Have you heard of the ‘Devil’s Chair’ in this Florida cemetery?

Thatcher family burial plot at the Lake Helen Cemetery

Tucked away in the Lake Helen cemetery of Volusia County is a brick-laid seat that’s known by locals as the “Devil’s Chair.”

The fabled “Devil’s Chair” found at the Lake Helen Cemetery (Allison Talcott)

The cemetery is found near the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, and several of the original Cassadaga spiritualists are still buried there — including the camp’s founder, George Colby.

The camp’s website states that the community was founded in the late 1800s by Colby, a medium who was allegedly led to the area by his “spirit guide” named Seneca. Now, the community is made up of around 57 acres with 55 homes, serving as a hub for mediums and Spiritualists.

Nowadays, many members of the community are cremated upon death, so there aren’t many from Cassadaga who end up buried in the cemetery anymore.

Many historic figures can be found at the Lake Helen Cemetery, including camp pioneer Mary Stewart, and Lake Helen agricultural pioneers A.H. Pelton, Charles Pelton and Elihu Macy, according to Volusia County Historic Preservation Officer Kimberly Reading. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.)

As told by Sanford-born historian Charlie Carlson in his book “Weird Florida,” the cemetery has guards posted each Halloween to “ward off pranksters and curiosity seekers looking for goblins.” A sign posted at the cemetery says that it closes at dusk, with anyone on the premises after 7 p.m. being considered a trespasser.

“According to the stories, if you sit in this big brick chair at midnight, the devil will communicate with you,” Carlson’s book reads. “The Prince of Darkness also enjoys a cold beer once in a while, for we’re told that if you place an unopened can of beer on the chair, it will be empty the next morning. He’s probably a pretty thirsty fellow after working in all that fire and brimstone.”

The beer myth has been especially popular among locals, with the Red Cypress Brewery in Winter Springs releasing a Devil’s Chair drink prior to the brewery’s closure in 2019.

“That beer was indeed inspired by Cassadaga, and I remember speaking to the owners years ago, who confirmed they would actually bring (coolers) of the beer to that specific Devil’s Chair,” David Butler of Florida Beer Blog told News 6.

Devil’s Chair craft beer by Red Cypress Brewery (Florida Beer Blog)

Meanwhile, Rev. Louis Gates with the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp said there’s truth to the beer myth, though likely not in the way people are expecting.

In fact, much of it stemmed as far back as the mid-to-late 1900s.

“People used to come and get drunk, come out to the graveyard, put their beer on a tombstone,” Gates said. “They put their beer next to the tombstone, next to the chair, thinking that the devil is going to drink the beer. But it wasn’t the devil drinking the beer — it was us teenagers.”

After the teens snagged a free nighttime beer, they would put the can back, leading people to believe that the devil had indeed drunk it, Gates explained.

“We popped the beer, really sort of make a noise,” Gates said. “So they’d have to turn around, but we’d hid. And they’d see the beer was gone. And boy, they’d take off running! We did get quite a bit of beer.”

Due to vandalism at the cemetery over the years, Gates said, fencing was eventually constructed around the cemetery and the curfew was implemented, making escapades like these difficult to continue.

While the Devil’s Chair is located in the Thatcher family’s burial plot, two similar chairs were also built in the cemetery in separate family plots.

However, the Thatcher plot is the easiest to access, hence why that chair became the subject of rumors.

Clarkson family burial plot with white brick-laid mourning chair (Allison Talcott)
Third burial plot found in the Lake Helen Cemetery. The surfaces of the graves have been effaced, though flowers were left at the site as of Oct. 8, 2023. (Anthony Talcott)

Dr. Deborah Bauer — a historian with the Seminole County Historical Society — said that other legends about the Devil’s Chair stem back through the 20th century.

“There’s been a well-documented history of what I can only describe as the unexplained,” she told News 6. “There are people that have taken photos and have seen things like ‘energy orbs.’ There have been paranormal psychologists who have gone out with their equipment to try to see if they can get recordings… There is a substantial amount of activities.”

However, experts say that the legend is nothing more than that — a legend.

Bauer explained that during the 19th century, stone seating areas used to be added to cemetery plots. These “mourning chairs” would give loved ones a place to sit down while paying respects to the departed.

However, due to the misconceptions about the nearby Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, legends sprung up about the chair being haunted.

Grave of John Albert Clarkson, who died in 1917 before reaching even a year old. Offerings were left behind at the gravestone, which is located in the Clarkson burial plot. A mourning chair can be found next to it. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.)

Personal experiences and stories passed down over time might have become warped and exaggerated, much like a game of “telephone.”

“People tell stories of their personalized experience and what they may believe they experienced — they will swear to it,” Bauer said. “It can be influenced by things that they may not realize what they thought they may have experienced may or may not have been the case, or may have been misconceptions.”

The persistent legends have also attracted vandals who damaged graves or removed markers, prompting guards to be posted at the cemetery on Halloween.

“People will come up there for Halloween and try to get in there every year — doesn’t matter…” Gates said. “People like taking mementos, like chipping headstones and doing stuff, and so to stop them from doing that, they blocked it off. People still want to take picture boards, spirit lights and different things from the cemetery. But you’re not supposed to be in there at night.”

While visitors are welcome to check out the cemetery and the fabled Devil’s Chair, it’s important that guests not disturb the graves. Bauer cautioned that many older cemeteries in Florida still suffer from similar issues with vandalism.

“Why was the ‘Devil’s Chair’ created to begin with? It was because someone was mourning the loss of a loved one,” Bauer said. “And we have to maintain respect and try to preserve what we can because otherwise, we’re doing a disrespect to the people who are buried there.”

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