A Guide Through New York State's Most Haunted Road Trip

Instead of the usual Halloween movie marathon and candy, how about actually experiencing some Stephen-King level creepy haunts?
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Newfane Historical Society

The infamous Van Horn Mansion has been around since 1823... 

With the help of the Haunted History Trail of New York State, daredevils seeking scary-good-fun are now able to easily discover the most spooky destinations around, while exploring Upstate NY like never before. Grab a friend and navigate through every one of the most terrifying places on what is sure to be the creepiest road trip ever.  

From the Rolling Hills Asylum filled with a slew of possessed characters and the infamous Van Horn haunted mansion where an young wife’s murder occurred and remains unsolved, to the famed 1921 Rapids Theatre well known for its series of tunnels and passages in which apparitions and spirits are regularly seen (and heard) and the Iron Island Museum where ghostly children come out to play and war veterans roam the halls, this trip is guaranteed to be both freaky and memorable.

I had the chance to check out some of the best attractions, complete with first-person accounts of the noteworthy sightings and interactions with the dead. I’m unsure if I fully believe in apparitions; however, after speaking with numerous believers and hearing the history behind these haunted destinations, I will say that it’s a lot harder for me to shrug off the idea that ghosts live among us.

Van Horn Mansion
If you’re looking for a classic haunted house, the historic Van Horn Mansion is a must. The Van Horn Mansion, located in Niagara County, is a restored home of the 1800s. The mansion has 16 rooms and five bathrooms filled with original artifacts, clothing, furniture, and toys. The mansion is widely believed to be haunted by a number of spirits, the most famous being Malinda Niles Van Horn, who died over 150 years ago.

In 1836, 28-year-old James Van Horn Jr. married a 20-year-old named Malinda Niles. Within a year she mysteriously passed away. Theories suggest murder by her husband or suicide. Whatever the case, rumors are that that spirits, especially Melinda’s, are commonly seen by passersby. During the ghost tour, guests are led by candlelight through the halls and grounds of the infamous haunted house as they’re told about the ghostly legends and eerie stories that have taken place there.

Rapids Theatre
Scare-seekers who are also into music and theatre need to check out the historic Rapids Theatre, home to paranormal activity that includes: voices and footsteps heard, crying, screams, doors opening and closing (and locking shut), whistling and key jingling, and even full blown apparition sightings. Among other things, it’s believed to be haunted by the ghost of an actress who committed suicide backstage.

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General manager, Mark Violino, toured us throughout the basements, underground hallways and tunnels, secret rooms, and abandoned excavation areas — all of which were extremely creepy. Interestingly enough, many of the tunnels existed before the theatre even did and many believe them to have been a part of The Underground Railroad. Moreover, during prohibition these tunnels also were used as passages to smuggle alcohol from Canada.

Entities said to frequent the establishment include the “whistling man,” who Mark hears loud and clear regularly; Syfy’s Ghost Hunters (and Mark’s wife) have seen something walking back and forth in front of the main bar; there was even an instance in the restroom where a woman heard what she thought to be vomiting. After asking aloud if the mysterious presence was ok, a voice whispered “no” in her ear — no physical person was in the area. Others have seen “orbs” in photographs taken in the building and felt strong presences pass by.

The weirdest story told? Mark pointed out that whatever is in the building is, “able to mess with you or time.” Mark gave us an example, “I would be in my office, doing payroll or some monotonous task, and time literally skipped ahead 40 minutes. I was freaked out because I hadn’t gotten anything done and it had felt like only two seconds had past. And it’s happened more than once. You just can’t explain it.”

Iron Island Museum
Marge Thielman Hastreiter, the President of Iron Island, gives tours of this museum as well as full descriptions of all the paranormal activity often spotted. The museum was created in a former church, built in 1883, which closed in the late 1940s. It remained empty until 1956, when it was then purchased and turned into a funeral home. It wasn’t until 2000 that it was donated to the Iron Island Preservation Society of Lovejoy, Inc. for its museum. With tons of history from the neighborhood, City of Buffalo, the railroad, the military and more, you quickly get why this place is haunted.

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Marge describes stories of seeing shadow people with her own eyes, while others have sworn they’ve seen a blue and white figure floating through the front door. More bizarre instances such as picture frames falling on the floor and staying up right and children running around and pinching peoples’ legs are common occurrences. The room dedicated to railroad history, soon became the children’s room as a result of the consistent child paranormal activity.

“Records from the 1950s, when it was a funeral home, show so many children were laid out in this building — we thought there had been an epidemic. We have confirmed (from funeral home records) two of the spirits’ identities, one is Tommy and the other Richard, who had died drowning in his bathtub.” Explains Marge. “He lived just a few doors down in a home that his father and sister still share. His father confirmed he did have a condition that caused seizures and that he died in his tub. We actually have Richard’s voice in a recording saying, ‘oh boy I’m drowning.’”

