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A GHOSTLY WALK INTO THE PAST

Legend has it, during the dark, wee hours of the morning, the ghost of Jimmy Slattery can be seen walking up and down Chippewa Street.

At least that's how the tale is told by Mason Winfield, ghost hunter.

"I'm a historian and a folklorist," said Winfield, 53. "I try to present the facts and let people make up their own minds."

Winfield -- founder of Haunted History Ghost Walks -- is also a popular guy during the Halloween season.

Winfield's got plenty of ghoulish and ghostly stories, after researching and repackaging lots of spooky Western New York lore over the years.

There's the Lancaster Opera House with its stories of the apparition "Priscilla," who admires performances from the balcony, and its prankster ghost "William," blamed for the little unexplained occurrences in the building.

There's the Dock at the Bay in Blasdell, the old Willink Hotel, and tales of reputed spook Capt. James Byrd, who was shot after anchoring in the bay in 1814.

And there are stories of the mischievous little-girl ghost "Tanya," who likes to play tricks on the staff at the Grand Island Holiday Inn.

"The little-girl ghost is the most common ghostly form reported," said Winfield. "I think the little-girl ghosts must have a Brownie troop in Buffalo."

Last weekend, in fact, 110 people paid as much as $10 each to go on Winfield's East Aurora ghost walk. Meanwhile, at the Lewiston ghost walk, 180 people turned out.

"The ghost walks have just really taken Lewiston by storm," said Eva Nicklas, artistic director of the Lewiston Council of the Arts, which started the ghost walks this year.

Winfield has other ghost walks, including Buffalo's Theater District, where he could be found one recent fall afternoon reciting some of the eerie scripts from his tour.

Winfield stood in front of the Sphere Entertainment Complex, the old Pfeifer Theater.

Once, the story goes, half the people in a tour group burst into tears for no apparent reason while walking through a "cold spot" on the catwalk, he said.

Winfield's no psychic, and he's no ghostbuster. He's a guy from East Aurora who admits he never outgrew his childhood fascination with ghost stories. He has a master's degree in British literature, but quit his day job as an English teacher several years ago to devote his time to tracking down paranormal reports.

Just don't expect to see ghosts on any of his ghost walks.

A lot of the stories, in fact, aren't necessarily scary.

They're history lessons of old buildings and landmarks, mixed with intriguing anecdotes of strange happenings reported on the sites.

"I look at these walks as a terrific opportunity to teach about the history of the region, its architecture and about paranormal psychology," he said.

The ghost walks wrap up for the year today with 5 p.m. tours in the Theater District, Allentown, East Aurora and Lewiston.

On this afternoon, Winfield stared across Chippewa Street, and retold the tale of Jimmy Slattery, a champion boxer from Buffalo, who fought like poetry in motion before quitting while still in his prime.

Slattery, though, also was known to be a ladies' man who died in a room at the old House O' Quinn on Chippewa in 1960, Winfield said.

Since then, he said, there occasionally have been unexplained, late-night reports of a figure dressed in old-time garb walking up and down Chippewa.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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