You'll find a skeleton in every closet in the netherworld explored by Mason Winfield.
Winfield built a business on spinning ghost tales during walking tours he leads through some of the area's more fabled neighborhoods. Allentown, Larkinville and the Roycroft Campus of East Aurora all hold secrets, according to Winfield.
This season Winfield partnered with Nickel City Tours for "Secret City," a two-hour bus tour that examines Buffalo's grand structures for occult connections.
"Occult doesn't mean sinister; it means underground, not for the mainstream," said Winfield. "Buffalo is world-famous for its architecture, but there is a side to its most celebrated buildings that most of us never see – the mystical and sacred."
Architecture alone does not transform structures from hallowed to haunted, said Winfield. Geographical placement, a structure's footprint, building alignments and the architects themselves figure in to this tour's lineup that includes Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Old County Hall, the former Asbury United Methodist Church (Babeville) and Kleinhan's Music Hall.
At City Hall, Winfield was inspired by the shape of the building, an octagon.
"The octagon was a classic sacred form. It is connected to psychic effects of all types from hauntings and healings to religious visions and enlightenment," said Winfield. "It was thought by the ancients that the shape of a structure would help create a relationship with the gods."
Old County Hall, 95 Franklin St., was built on the site of the Franklin Square Cemetery, the final resting place of many soldiers who died in the War of 1812. But it is the bronze statue of George Washington created by Josip Turkalj and placed in 1976 on a block of Clark Island granite outside the building's Franklin Street entrance that demonstrates the occult connection, said Winfield.
"George is in his Masonic lambskin holding a mason's mallet and what appears to be a Bible," said Winfield. "There are mystical and occult overtones to many Freemason rituals."
The Calumet Building at 46-58 W. Chippewa St. holds mystery in its stunning display of glazed terra cotta ornamentation that includes a crop of flowering plants on its vertical piers, said Winfield. He identified the vegetation as tobacco, one of the sacred herbs used in the Native American ceremonies. That is one reason Winfield included the Calumet on the tour.
"The word 'calumet' is defined as 'a long-stemmed ornamental tobacco pipe used by North American tribes on ceremonial occasions especially as a token of peace," said Winfield. "The building, designed by August Esenwein and James J. Johnson, served as the former home to the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the early '20s."
One team of architects that played a prominent role in the tour was E.B. Green and William Sydney Wicks. Business partners from 1881 to 1917, they collaborated on many of the city's significant buildings. Green designed the public space named Gates Circle at the foot of Chapin Parkway, stated Patrick Kavanagh on the Buffalo Architecture and History website.
At Gates Circle, Green opted for eight bronze light standards, a 1902 cornerstone in Roman numerals and two semi-circular benches made of Barrie granite and extending 115 feet around the center fountain, wrote Kavanagh.
The stone benches were dubbed "whispering galleries" in a Buffalo News story published on May 25, 1945, that carried the headline, "Gates Circle Mystery Baffling to Observers." The story described a sound phenomenon that occurred when a whisper spoken by a person facing the stone bench (at the curve where seat meets back) can be heard by a person stationed at the other end.
Today, the benches are broken in places, creating gaps that block the whisper that can only run along unbroken segments.
The stone benches are an example of archaeoacoustics, or understanding how structures were designed to enhance sound, Winfield said. The benches are one of the reasons Gates Circle is on the tour, Winfield said. He believes rituals may have been performed at Gates Circle that included sound.
"The astonishing connections between ancient and Native American construction and the designers of Buffalo's Golden Age is the point of the tour. Buffalo fits perfectly into "the Da Vinci Code" scheme of mystical patterning," said Winfield, 66, who lives in East Aurora and founded Haunted History Ghost Walks. "Buffalo is not only rich in fine architecture, it is rich in mystery."
Tour facts: Secret City runs at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays through October. Cost is $25. Tour goers are asked to meet at Nickel City Tours, 223 South Park Ave. Call 625-8687 to reserve a seat. All buses offer stadium style seating and are equipped with mounted video screens.