carl hiaasen, cassadaga hotel, devils chair, george p colby, lake helen cemetery, lily dale ny, psychic center of the south, tom petty casa dega
Spring Break Road Trip: Cassadaga, Florida
Spring Break is in full swing, and there are some off-the-beaten-path places worth exploring. One of them is Cassadaga, Florida. Cassadaga is 40 minutes north of Orlando, off I-4 or an hour and ½ southeast of Ocala. Here are 10 things to know before you go:
- Cassadaga is named after Cassadaga Lake outside Lily Dale, New York, sister town to Cassadaga, New York and Florida. Lily Dale is the oldest Spiritualist community in America. It was incorporated in 1879 as Cassadaga Lake Free Association but was ultimately renamed Lily Dale Assembly in 1906.
- George P. Colby (January 6, 1848-July 27, 1933), a trance medium, believed his Native American spirit guide “Seneca” led him to Volusia County, Florida in search of land to establish a Spiritualist community. George was homesteaded 145 acres in the area and donated 55 of those acres to create Cassadaga. He died at the age of 86 and is buried in the Lake Helen Cemetery.
- Cassadaga is a Native American word that means “water beneath the rocks.”
- Wintering psychics and mediums from the north sought a warm location to winter. The unincorporated town was established on December 18, 1894 as the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association.
- Cassadaga is known as the “Psychic Center of the South.” Less than 70 people reside in Cassadaga. All are psychics and mediums.
- The Cassadaga Hotel, the only hotel in town, was originally owned by the camp but was lost in foreclosure. It is privately owned. The original building burned down on Christmas Day 1926 but was rebuilt within 2 years.
- More than 15,000 people visit Cassadaga per year. There are 7 parks and meditation areas in the camp. Visitors can walk the town, book appointments with psychics, tour 2 historical buildings, shop the bookstore, or sip coffee at the hotel.
- Singer/songwriter Tom Petty (1950-2017) wrote the song “Casa Dega” about the town.
- Fiction writer and essayist Carl Hiaasen based the fictional town Grange in Lucky You on Cassadaga. In the novel, Grange is a strange town where people experience a lot of religious miracles. The main character JoLayne, and African-American woman who wins ½ of a Florida Lottery jackpot, resides in Grange.
- If you visit, stop in the Lake Helen Cemetery, situated between Cassadaga and Lake Helen. In the cemetery in a family plot, there is a brick bench, a mourning bench. An urban legend has started that this is a “Devil’s Chair” whereby the Devil arrives when someone sits on the bench. Another tale states that if a can of beer is left, it will be empty in the morning. Let me know what happens.
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