Travel

Welcome to Cassadaga, the Psychic Capital of the World

Mediums, psychics, vortexes, and fairy gardens await in this backwoods Florida town.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Not far from Orlando’s theme park corridor lies a much more discreet-and, many would say, far more otherworldly-attraction. The tiny town of Cassadaga is home to the largest Spiritualist community in the Southern United States: the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp.

Never heard of Spiritualism? It’s a religion based on the belief that spirits can communicate with the living (through mediums)-and that there is a continuity to life wherein you don’t die, but rather your unique identity lives on eternally on “the other side” of life.

It all started during a Victoria-era seance, where the camp’s founder, George Colby, was foretold he would go south to initiate the community. Stick with us here. Allegedly, Colby’s Native American spirit guide, named Seneca, led him to Jacksonville and then by foot through the truly wild wilderness of Central Florida. Today, Cassadaga covers a few oak-lined blocks and has 55 homes where Spiritualists reside on approximately 57 acres. In addition to the 37 mediums and 28 healers, Cassadaga is home to psychics and palm readers in shops selling crystals and pendulums, a forested trail lined with magical trinkets, a haunted museum full of creepy dolls, and more than one vortex.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Mediums officially certified by the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp don’t use tarot cards, crystal balls, and the like to channel spirits, but rather rely on their mental gifts. (Although you’ll find tarot card readers, Reiki healers, past-life regression specialists, Akashic record readers and others here, too-particularly at Hotel Cassadaga, which doesn’t belong to the camp, but deals in its own spiritual healings and services).

And if you think you might have a “gift” for channeling “Spirit” (since, according to Spiritualists, it’s inside us all), you can come to the camp to sit in on a service or course at the Colby Temple, study mediumship, and even become a certified medium yourself one day. Or you can just come explore and have some foretellings of your own. Read on to see your future in Cassadaga, Florida.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Book a reading from the camp’s official welcome center

Windchimes, totems, and sunflowers (a symbol of Spiritualism) adorn the historic homes of Cassadaga, spread across just a few pretty blocks. It won’t take you long to find the camp’s official welcome center, which should be your first stop. The building occupies the main corner in town and doubles as a gift shop and meeting space for Spiritualists (and those who’ve come to learn). Inside, a sign above reads “Expect a Miracle.”

After you’ve browsed the wide array of pendulums, crystals of all kinds, fairy figurines, dream catchers, wind chimes, souvenir magnets, new age books, incense sticks, and more, head to the back room.Here, a dry erase board is scrawled with the names of the camp’s certified mediums available for readings that day (there’s a wall of business cards for others who may or may not be on duty, too). Then ring up the medium or healer who most speaks to you, and see if you can slot in an appointment for a session.

The camp’s mediums host readings mostly in their homes. So walk to your meeting place, settle in, get comfy, and wait for your miracle when whichever spirits “come through.” Most readings cost around $70 for half an hour, and most mediums are cash-only.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Stay at a haunted bed and breakfast with two vortexes on property

A short walk from Cassadaga’s historic district, The Ann Steven’s House makes for a supernatural night. The 10-room property, split between the main house and a carriage house, was built in 1895 by a Michiganer named Ann Stevens, who was one of the early Spiritualists to come develop Cassadaga.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bed and breakfast is said to be visited (don’t say “haunted” in these parts) by the spirit (don’t say “ghost”) of a little girl named Marjorie and a gardener named Virgil who lived nearby. Both have been seen during spirit-hunting rituals on the property and by guests, purportedly, too. A doll that psychics say belonged to Marjorie sits on its own little chair in the bed and breakfast’s parlor.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

The inn’s gorgeous grounds are fringed by 123-acre Colby-Alderman Park, where you can walk along deer-prone hiking trails and scout for owls at dusk. But a more unique part of the property are the inn’s two vortexes.

In case your own energy intuition doesn’t lead you right to them, the owners, Spiritualists who moved here from Texas, can point you to the vortexes. And actually, standing over one, a pendulum held between one’s fingers will start moving in rapid circles due to no apparent reason. Trippy stuff, to be sure. The vortexes are open for inn guests only. But on Thursday nights, a small pub here, Webster’s Tavern, welcomes the public starting at 7:30 pm.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Have a seance or reading at Hotel Cassadaga

In addition to the official welcome center for the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, which is right across the street, Hotel Cassadaga is a main cornerstone of the town and likely to be your second stop here, if not your first.

