Florida is a state that has a little bit of everything and is known for the joy it takes in offering people from around the world an escape from the everyday. Although known as the Sunshine State and not Vacationland, people who don’t live there see it as the paradise just perfect for getting away. When younger, people dream of going to Disneyland and experiencing everything the Mouse has to offer, or spending some time at Universal or traveling down haunted I4 to Tampa to thrill at Bush Gardens. As they get older, they’re drawn to the beaches of Miami and Sarasota and Palm Beach depending on just how much older they are. As those twilight years start to press, they find themselves looking into the retirement paradises of The Villages and Sun City. There is one spot in Florida, less advertised and well known, that draws a different kind of person south.
Cassadaga is known as the Psychic Capital of the World. Founded in 1875 as a Spiritualist camp under the leadership of George P. Colby, it has grown over the last 150 years to become a place people travel to hone their abilities or get the best readings money can buy. Colby was told by his spirit guide Seneca there was something special about the ground there, and visitors and residents would agree. Perhaps it’s the “water beneath the rocks,” which is where the town gets its name from. In supernatural lore, running water is often said to trap or help foster paranormal activity.
While there, you can meet with just about any kind of psychic you can imagine and spend time at its Spiritualist camps. You can visit the Horseshoe Park & Fairy Trail. People have been said to see ghost lights and have little trinkets picked out of their pockets when they walk around. You can spend some time at C. Green’s Haunted History House and Museum and take a tour through the history and big moments of the paranormal. You can even stay at the Cassadaga Inn, which is haunted by multiple spirits.
People in the know recognize the real action happens at Lake Helen Cemetery. While there have been many reports of ghosts since it’s founding in the early 1900s (people even claim Colby himself walks the rows, looking happily at his dream turned into a reality) most people can’t actually see the most famous phantom there. In the 1920s, George Thatcher was still mourning his wife and daughter who were buried there. He decided to build a brick bench so he could sit by their graves and talk to them and work through his grief. One popular rumor is that a dark figure seen sitting in the chair at night may be him, although most say he was too nice of a guy to leave something so dark behind. I mean, he had enough love to build a memorial for those in his heart. Perhaps his sadness and obsession led the Devil himself to take notice of the cemetery.
The story that persists is that Thatcher tried to make a deal with the Devil to bring his loved ones back. No one knows whether he got his wish or not, but since then people have travelled to the burial ground to try and talk to whatever might be left at the bricks, earning it the name The Devil’s Chair. If you sit in the chair, especially at midnight when the cemetery is closed, you can talk directly to the demon yourself, offering your soul up for whatever you want. If you do not say anything yourself, he will whisper in your left ear the name of your true love or the date of your death. People said to do this have been known to die within a year of visiting. You may also hear a baby cry, meaning someone under the age of ten in your life will pass soon.
The most popular cemetery trip is to leave a full and unopened bottle or can of beer on the grave. If you return early the next morning, it will be empty but still unopened and a deal with the Devil is sealed.
Memorials like Lake Helen’s brick seat are not uncommon. In fact, there is another one nearby often confused for the Thatcher’s where people perform the ritual by accident. It was a time where cemeteries were becoming more than just places to keep the dead. As a society, we were designing cemeteries to be place to visit and stay, and benches like the one found in Cassadaga were a natural extension of that thought shift. There was something to be learned from the dead and messages to be heard and honor to be shown to those who had passed, almost like a nod to what eastern religions had been teaching for years. This might account for the more positive rituals also known to be practiced at the Devil’s Chair. Salt, coins, rare bottles, and charms are left on the seats as a way to cherish the dead and assure yourself good luck in the coming year.
After doing a show on fairies and the fairy trial at Cassadaga, the kids and I decided to go there on St. Patrick’s Day and see if we could combine the art of leprechaun hunting with fae traps to see if we could bring home something with us. We would try to trip the Devil’s Chair in the safety of the sunlight.
We arrived at Colby-Alderman Park in Lake Helen to eat and prepare for our fairy search. There is a pretty easy hiking trail at the entrance of the park, so it became a perfect way for us to enter downtown Cassadaga and even leave some jars along the way for anything that might have been traveling away from Horseshoe Park. All of the jars we brought along with us were either decorated with love a few years before or given with love a few Christmases before, fitting in with the lore of the location.
