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The Five Scariest Places in Buffalo, New York
I Do Believe in Spooks, I Do, I Do!
Buffalo, NY, is a haunted town. The Seneca Nation considers this part of New York to be the western door to the spirit world, and Buffalo is smack in the middle of it. Spiritualism floods the area and beliefs run high; so does paranormal activity. Many of the homes and buildings in Buffalo date back 100 to 150 years, so it is not uncommon to discover spirits lurking in rooms and roaming halls.
Some private homeowners are glad to share their house with a resident haunt, but others are not so happy about it. Public buildings also have their fair share of ghosts, and local paranormal groups are often called upon to investigate strange sightings and events. As a member of a paranormal team, I have been on many of these ghost hunts and have been surprised by our findings: the spirit of a factory worker who still shows up for his shift every day, even though the factory is now a museum; the sailor who knows he's dead but won't leave his post, even though the ship has long been decommissioned; the ghost children who play pranks and sit on the laps of visitors to a former funeral home; spirits who huddle in secret hidey-holes of the underground railroad, waiting to go to Canada to escape slavery.
Buffalo is a haunted town, but most hauntings do not take place at the city's famous Forest Lawn Cemetery. Come along with me and discover five places where the spirits like to scare up some paranormal fun in the Queen City.
Haunt Number 5: The Lancaster Opera House
Central Ave, Lancaster, NY
The Fifth most haunted place in Buffalo is actually in the suburb of Lancaster. The Lancaster Opera House was built in 1897 as a multi-functional hall and governmental building. It is one of the few Town Hall/Opera House combinations left in the country that still functions as such, but there is a lot more going on than the average visitor realizes.
During the past 115 years, the Lancaster Opera House served many purposes other than a place of entertainment and local governing. The hall was used to distribute food and clothing to the needy during the 1930s and served as a base to fold parachutes during the Second World War. At one point it fell into disrepair but was later restored to its original glory and reopened on September 20, 1981. It has been a performing arts and community center ever since. However, there are strange things going on behind the scenes and after dark.
People passing by the opera house glance at the windows and swear someone is looking back at them; lights turn themselves on and off; a woman wearing a lavender dress from the 1920s has been spotted standing in the balcony, looking at the stage below; an unseen entity follows employees around the building, especially when they are locking up at night; voices echo from the stage when no one is in the auditorium; men in World War II uniforms have been seen walking through the auditorium; and actors have heard footsteps above their basement dressing rooms hours before the audience has arrived.
Although scary, none of these occurrences frightens people away. After all, it's all just a part of the experience of the Lancaster Opera House.
Haunt Number 4: Shea's Performing Arts Center
Main St. Buffalo, NY
The fourth most haunted place in Buffalo is another theater, the main draw of Buffalo's theater district located in the heart of the city. Shea's Performing Arts Center is Buffalo's grandest theater and the last of its kind from the era of vaudeville shows and big movie houses. Built in 1926, it was modeled in a combination of Spanish and French baroque and rococo styles. The interior was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a designer and artist known for his famous lamps. The theater's prize attribute is the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, one of only five in the world built by the Wurlitzer Company of North Tonawanda. But, for all its beauty and uniqueness, there is something odd happening in the theater.
Shea's was the main theater in the chain of theaters founded by Michael Shea. In 1948 they became part of the Loew's chain of movie houses. Downtown Buffalo began a long slide into decline during the 1960s, as did the theater. Through mammoth efforts of the Friends of the Buffalo Theater, Shea's restoration has been ongoing, although originality has been retained. It now hosts touring companies of Broadway shows, concerts, and movies.
Shea's is a beloved and popular theater for Buffalonians, both alive and dead. The most common story of the paranormal is one of a well-dressed gentleman with a large mustache who meets patrons in the balcony area. He comments, "Isn't it marvelous?" and when the patrons look down to the floor below, he disappears. Many believe this is the spirit of Michael Shea. Those who have seen the apparition confirm his identity by pointing to his portrait hanging on the wall of the first floor.