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Marge, who loves this museum and its history, also told us the story of her own son who passed away at six years old from ammonia. He was laid out in the funeral home as well. She believes — and has confirmed with Syfy’s Ghost Hunters —  that the spirit she often feels following her around in the museum and home with her is indeed her son.

Rolling Hills Asylum
We were lucky — or unlucky enough, depending on your point of view — to spend an evening locked for three hours in the infamous Rolling Hills Asylum. Established in 1827, the Genesee County Poor House (originally a working farm) soon became a refuge for many of society’s less fortunate. From widows and orphans to the mentally ill and deluded, there are over 1,700 documented deaths and hundreds more unrecorded. Haunted North America has rated this asylum as the second most haunted site in the United States.

With zero light in the building, things got pretty freaky once the sun set. The hallways, one of which is known as “the shadow people hallway” are often areas of high activity. Each room has its own story and spirits that haunt it. An example? One room is home to everyone’s favorite, benevolent, 7-foot-tall shadow man, Roy. It’s widely believed that Roy will dance with any lady that walks in to the room with classical music playing. Then there’s the butcher that harasses females and the stories of shadows pacing back and forth. Oh, and roaming child, Jack.

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Most unexpected moments of the lock-in occurred when we “communicated” with the spirits by asking them questions and getting yes or no responses via flashlight. We also were with professionals who had what is known as a spirit box, which supposedly detects when and what spirits are trying to communicate. Though I can’t be 100 percent sure if the communication we had with these spirits were real or figments of my imagination, it was unlike anything I’ve done before, and I recommend experiencing it at least once before disregarding it.

Sharon Coyle, proprietor at Rolling Hills Asylum, recalls one of the scariest moments at the asylum: “Several years ago and I was standing on the first floor, singing ‘happy holidays,’ and thanking our team for their work, when all of the sudden I started hearing this ‘Bam! Bam! Bam!’ coming from Jack’s solarium, on the floor above. This noise kept getting louder and quicker over my head and I thought someone had broken into the building.” Continues Coyle. “I called the marshal to tell him what I had heard; I was really nervous. The recording sounded like a guy with a peg leg… When we finally got to the hospital room, one of the crutches that normally leaned against the wall had fallen down. The noise from earlier sounded exactly like someone with just one crutch, running down the hallway.”

The Naples Hotel
The Naples Hotel, built in 1895, has been home to countless travelers over the years, some of which people claim have never left. The hotel’s 32 rooms are haunted by at least six friendly spirits, including a woman and her children, as well as a gentleman named Topper. They are known to move pictures, turn lights on, and lock doors, among other things.

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Stories of the paranormal include one in which after a private party, the wait staff began to clean up the dining area, but were unable to move the chairs; it’s said that it was because the spirits were still sitting. Then there’s the woman called Alice, who has two kids that are frequently heard running around, disturbing guests. Throughout the various rooms, the room Sake, has the most noted activity which has ranged from the television turning off and on, channels changing, or the rocking chair starts to rock, to more serious things like coat hangers flying through the room or a strange man sitting on the couch, staring.

Domonick Gallo, the Naples Hotel chef and owner who is also the ghost expert, attests that, “If your friendly and believe (in spirits) then you'll have a great experience. However, if you're rude then you're likely to ‘run out in the middle of the night.’” Rumors say that in the Cabernet room a woman who smells like lilac can be seen from time to time and that a Civil War solider walks around the basement.

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Tip: Before you head back out on the road, stop by Jeni’s Pies for award winning grape pie, as well as other unbelievable treats like coconut custard or apple pie. Joseph’s Wayside Market is another stop you won’t regret making. From a huge collection of various festive pumpkins, squash, and fall décor and fresh produce such as grapes and beets, to homemade preserves and maple syrups and baked goodies like warm pumpkin cream doughnuts, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy shop.

Miles Wine Cellars
For a more peaceful “haunted” destination, head to Miles Wine Cellars, which is located in a Greek revival mansion that overlooks Seneca Lake. The home was originally built in 1802, and is filled with unexplainable occurrences such as slamming doors, footsteps, and bizarre sounds have manifested on the property for years.

It began when a young couple was working to renovate the house. Before they could complete the renovation of the property, the gentleman accidentally fell three stories and passed away because of the incident. The lady, also passed away shortly thereafter, from what many say was a broken heart. To celebrate this otherworldly couple, Miles Wine Cellar now produces a “Ghost” wine, a chardonnay, and Cayuga blend.

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On the bottle’s design, they have reunited the young couple. The image on the front of the bottle is a ghost-like silhouette of a woman. Through the silhouette and the wine is the bottle, where one can see the drawing of the house, which appears on the back of the wine bottle.

Aside from this couple’s tragic story, there is a lot of history that has taken place at Miles Wine Cellars. Underneath the property are a series of tunnels which are believed to be a part of The Underground Railroad. Countless artifacts have been found throughout the property and continue to be a subject of great fascination to both history buffs and the paranormal thrill-seekers alike.

For more information on the Haunted History Trail of New York State, click here.

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