As Halloween shadows descend, it is thrilling to read a tale by Edgar Allan Poe or Washington Irving.
But it can be even more thrilling to hear a ghost story told to you in person – with a group of other people who are shivering just as you are.
Margee Kerr, who bears the impressive title of staff sociologist at the ScareHouse in Pittsburgh, has studied the science of fear. She says people like to get together for tours and haunted sites for the elation and camaraderie they feel when it’s over.
“Once you’ve overcome the haunted experience, that feeling of mastery will eventually evoke nostalgia and leave a positive memory with people,” Kerr said. “Surviving the haunt truly becomes a bonding experience. People become close to each other just waiting in line and then high-five at the finish line.”
Mason Winfield, who leads Haunted History Ghost Walks, writes books on the supernatural and is probably Western New York’s best-known ghost guide, feeds off that kind of fellowship.
Winfield knows so much about ghosts that he even has shorthand for them: SPOTUK, meaning Supernatural Phenomena of the Usual Kind. He loves to alert people to unseen presences, and he loves how people react.
“One stop on my East Aurora tour, it cracks me up,” he said. “I’ll be under a street light, and as the story goes on, you can hear a pin drop. They’re all just looking at me with horrible expressions like, ‘How much worse can it get?’ Each fact I give them, I’ll turn and time it – slowly survey the group and make eye contact with everyone. I’ll end it with a joke,” he laughed. “I’ll say, ‘Gee, I’m sorry to scare you, but it is a ghost story. This isn’t Disneyland.’ ”
A ghost walk, Winfield points out, is at least partly a history walk. People are exploring the past.
“We look for what we call nuggets,” Winfield said. “Really interesting factoids about a neighborhood, or a building, or a historic personality, that cause people to light up and go, ‘Wow!’ We really love those moments.”
As do most of us, however secretly.
Here are a host of tours that celebrate local history and hauntings.
In the city
Shadowy lanes: At 7 p.m. Friday and Nov. 1, Winfield or his friends will walk you through the dark streets of Allentown, so named because centuries ago it was part of a farm owned by a man named Allen, and – well, let us draw the curtain of mystery over the rest of the story. Meet at 7 p.m. at the Allen Street Hardware (245 Allen St.). $15, $10 kids ages 7-11, younger than 7 free. 655-6663, www.hauntedhistoryghostwalks.com.
The haunted block: The McKinley Curse tour is unique among Winfield’s dusky offerings in that it focuses on what he calls landscape supernaturalism. The tour explores this uneasy territory within the framework of the former estate of John J. Albright, bounded by Elmwood, Cleveland, Delaware and West Ferry. Stops include Nardin Academy – “It has a ghost story or two,” Winfield said – and Canisius High School, whose gym was once a Masonic building. Meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at haunted Spot Coffee (765 Elmwood Ave.). The Spot Coffee really is haunted! So Winfield said. 655-6663, www.hauntedhistoryghostwalks.com. $15; kids 7-11 are $10; younger than 7 are free.
Spirits with your spirits: Public houses are the haunts not only for the living but for the dead. An Allentown Halloween Pub Crawl meets at 6:30 p.m. next Thursday (Halloween) at Frizzy’s Bar & Grill (140 Allen St.). The tour lasts about 2ø hours. $20, drinks not included. 655-6663, www.hauntedhistoryghostwalks.com.
Spirits arrive and depart: Another Beyond Ghosts tour zeroes in on the Central Terminal (495 Paderewski Drive). Crocitto and company explore a tower floor, the Trolley Lobby below the concourse (the source of whispers about organized crime) and the hushed Fedele’s Apartment on the second floor. They ask that you wear comfortable shoes or sneakers (no sandals), and bring a flashlight. Kids younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Candlelight tours are about an hour long. The tours run every half hour between 6:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday and next Thursday (Halloween). On Nov. 1 and 2, tours leave every half hour between 6 and 8 p.m. $20.
Hard-core Central Terminal ghost hunters may troll for trouble with a Para-History Experience Tour (reservations suggested). Mediums and paranormal equipment will reach out to the undead in the terminal’s nooks and crannies including the Baggage Claim area – where, it is whispered, long-dead travelers wait for luggage that never arrives. From 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 1 and 2. $40. www.beyondghosts.com.
The ghosts of Iron Island: The Iron Island Museum (998 E Lovejoy St.) once was a funeral home, and if that is not an invitation to ghosts, we do not know what is. Nationally renowned ghost hunters have inspected the place and liked what they found. Special Halloween Tours take place at the museum and cost $5. Wheedles the museum: “Come hear some spooky stories and see if the spirits come out to visit.”
Tours are scheduled for 7 tonight; 5:30 p.m. Friday (with Food Truck Rodeo); 10:30 a.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and next Thursday $5. 892-3084, www.ironislandmuseum.com.
A toast to a ghost: A Theater District Haunted Pub Crawl meets tonight and lasts about 2ø hours. Meet at 6:30 p.m. today at Founding Fathers Pub (75 Edward St.). There, a mysterious woman in a billowy, old-fashioned red dress has been seen going into the men’s room. “They don’t claim to know who she is, but that gives it more authenticity,” Winfield said.