When we entered the center, we were struck by just how much of the town was dedicated to the idea of Spiritualism, or more accurately, how little of it was dedicated to something that did not have to do with the reputation of the town. We stopped into several stores, stocking up with sage, jewelry, and some other supplies from a few shops dedicated to witchy things.
The C. Greens Haunted History Museum was our next stop. The kids only liked the fact it was air conditioned, but I enjoyed some of the ideas and artifacts that brought be back to the reason I had gotten into the paranormal and legend tripping in the first place.
Jars in hand, we made our way to the Horseshoe Park and Fairy Trail, ready to try and connect with whatever might be there. Legend trips are often about moments and moments can’t often be shared to the point where someone understands the experience you had. In this case, a legend trip sometimes can’t be true to the legend due to the number of people hanging around at the location. While Horseshow was fun to visit, none of us had any feeling there was anything there. Instead, the park is a testament to intention, revealing more about how people chose to cherish the fae they believe frequent there than any true attraction. But that might just be the point. The fairy world might be more fascinated by the parts of your personality you reveal with what you leave than any standardized bait. The bright trinkets, glowing lights, and faded toys invited us to see into the people who left them, and I only wished we could have visited after dark. We opened our jars filled with old jewelry and special coins and invited any good spirits looking to visit to slide inside.
The same could be true for the Devil’s Chair at the Lake Helen and Cassadaga Cemetery. We had covered this in one of our earliest episodes of Tripping on Legends, and our initial trip to it had been derailed after our trip to the Devil’s Tree (if you don’t know the story, it’s one that has guided the show and our legend trips ever since). This was a day trip, so it would not hit all of the legends of the chair, but it would at least allow us to experience the setting. While there, two groups of people connected to paranormal groups were milling around, another one was there celebrating her birthday by visiting the famous spot, and a film crew was doing a documentary on it.
While things settled, we explored the cemetery, trying to see if we could connect with any of those dark figures rumored to be there and looking for George Colby’s grave.
When we were finally able to have the chair alone, I was impressed by the number of memorials left there. It is said gifting a trinket or a coin is the best way to seal the deal with the Satan or whatever force remains there. Another part of the story says you can also buy your way out of a curse put on you by leaving something or you can remove of a haunted object from your life by leaving it there. This made it especially important for Ella to put down the stuffed animal we found. We left some coins, making sure to make it clear we were leaving them for the grieving George Thatcher and for good luck and not to get the Devil’s attention. The kids both wanted to do EVP sessions while on the chair, and I put aside the legend tripper side of me and allowed them to record and use their ghost box. We then did a little sitting with our newly purchased divining rods.
Before we left, we placed our full and sealed glass bottles of ginger ale and root beer at the foot of the chair, me unwilling to allow either of them to carry around actual beer and knowing we would not be able to come the next day to check whether that offering had been accepted. The chair itself is noticeably cooler than the bricks around it, but the odd thing is that it was not cool to the touch until you sat in it. Several times we observed how when someone was fully seated, their back would get tingly and the arms would markedly drop in temperature, but only after they had been on there for a few seconds.
We picked up the jars from the fairy trail and the path leading back into Colby-Alderman Park, sealed them, and left. We placed them on the cabinet next to the front door of the house which had served for a while as an altar for meditation. The legend trip was done, but the story continued. A few months later, a Ouija board right next to the cabinet tried to escape by knocking down everything in the closet. One witch visiting who did not know about our trip asked me what the hell was in those jars and how soon could we get them out of the house. She could see a weird light and feel the energy from them. Another sensitive visitor claimed she could hear whispering whenever she was close to them but could not make out what was being said. I was tormented several times with three knocks on my front door with no one there after I released them several days after their comments.
The most profound moment happened just a few month later. A friend who had unknowingly donated an earring to one of the jars told me she had gotten pregnant. I was able to unofficially track the date of conception to the time immediately after the night I let whatever was stuck in a jar with her earring out. She told me the doctors had told them it was a miracle, and that they had given up hope and just started looking into adoption.
Fairy work is much like legend tripping. It begins with stories passed down and a chase to catch lightening in a bottle (or a jar), and success is often more based on the stories you come away with than anything you can hold up and show other people.
A pot of gold still would have been nice though.
Haunted Ocala is now ready for order…
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