When you hear “clairvoyant” and “séance,” do you picture a turbaned woman with rings on every finger at an exotically draped table? Not at Camp Chesterfield, a historic enclave near Anderson, IN, founded in 1886 and operated by the Indiana Association of Spiritualists. On August 25, Indiana Landmarks sponsors Camp Chesterfield Experience, a day of lectures and tours exploring the camp’s unusual history and current programs and challenges.
Camp Chesterfield displays landscape features and landmark buildings from the its nineteenth-century seasonal roots to its last growth spurt in the 1950s. What began as a summer tent camp on the banks of White River is now a permanent 40-acre settlement. Building boomlets followed World Wars I and II, when grief-stricken people found comfort in the possibility of speaking to relatives killed in battle through resident mediums.
Queen Victoria, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Hoosier author Booth Tarkington were among the millions captured by Spiritualism—a religion based on the belief that the spirits of the departed continue to evolve and can communicate with the living. From the 1840s through the 1920s, Spiritualism attracted a wide following, particularly among the educated elite, many of whom were devout believers in various Protestant faiths.
On Indiana Landmarks’ August 25 Camp Chesterfield Experience, participants will see the Trail of Religion, a river rock grotto, and the “Toadstools,” a meadow of concrete chairs and mini-pedestal tables where mediums held readings in the old days. The Hett Art Gallery and Museum presents a collection of psychic art, spirit photography, and precipitated portraits (paintings of the deceased facilitated by mediums).
Camp Chesterfield Experience includes lectures on the history and evolution of the Spiritualist movement by resident mediums. The camp historian leads a tour showcasing the historic structures. J.P. Hall of Indiana Landmarks discusses the camp’s preservation issues, including the 800-seat Cathedral of the Woods, residential cottages and the vacant 1914 Sunflower Hotel.
Camp Chesterfield Experience runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on August 25. The program costs $45 per person, which covers lectures, lunch and tours. Non-air-conditioned rooms are available at the camp’s 1948 Western Hotel for those who wish to spend the night.
To register, call Indiana Landmarks, 317-639-4534 or 800-450-4534, or register online at chesterfieldexperience.eventbrite.com.