. Things never really improved. She told me to go to Virginia at one point. Why? Did all of their airports break? If not, I invite all of my friend (not a typo) in that lovely state to come see me in LA anytime. It felt like a threat more than anything, and overall, the reading felt a lot like watching a comic bomb onstage. It was uncomfortable to the point that I felt bad for her.

That's important, because what am I going to do, refuse to pay her? Seeing as how I was running up a $2-per-minute tab (plus a $5 fee for the convenience of using a debit card), I would have loved to, but I felt so bad. I wanted her to do well. I wanted her scam to work. So, in that way, I think it did.

There was one hitch, though, in that for some reason, the new-age card reader she'd attached to her iPhone wasn't able to read either of the cards I had on me. Despite repeated swipes and plenty of available funds, every attempt failed.

If I really ever did have a guardian angel looking out for me, I suspect it was in that moment.

Adam will be in Albuquerque, Kansas City and St. Louis next week telling jokes directly to your face. Go here for more details! Also, give him a follow on Twitter @adamtodbrown or just haunt him in a chill way if you're dead.

For more ATB, check out 5 Bizarre Mashups that Shouldn't Work This Well and 5 Tribute Albums that Don't Realize How Insulting They Are.

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