From Founding Fathers, the tour moves on to other taverns including the Snooty Fox and Laughlin’s. It ends at Fat Bob’s, where another apparition supposedly involves the men’s room. $20, drinks not included. 655-6663, www.hauntedhistoryghostwalks.com.
Ghost ships: John Crocitto, leader of Beyond Ghosts, uses paranormal equipment designed to detect whispers from the next world. On Friday, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., in an event called the Buffalo Naval Park Para-History Experience, he and his gadgets board the battleships on Buffalo’s waterfront, and you may accompany them.
“The most ‘active’ or haunted areas of the Little Rock are the Officers’ Mess Hall, the Korean War Exhibit and the ship’s missile launching compartment,” Crocitto said. “On the USS The Sullivans, the paranormal phenomena is more spread out, and at times seems to follow groups and participants around while aboard. Even the Croaker submarine has had reports of ghostly scenarios, especially in the area where the sailors would bunk for the night.”
Brrrr! But he adds: “None of the activity seems to be dangerous, malicious or scary, and some of it even seems to be curious and maybe even somewhat playful at times. This is ‘para-history’ at its finest here in Buffalo.”
The Buffalo Naval Park is located at Canalside. $30, limited tickets. www.beyondghosts.com.
Lockport’s bridge of sighs: One of Western New York’s oldest towns has yielded a truly bizarre past, said John Koerner of Paranormal Walks. He goes on to talk about secret societies, angels and apparitions.
For starters, there’s the bridge over the Erie Canal. “This is a weird bridge,” Koerner said. “Lockport’s first murder, a mysterious sea creature report and a host of ghostly suicides are all associated with this crossing. Ironically enough, lovers from throughout the area choose this spot to put locks on the bridge to show their eternal love.” The curious may meet at 7 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 2 at Lake Effect Artisan Ice Cream Cafe (79 Canal St., Lockport). $10, children younger than 7 are free. www.paranormalwalks.com. 842-0219.
Meet at the old mill: On Wednesday, Cassandra Joan Butler will be leading a Haunted History Ghost Walk of wild Williamsville. The tour meets at 7 p.m. at the Williamsville Water Mill, where a mother-and-daughter ghost team has reportedly been spotted out on the porch on nights when the moon is full. It makes a stop at the historic Eagle House, a beautiful old tavern where the friendly ghosts of American and British soldiers are known to meet and mingle. The tour ends at SS. Peter and Paul Church. Winfield calls it a “fantastic church” with a wonderful story about a woman in white. Adults $15; kids 7 to 11, $10; kids younger than 7 are free. 655-6663 www.hauntedhistoryghostwalks.com.
East Aurora’s secrets: Winfield’s legendary tour of East Aurora begins and ends at the Roycroft Inn, where the apparition of Elbert Hubbard has been seen, upstairs in his office. Outside, you might spot a ghost before the tour even starts. According to Winfield’s latest book, South Grove Street plays host to a mysterious Lady in Blue who is said to have conversed with people on a porch across from the Roycroft Inn.
The tour meets at 7 p.m. Saturday outside the Roycroft Inn (40 S. Grove St., East Aurora). Adults $15; kids 7 to 11, $10; those younger than 7 are free. 655-6663. www.hauntedhistoryghostwalks.com.
Haunted Hamburg: Koerner, who teaches history at Erie Community College, is the author of “The Secret Plot to Kill McKinley” as well as books about the miracles of Father Baker.
The saintly priest is one of the figures to figure in his tour of supernatural Hamburg. A Southtowns native, Koerner visits a number of sites said to have paranormal activity, such as the Hamburg Unitarian Church.
He takes along ghost-hunting equipment and, we hear, is not afraid to use it.
The tours take place at 7 p.m. Friday and Nov. 1. Meet at Monroe’s Place/Melanie’s Eats and Sweets Cafe (182 Lake St., Hamburg). $10 per person; children younger than 7 are free. www.paranormalwalks.com.
Strangers on a train: All aboard the Phantom Express! A ghost train will take you from the Medina Railroad Museum (530 West Ave., Medina) to Lockport and back for a two-hour trip back in time. Enjoy wine from local wineries and chocolates from neighboring chocolatiers. Best of all, Winfield and his henchmen will be aboard, telling tales of Niagara and Orleans counties, along the train route and the old Ridge Road.
The train leaves Medina at 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Cost is $35 for a coach ticket, or for $52 you may upgrade to first class and travel in Victorian civility, sharing wine and one-on-one conversations with storytellers. This is a 21-and-older event. Call (585) 798-6106.
Breaking the silence: Mum’s the word in Mumford. But secrets will come out, and the natives of this small hamlet near Rochester are finally opening up about the spirits in their midst.
“Even with a century and more exposure to movies, television and other new terrors, the horror tales and frightening characters of 19th century writings still have a hold on us today,” said Judy Markham.
These Victorian characters come to life in Spirits of the Past Theatrical Tour, today through Saturday. Against the brooding backdrop of the dimly lighted streets of its historic village, the 75-minute guided tour revisits scenes from the fevered imaginations of Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and others.
Tours depart from the Genesee Country Village & Museum (1410 Flint Hill Road, Mumford) every 10 minutes from 7 to 9 p.m. today and 6 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $16; reservations required. Not recommended for kids younger than 12. Call (585) 538-6822.