If you were dead and could come back, you might go somewhere interesting like Polynesia, New York or Italy. Or maybe you'd end up in a place likely to draw spirits, such as Salem or Sedona or even our own belovedly weird Cassadaga.
You would never think of Bithlo. Even living people, who seldom demonstrate any sense at all, stay away from Bithlo. Any entity that had been into The Light wouldn't go through that darkened doorway we like to call The Nightmare Before Christmas. You'd think.
Still, we drove past the handful of rusty, sawed-off, broken-down trailers and their rusty, sawed-off, broken-down owners to the last place you'd expect to find The Doorway To Heaven. This is the sign on the sort-of-folk-artish wishing well in front of Michael Kurban's Spiritual Museum, what he calls "a Ripley's Believe It or Not of the Spirit World."
"The spirits follow me wherever I go," Kurban says, and Florida "is the capital of the psychic world," evidenced by lightning's attraction to us, energy drawn to a special place.
The departed show themselves mainly through Polaroids. For proof, Kurban takes a couple of shots of my companion Matt and me in front of a cherry tree, which Kurban says once turned solid gold (a branch is inside the museum). The shots are blurry, but he points out a white glow (mainly surrounding Matt) that suggests spirits are here with us. He's disappointed we didn't arrive earlier so he could take a photo of the sun, which would show a doorway in the sky, the Doorway, he says, To Heaven.
The museum (the lower floor of Kurban's home) is largely a collection of random occult objects. It's something of a Spiritualist Hard Rock Cafe; many items belonged to mediums. There's a seance chalk board (reading "help me," conveying the needs of a trapped spirit), a spirit trumpet (used in seances for spirits to "speak" through), an 18th-century voodoo doll looking mummified in a little doll coffin and an antique "massager," which I think I've seen on a Museum of Vibrators website.
There's an antique Ouija board, a tool that Kurban says is "dangerous" because it lets amateurs fool with the spirit world. He says Ouijas have flown through the air and cut people's fingers off. I have a Ouija board mouse pad and ask if that's bad (God knows what that mouse spells out, probably stuff like "Your shirt is on backwards"). Kurban laughs, like a kid being teased.
The branch that is supposed to have turned solid gold bears some metallic residue, but there's a bug crawling on it. It's not a spirit bug.
Then there are the Polaroids, tons of them, some taken near Disney's Haunted Mansion, which Kurban says attracts energy because so many people are thinking about spirits while standing around it. He points out images that he says are spirits hoping to be seen. Many demand a Rorschach interpretation. Some I can see, like the Shroud of Turin in the gorilla cage at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Some I can't see, and when I say so, Kurban directs his attentions at Matt.
But a few images do stand out in eerie detail, ghostly faces that could make the predisposed feel a little creepy -- an old man, a spirit breathing smoke, a bearded figure that Kurban says is Jesus Christ. They're sort of like cloud pictures, but these few offer a spooky mist of believability. He has pictures of the grave of his cat, Angel, in which he says you can see a spirit horse, a spirit flamingo and a spirit cat that have come to take her into the next world.
OK. But you've gotta give the guy credit for trying to make anything come to life in Bithlo. Kurban had a psychic cable-access TV show in Chicago and has appeared on several talk shows, including "Jerry Springer," where he married two guys. (He mentions that while homosexuality is okeydokey, the spirits don't like transsexuals because they're "selfish.") He could do the ceremony thanks to his licensing from the Universal Life Church. (I find out later that Matt is also licensed by the Universal Life Church; any minister can ordain another. Or you can go to their website and click on the "Become Ordained Here" page.)
The Spiritual Museum smacks of those Old Florida attractions, the kind people found on the moss-draped back roads of a pre-I-4 state where enterprising locals set up entertainments in their backyards hoping to entice an out-of-state plate or two.
You can't help but notice the wishing well is dry. Still, Kurban has faith in an alternate reality and will try to convince you of it, too, if you make an appointment to look at the Polaroids. After all, there is no more alternative reality than Bithlo.
For information on classes or tours at the Doorway to Heaven Spiritual Museum, call Michael Kurban at (407) 568-3833.
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