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:
#5. 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.
#4. "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 ...
#3. 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.