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Exploring psychic folklore Haunted tales wag in heart of downtown

Mason Winfield, Western New York's resident ghost hunter, is taking his "spooktacle" to Niagara Square during the weeks leading up to Halloween.

The Niagara Square Ghost Walk will start at 7 p.m. each Tuesday at Spot Coffee at Delaware Avenue and West Chippewa Street. The fee for the 90-minute tour of haunted architecture is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 7 to 11. Part of the proceeds go to the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier.

"We start at City Hall, which has some terrific ghost stories," said Winfield, an East Aurora resident, "[and] we talk about the occult ornamentation" such as sun symbols.

Asked for a ghost story, Winfield said: "The ghosts I've heard about are incoherent. You don't have any idea who they are. Just a ton of crazy effects that you run into all the time -- darting shadows, and electrical phenomenon, and the elevators acting up; crazy sound effects."

The man who designed City Hall, John J. Wade, also designed the Masonic Consistory, Winfield said, back when Buffalo was a major home of the Freemasons.

"And," he added, "these types of sites tend to collect ghost stories."

The next stop is Niagara Square, where the McKinley Monument stands.

"We talk about the events surrounding the assassination of President McKinley," Winfield said. "There are ghost stories or some type of psychic folklore associated with every spot where McKinley spent his last 24 hours in Buffalo."

Niagara Square was first laid out as a radial hub in the early 1800s by surveyor Joseph Ellicott. Winfield believes that Ellicott created "a henge, an earth circle."

"Ellicott had a reason for locating his formation right there," Winfield speculates. "They often become the center of cities, like Circleville, Ohio, which has its octagonal city square around one of these Native American earthworks."

Winfield believes that Ellicott was a Freemason and that he employed some astronomy in his work.

"He and his brother, Andrew, were certainly exposed to this type of occult architecture," he reasons, "because they [surveyed] Washington, D.C., and designed Buffalo" with some of the features used by Pierre Charles L'Enfant in his design of the nation's capital.

"Both cities have these unique, radial-patterned streets, which seem to point to astronomical features."

Winfield said, "The old courthouse on Franklin Street is a beautiful site of executions and old burial grounds. War dead are buried there."

Then it's on to the Guaranty Building on Church Street, designed by Louis Sullivan and completed in 1896.

"We know that Louis Sullivan, the mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright, was very interested in the ancient megalithic monuments that the Native Americans had built," Winfield said. "We think that this influenced not only Sullivan, but Wright -- one of the early models for Graycliff featured a virtual henge -- an earth circle -- a big earth doughnut."

Winfield says the Guaranty Building is haunted by a Victorian gentleman whom they've nicknamed "Oliver."

"He appears down around the basement floor, and I think he may even appear in the women's restroom once in a while," Winfield said, laughing. "Though he's said to be fairly respectful. He's very discreet."

The tour passes the Buffalo Athletic Club, designed by E.B. Green.

"Almost every building he touches get ghost stories," Winfield says.

Then comes the Erie County Holding Center at 10 Delaware Ave.

"There are ghost stories there," Winfield said. "The Tunnel of Tears goes underneath. . . ."

Pressed for his personal views on all this, Winfield said: "I'm not saying I believe all the ghost stories I am told. Do I believe any of them? (Pause) I would have to say I think ghosts exist. And I think places at which generations of people have been telling stories are significant."

Is it possible that people telling these stories for generations are helping to shape this phenomenon?

"Yes," Winfield said. "It might be a folklore battery -- there might be some energy about the site that affects the human imagination."

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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