“Do you feel that?” I asked my friend Carrie.
“The floor is uneven,” she said. “I feel really out of sorts.”
At the end of the hallway, we opened a door to what looked like the room of a 90-year-old woman – dusty, rose-painted walls, a flower-patterned comforter with matching shower curtain, a framed painting of a garden. Sunlight streamed through the weathered windows.
“It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and I’m scared out of my mind,” I said. “I can’t imagine how I’ll feel after the sun goes down. Prepare for cuddling!”
I had read the spooky comments from previous guests on the Internet. Even the hotel’s website says it’s haunted. And despite the warnings, I was scared and rethinking this haunted house sleepover thing.
“Be afraid of the living, never of the dead,” said Aylah Casanas, the hotel manager. “Cassadaga is a town that was built solely as a spiritual community, so spirits feel accepted here. That’s why there’s so many.”
Me: “So, the hotel is haunted.”
“Oh, definitely,” she said. “But every old building is.”
I still had the creeps.
“Remember, this isn’t a tourist destination,” she continued. “It’s a spiritual experience. Center yourself and accept what you came here to receive.”
I had wanted to come to Cassadaga ever since university, when one of my creative writing professors claimed it was the best place to cure writer’s block. It was only 20 miles outside of Orlando, where I went to school, but for some reason I never made it.
The small town was founded in 1874, by a New Yorker named George Colby. History states that Colby was led through the backwoods of Central Florida by his spirit guide Seneca, fulfilling a prophecy that he received during a séance that he would establish a spiritualist community in the south.
More than a hundred years later, the 57 acres holds 55 residences, 25 of which open its doors to people wanting psychic readings. It’s a community of spiritualists who have accepted each other and their gifts, living the way I think George Colby would have wanted.
By the time the rest of the girls arrived, Carrie and I had bought healing stones, sage and dream catchers from the hotel gift shop and learned about an “aura imaging reading” class that night. Twenty-five dollars got us a printout from a special aura reading machine, a mini numerology lesson and a small vial of essential oil. Everyone signed up.
In a small, dimly lit room on the second floor of the hotel, six of us sat in a circle while our instructor chanted and passed out brightly colored scarves to signify the seven chakras: the crown, third eye, throat, heart, solar plexus, sacral and root. Chakras, we were told, are the energy centers in or bodies and are associated with specific colors.
We took turns placing our palms on a metal device as waves of blues, greens and reds encircled our bodies on a computer screen.
“Ommmm… ommm… ommm… shanti… shanti… shanti… ommm… ommm… ommm… peace… peace… peace,” we all said in unison after each reading.
I wondered if my friends were taking this seriously.
The hotel manager’s words returned to me: “Accept what you came here to receive.”
“You have a beautiful aura,” the instructor said. “You are very happy. Don’t change a thing.”
“Nothing?” I stammered. “But…”
“You are at peace,” she said. “Congratulations.”
I slumped back in my chair, reciting the mantra as my friends received prophecies of career changes, future successes, advice on becoming more centered. Lana even had a guardian angel floating above her aura a sign someone was looking out for her.
“Okay, who’s hungry?” I asked.
Over glasses of cabernet, plates of cheese and bowls of leafy greens, we discovered that adding the numbers in our birthdays (numerology) would give us insight to predetermined personality traits and what our futures held.
Carrie had a long conversation with the instructor about her children and whether or not her boyfriend was her “soul mate.” Rita discussed a new job offer that would present itself in six months. Jill was told not to believe everything people tell her. Lana was “very grounded.” Jayme learned something that sent her outside in tears.
We went back upstairs, changed into pajamas and gabbed until our eyes were heavy. We caught up on guys, jobs, apartments and reminisced about college days. By the time I fell asleep, I had forgotten I was supposed to be scared.
The next day, the six of us went to church. On the walk there, I learned that I was the only one who had slept.
Lana: “I kept hearing things all night.”
Jill: “I had the creepiest dreams.”
Rita: “Also, we can’t find the key. Do y’all have it?”
We went to the front desk and the receptionist said this kind of thing happens all the time. “The spirits like to move the keys,” she said, in a matter-of-fact voice. “If you find it, just put it in the mailbox. We won’t charge you.”
We headed off to different psychics for palm readings. A hotel medium said to pick a psychic based on a feeling. “You need to be able to feel that it’s right,” she had said. “There’s somebody for everyone.”
I connected with a woman named Torre’, who had been a psychic for more than 20 years, dabbling in tarot card reading, numerology, mediumship (communicating with spirits), past life regression (hypnosis to uncover memories from past lives) and palmistry.
I sat across from her and she held my hand, dusting lavender powder on my palm and examining it with a magnifying glass. At first, she told me the basics: I was going to live a long life, I was going to be somewhat successful and I was going to (eventually) get married.
Then she brought up my old boyfriend, my younger sister, my travels around Asia. She told me my long-dead grandmother was looking over me.
“I have goosebumps,” I told her – something that had been happening all weekend.
“Goosebumps appear when something is true,” she said. “Your grandmother is very proud of you. You are doing everything you’re supposed to be doing. You have a beautiful spirit and will be very happy in life. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
I walked downstairs to meet the girls, tears in my eyes. “I had the best time, guys,” I said. “And this trip just made me realize how lucky I am to have such wonderful people around me.”
We hugged and said our goodbyes. I realized I had gotten exactly what I came for.