John Koerner thrives in a world crowded by spirits, demons, UFOs and angels. His interest in paranormal activity started early. As a child growing up in Hamburg he was fascinated by the Loch Ness Monster.
Today, the 39-year-old adjunct professor of American History teaches at Erie Community College’s north campus. In his spare time Koerner spins his pastime into a small business called Paranormal Walks. His walking tours explore paranormal activity in four areas of Western New York: Hamburg, Medina, Lockport and the Cobblestone District in Buffalo. “Everyone walks at their own risk,” he said.
The author of several books, Koerner has written about the Rev. Nelson Baker, slain President William McKinley, conspiracy theories and the City of Lackawanna.
Koerner lives in North Buffalo. He spends Halloween with his children: Grant, 9, and Anna, 6.
People Talk: Your children must have fun with you.
John Koerner: My son actually loves ghost stories. He came with me on a couple of walks. He’s all the way in. He will take over the company one day.
PT: Do you talk to ghosts?
JK: No. What we do on the tour is storytelling or explaining the historical reasons for the ghosts. We talk about people who are hearing ghosts, seeing ghosts. Maybe they’re smelling something unusual like cologne, perfume, cigar smoke. It could be from a previous resident who died. It could be a trapped spirit trying to communicate with them.
PT: What is a trapped spirit?
JK: A person may not know they’re dead. They may have died through suicide or had a traumatic experience in the house and have a hard time letting it go. That person may have an agenda. It could be a demon that wants to hurt a person. One family in Hamburg had a son who committed suicide in the house, and they still see him there. I think he’s waiting for them to pass so he can leave the house.
PT: It’s a huge leap for someone to tell you he saw a ghost.
JK: A lot of people are reluctant to talk about these things. In fact some businesses are in denial. In one case of a haunted day spa the staff picked up and left everything there, including the cash register filled with the money and the equipment. From what I heard, the staff just got to the point where they couldn’t take the harassment anymore: the constant rearrangement of things, things going missing, the feeling they were constantly being watched.
PT: How can you tell a ghost story is authentic?
JK: A spirit report can be backed up by a suicide or some other tragic death. It helps explain what happened. Our meters are picking up spirits. I’m not going to say it is true. I’m just presenting evidence.
PT: Have you come across a ghost you didn’t like?
JK: On our Lockport walk we have a site that first was a cemetery and then became a tailor shop in the 1860s where three sisters were attacked by demons. Inside the house they saw black flies, black cats, blood on the wall – all signs of possession. On three separate walks in 2014 we had a woman scratched on her chest. It has not happened since.
PT: How does one get rid of a ghost?
JK: It’s all theory. People use sage on their window sills. They use salt, mustard seeds. Paint the front door red and ceilings blue. They open windows when people die. You can try a rescue circle to ask a ghost to leave. These are all techniques you can try. I’m not saying they will work.
PT: Is your house ghost-proof?
JK: It has a red door.
PT: Do you have many friends?
JK: They’re more colleagues I talk to. I do have a small group of friends from high school I’ve kept in touch with over the years.
PT: Tell me Father Baker’s miracle story.
JK: I was giving a talk on Father Baker, and a gentleman came up to me and told me his father-in- law was one of the men who exhumed Father Baker’s body. He described the vials of blood. The blood was moving in jars. That was never reported.
PT: Has anything surprised you?
JK: There’s a stop on the Lockport walk at the corner of Pine and Main streets. It’s an old Army recruiting site from the Civil War. Soldiers went off to war from here. It’s now a bank. A photo we took shows two Civil War Army generals on an exterior wall. You can see their eyes, the nose, the faces. That really shocked me. Ghost pictures are so random. It’s rare that you get something so accurate. These men sacrificed their lives for our country. It’s almost as if they are still on watch.