GENESEO — The tales of the afterlife have mesmerized generations of skeptics and believers for centuries.
On Oct. 9 the Wadsworth Public Library hosted Cris Johnson’s performance series “New York Spirits.”
Johnson, of Niagara Falls, NY, has been a international entertainer and educator for over a decade. He recently began his supernatural series about four years ago. Johnson highlighted nine haunted places in his program: Gurnsey Hollow Cemetery, Shea Performing Arts Center, Fort William Henry, The Hinsdale House,The Red Coach Inn, Old Ulster County Jail, Utica Lunatic Asylum, The Amityville House, and the Fox Sisters.
Johnson said he had only been to a couple of these places personally, but he has done several months of research on all of them.
“My mom got me into horror when I was a kid. She introduced me to a lot of cool horror movies,” he said. “We always liked the psychological ones like The Shining and Psycho.”
Johnson has always been a huge Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King fan for this reason.
There were items pertaining to the stories that Johnson purchased over time. Some included a creepy bell from the cemetery, a bottle and wood from the center, a couple communication devices from the fort, a lock and keys from the jail, some old graduation photos from the asylum, a creepy doll from Amityville, and an old school ouija board from the Fox Sisters.
“This is all a recent development," he said. "I have a friend who does the Spirits of Ohio, and he helped me get into this. I started acquiring things from the locations. I have always had a life-long love of horror, so I thought I should perform it.”
With all the material that exists on the terrifying realm of the supernatural, Johnson said he could talk for several hours on the topic. This has led him to be interested in doing other shows in the future such as a show focused on the seances back in the day.
The one that Johnson mentioned is the most loved and fascinating of his stories is The Amityville House.
There are a couple that are personal to him. The Gurnsey Hollow Cemetery is near his parents home, he stayed in The Red Coach Inn, and The Hinsdale House is close by.
“I have performed in 36 states and parts of Canada,” he said. “This is my passion. I spent six months researching these stories.”
Gurnsey Hollow Cemetery has several reports of ghosts that still haunt the resting grounds. However, the one that seems to upset the visitors the most is that of an seven-year-old girl. She was a mentally-ill child who lived in the 1700s. Her favorite toy was a bell, and she would often be found ringing it over and over. One day her mother had enough and asked her child to go play outside. That was the last time she was seen alive. The seven-year-old would be found brutally stoned to death by the village. It is said she was murdered for looking so different, and the village believed her to be a witch.
Sheas Performing Arts has several eye witness accounts to the supernatural within its elegant walls. It has a very long history of dazzling the city with the love of arts, and has entertained the wealthy and middle class alike for nearly a century. It opened its doors as “The Wonder Theater” in 1926. Michael Shea, the founder, had a dream of being the gem of the city, and his theater has lived on despite tragedy.
However, in the 1960s it fell into a bit of despair, and after awhile the city vowed to breath new life into the beloved architecture. It has had anywhere from the ghost of Shea himself, to ghosts of performers, to unexplained bumps and noises. When the workers began restoring it they complained of things going missing all the time, or being found in strange places.
Fort William Henry was the scene of a bloody battle, which claimed the lives of about 1,500 souls. In 1755 the fort was constructed to command the southern end of Lake George. It was used in the French and Indian War. It would lay in ruin for over two centuries before being restored into a history museum.
There is accounts of apparitions of soldiers that are destined to walk the halls, and relive the anguish of the battlefield. There are two in particular that give visitors fright, the limper and the slammer. The limper is a soldier that had been unearthed, and it was discovered he was missing limbs.
The Hinsdale House is also known as The Dandy House. It is one of the most haunted places in New York. It is over a century old, and has often been used as an inn of some kind. Most ghost enthusiasts dare themselves to stay the night, and most leave in horror way before dawn.
Clara and Phil Dandy lived in the house in the 1970s with their children. It would be the biggest mistake of their lives. The house tormented them and their children with weird chanting sounds, doors and windows opening and closing, and a horrific creature that only the children saw.
The Red Coach Inn turned Niagara Falls into the honeymoon capital of the world in the early 1920s. However, one night a groom decided to brutally murder his bride in the honeymoon suite in 1927. It had been abandoned, but in the 1980s it was made into a hotel once more. The new family had been tormented by spirits as well, and guests have witnessed strange unexplainable phenomena.
Old Ulster County Jail was one of the worst jails in the state. It closed its doors in 2007, but before that it was a place of utter torment. There are reports of jail cells closing on their own, shadow people, guards still roaming the blocks, and a man floating on the second floor.
Utica Lunatic Asylum has a violent history, but it had been built in the 1800s under the guise of humanity. It was a wish that this place would show compassion to those who never had it, but it turned out to do the opposite. It would create some of the most horrific asylum stories of all time. They soon became filled to capacity, and had to expand only a few years in. The Utica Crib was born within these walls, and it is one of the worst forms of torture for the mentally ill.
In 1979, however, the asylum would be famous for one of the most horrific of its tales, as the story goes eight teenagers went in on a dare, and only four came out. These teens had just graduated, and were friends all of their lives. It is said that this was meant to the the final adventure before they all went away to college. Once in the asylum they had been viciously attacked by something only described as evil. It left the four survivors barely alive.
The Amityville House is the most famous ghost story of all time, and it is often described as a hoax. The one thing that haunts the house is the grisly murder of the DeFeo Family. The oldest, Ronald DeFeo Jr. claimed spirits made him butcher his entire family in the winter of 1974. Whatever the truth may be, the facts remain that an entire family was butchered on a cold winter night. A creepy doll once owned by the youngest DeFeo child, is said to be possessed by her vengeful spirit.
The Fox Sisters got their claim to fame when they used their creativity to talk to the dead, and this would bring hundreds of mourners praying for a chance to say one last thing to their lost loved ones. Of course as these stories typically go the sisters were found out to be scam artists who were encouraged by the mother to pray on the grieving. They are said to be the inventors of spiritualism and the ouija board. They even made one out of a old wooden jewelry box their mother gave them.
For more information on these tales of terror visit them yourselves, that is, if you dare.