The two-story property is independently owned and not affiliated with the Spiritualist camp in any way-but it is reportedly haunted. Children aren’t allowed to stay overnight at the hotel, yet guests consistently report waking to the sounds of their laughter and tinkling tricycle bells in the corridors.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

You can also consult specialists here. Browse the wall full of brochures in the lobby (just outside the reception desk/gift shop, where hundreds more crystals-for-purchase await) and book a session with a healer that speaks to you-perhaps someone to do a past life regression or a tarot card reading. There are monthly seances held at the hotel, too, as well as mini readings (10 minutes), in case you don’t want to splurge on the half-hour or hour-long rates.

The hotel is also the only place to eat in Cassadaga’s historic district. The onsite restaurant, Sinatra’s, is helmed by a chef from Italy, with offerings like bruschetta and a mean burrata on the menu. The food is surprisingly good, but what’s even better is arriving here on a Friday or Saturday night, when a piano bar and karaoke take over the restaurant and a surprisingly lively nightlife ensues.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Shine a flashlight on possessed dolls and ouija boards at a creepy AF museum

Across the street from Hotel Cassadaga and next to a psychic shop, look for C. Green’s Haunted History House & Museum

“Part history, part oddities and all haunted,” according to its website, the museum occupies a former post-office from the 1900s that’s been in the same family for three generations. It’s totally worth the $10 admission fee (or free for kids eight and under, who are likely to be terrified by the place) to spook yourself for a spell.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Inside, a warren of nine rooms get darker and darker the further back you venture (you’re given a flashlight to explore). There’s a haunted doll collection that might make you gasp it’s so ghastly, a haunted Ouija board collection, old town photos, and artifacts including George Colby’s original seance table.

Naturally, there’s a gift shop onsite, with haunted dolls (designated so by-who else?-psychics who’ve felt their vibrations) that you can purchase alongside the usual array of incense and, yes, more crystals, just in case you haven’t already purchased your fill.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Visit the local cemetery to see The Devil’s Chair

Just north of the camp, on Kicklighter Road, you can stroll past tombstones from the 1800s belonging to early Spiritualists in the Lake Helen-Cassadaga Cemetery. George Colby, who died in 1933, is laid to rest here, with just a humble, unassuming marker atop the ground. But there are rumors, so far unproven, that his body isn’t actually interred here.

People also visit the cemetery-which closes at sunset-for a more curious reason. They come to see a graveside brick wall and bench (a noted 19th-century memorial sculpture) known as The Devil’s Chair. One sinister legend maintains that those who take a seat here will find themselves visited by the devil himself. But a stranger tale also exists. As local lore goes, an unopened can of beer left on the bench will be empty by morning time. Before you conclude that either pranksters or the gravekeeper get a lucky gift on the regular, consider this twist: the liquid disappears from the can whether or not it’s been opened, taken, or still present but completely sealed. There just might be some thirsty spirits about.
 

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Wander through a fairy forest full of manifestations, tributes, and dreams

It’s a five minute stroll from the welcome center to the Fairy Trail and Horseshoe Park. This beautiful wooded space on the outskirts of town serves up a slice of old Florida forest that must look just as it did when Colby first arrived back in the day-with a few additions.

As you enter the park, you pass through white pillars into the realm of “nature spirits,” according to a sign. Birdsong fills the air as you walk along pathways shaded with towering oak trees, and unseen critters (or is that something else?) make crunching sounds in the undergrowth. But it’s the addition of sentimental tokens left by visitors that will most likely capture your attention and imagination.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Scattered throughout the woods, you’ll find a figurine of a gnome, fairy, or toadstool; a child’s note in a mesh bag asking fairies to appear (“They’re everywhere,” they’ve written. “Send me a sign.”); Tibetan prayer flags; holiday lights; Mardi Gras beads; and one very weird statue of a limbo-ing Grim Reaper. People leave photos of loved ones, handwritten notes of regret and hope, polaroids of orbs captured around town, and inspirational messages that say things like “You are loved” and “Embrace the journey.” And, of course, there’s the odd opportunist who’s left their business card, too, for a moving service or mortgage broker, looking to capitalize on the fortuitous energy of the place. This is one of those places that can really be as magical or inner-childlike as you want it to be.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Terry Ward is a freelance travel writer in Tampa, Florida, who has lived in France, New Zealand, and Australia. Follow her on Instagram and find more of her work on terry-ward.com.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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