When my first novel, Tea and Witchery, was entered in the Royal Palm awards for Florida, one of the judges returned a low score with one reason scrawled on the sheet – Too Unrealistic. (I have to note that the other two judges gave it nearly perfect scores.) But that “too unrealistic” comment has always amused me because the mystery novels are set in Cassadaga, Florida, a town many people find unrealistic.
Why is Cassadaga unrealistic? Well, it’s a town created for Spiritualists and psychics. Perhaps what catches people by surprise is that they don’t expect to find a town like this tucked away in Central Florida somewhere between theme parks and the beaches. But it is there. It’s been there longer than Disney has been in Florida.
Cassadaga was founded in 1895 as a Spiritualist camp and winter retreat for Spiritualist from Lily Dale in New York. My mother still remembers the camp back in the 40s and 50s when it was really only open to visitors in the winter months and when the Cassadaga Hotel used to host dances in what was then a ballroom.
The town now gets more business in summer than in winter and the ballroom is long gone. But the hotel is still there as well as the Colby Memorial Temple which holds Spiritual healings on a regular basis. The town also has half a dozen bookstores and even a post office. Plus various houses and apartments which can be leased from the Spiritualist Camp — if you can prove that the spirits want you there. Most of the inhabitants of Cassadaga offer psychic readings of some sort. On one side of the street, you’ll find the Spiritualists who tend to have their own views on how readings should be conducted. On the other side of the street, you’ll find the renegade psychics who use tarot cards and other forms of divination. And the two sides do have their arguments from time to times.
If you’re ever in Florida, I suggest stopping by for an afternoon visit. It really doesn’t take much longer to see the place. If you’re there in the evening, you can take the Orb Tour. Or you could stay overnight in the hotel and decide if it’s really haunted. But I’ll warn you, it may seem a bit unrealistic, this quiet little Florida town where chats with the dead are just an everyday occurrence.