Since 1923 in Cassadaga, the Seance Room has been
where they call upon and talk to the dead
Seances occur throughout the 57-acre Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, but some places are more conducive to contacting those who exist beyond the veil that separates physical and spirit realms.
Excerpt from book available
in the new Florida History Bookstore
By Ronald Williamson
The small room's simplicity is deceptive.
A few wooden chairs line windowless, bare wooden walls. There's a plain wooden table and a single wooden door. A dim red light bulb is set in the ceiling.
This is a special, even sacrosanct place, unique in this part of Florida and uncommon in the world.
Since 1923, the Seance Room behind the walls of the Colby Memorial Temple has been a place to call upon and communicate with the dead. Virtual rivers of ectoplasm have streamed through its interior, flowing from mediums' bodies to reveal shapes and forms of spirits who advise the living.
'That room has been saturated for 80 years by people coming here for that one purpose -- to communicate with spirits.'
At least, that's what initiates say of the room behind the temple platform in Cassadaga, the oldest Spiritualist community in the South.
Established in 1894, the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association built this brick temple on the steep hill overlooking Spirit Pond at a time when horses and buggies were common in these sand hills and shimmering lakes.
The popularity of the seance -- a gathering of people to attempt communication with the spirit world -- has waxed and waned over the decades since the room was built, said the Rev. James Watson as we sat just outside the room. Watson, 52, is a medium and camp president.
He is well-traveled among Florida's Spiritualist communities, but said he has never seen another church with a room specifically for seances.
Seances occur all over the 57-acre camp, within buildings and homes, but certain places and conditions are more conducive to contacting those who exist beyond the veil that separates physical and spirit realms. Quiet gatherings with no distractions, low light and open minds are helpful. Sometimes the Seance Room is darkened, or lighted with candles.
"That room has been saturated for 80 years by people coming here for that one purpose -- to communicate with spirits. So, in some respects, it's a lot easier there because the purpose has already been set up," Watson said. "You know why you are there; they know why you are there."
It's a familiar, well-used portal between the physical and spirit worlds.
"The veil, for lack of a better term, is thinner in that room," he said. So thin, in fact, that spirits sometimes visit when no one calls.
Once, he was in the temple's seance room with seven people when money started falling from the air.
"You can be out here on a Sunday, giving a lecture, and you can hear them. They're like this," he said, thumping his cane on the floor, "or bumping the walls, letting you know they are there."
No records are kept of seances, but mediums tell of extraordinary occurrences.
As a child in the early 1960s, Louis Gates recalls being in the room with his mother when "a little girl that you could see through" appeared and talked to him. Gates, 53, a medium who lives across the street from the temple, said he has lived in and around Cassadaga most of his life, has attended many seances and conducted more than 100.
Once, he was in the temple's seance room with seven people when money started falling from the air. Another time, a spirit holding a lighted candle followed him and five other people from the room.
"We have had the room get very cold and then real hot. We have also heard voices in the walls and people moving around," he said. "It would take a long time to tell all the wonderful things that happen in that special room."
"I have seen hands form of ectoplasm on the table next to mine and have had them touch me," said Cassadaga medium Victor Vogenitz, 54, a veteran of hundreds of seances.
People respond to the room in different ways, said Watson. Visitors sometimes feel vibrations, or a presence, or gain new insight.
"They walk in that room and all of a sudden -- whoa! -- they realize there's something different here. They don't understand why, they don't understand what to do with it, but they feel the energy."
At one end of the room, is a curtained space called the cabinet. It contains a chair with worn wooden hand rests. The cabinet helps contain and concentrate ectoplasm, a cloudy, ethereal smoke that emits from the medium's body, before it swirls around a spirit, making it visible.
Skeptics scoff at such claims, and they may be right. People experience life, and see the same things, in different ways. But ectoplasm or no ectoplasm, spirits or no, it's undeniable that the hallowed space in the old temple has been a place of fervent, devout human passion for generations.
Like an old baptismal basin, an antique confessional or venerated altar in any church, the room is a receptacle of communal energies generated by respect and reverence of those who use it.
Never mind materializations or manifestations. The deep, long touch of humanity has sanctified the little room in Colby Temple.
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Volusia County's West Side: Steamboats and Sandhills
Volusia County's West Side: Steamboats and Sandhills