There have been other instances of spiritual activity, as well: staff has heard footsteps in the lobby and theater before opening for performances; lighting crews have complained of their equipment being tampered with; laughter and conversations float down from the empty balcony to the main floor; women feel they are being watched in the ladies' lounge; and actors preparing in their dressing rooms have heard their musical cues long before the orchestra arrives.
Does Michael Shea haunt his theater? Do his friends haunt it with him, laughing and talking between acts? Are actors from long ago still lingering, waiting to walk on stage and begin their performance? Only the spirits know the answers.
Check out Shea's Broadway Performances
- Shea's Performing Arts Center
Current and upcoming performances.
Haunt Number 3: H. H. Richardson Building, a.k.a. Buffalo State Aslym for the Insane
Elmwood Ave, Buffalo, NY
The third most haunted place in Buffalo is the H.H. Richardson Building, the current name for the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, where locals and visitors alike have seen and heard things that leave them questioning their own sanity.
Architect Henry Hobson Richardson designed the sandstone and brick hospital in 1870. Richardson's plans consisted of a total of eleven buildings, a central administrative tower, and five wards all connected by short two-story tunnels. It housed mental patients until the mid-1970s. Practices from the 1920s through the 1940s involved some cruel treatments intended as cures.
The asylum is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. Venerated by other architects, it has been the subject of a long-term preservation campaign. Three pavilions on the east side were demolished in the 1970s to make way for more modern buildings of the present day Buffalo Psychiatric Center. The other buildings have been allowed to deteriorate into a dangerous state.
The building is currently undergoing some rehabilitation. A fence now surrounds the perimeter of the complex and all ground-level entrances have been sealed or fenced off. This is to protect it from vandals. A peace officer is on duty at all times to conduct regular patrols of the area and deter crime. Local volunteers maintain spotlights on the central towers, providing dramatic illumination at night. Nevertheless, there are intruders on the property who cannot be seen and cannot leave.
Since the building was abandoned in the 1970s, witnesses have made many claims that raise the hairs on the back of the neck. Passersby have heard screams of pain and terror coming from the building, both day and night. Shadow people have been seen slinking around the grounds or passing by windows.
One story concerns a photographer who was hired to film the building inside and out. He discovered beds, wheelchairs, and ancient medical equipment still inside. While taking pictures of these objects, he was overwhelmed with a feeling of dread. He witnessed several anomalies and caught them on film. Something occurred which sent him running out of the building, never to return. No one knows exactly what happened.
During Buffalo Preservation Week, the Richardson building is open for tours. Sensitive visitors have experienced anxiousness, uneasiness, and panic. Some have heard whispers in the corridors and seen shadows dart through rooms. Photographs of solid and transparent orbs floating in the air have been posted on websites.
The H.H. Richardson building, with its castle-like towers and gothic exterior, looms large over the Buffalo State College campus next door and the Buffalo Psychiatric Center that shares the building's grounds. Within its halls and rooms remain the spirits of those who were betrayed by their own minds. They may be waiting for you to join them.
Haunt Number 2: Buffalo Naval and Military Park
Canalside, Buffalo, NY
Down on Buffalo's waterfront, the gray masts of a World War II destroyer and a guided missile cruiser rise toward the blue sky. All appears calm and in order as these ships, now on permanent display along with a submarine, welcome aboard visitors interested in US naval history. But looks are deceiving. Unexplained things have been happening on these ships since the park's inception. Tourists and crewmen alike strongly believe the ships are haunted.
The USS The Sullivans is a World War II destroyer named for the five Sullivan brothers who lost their lives in the Battle of the Solomon Islands. Although the Sullivan brothers never served on this ship, there are many who claim that brother George is walking its decks. A paranormal investigation has revealed mysterious lights in the forward berthing room, tapping sounds that begin in the radio room and end in the officer's mess, and whispering and knocks throughout the ship. Does the spirit of George Sullivan haunt this ship named for his brothers? Is he searching for them? If so, he isn't talking.
The USS Croaker submarine was sent to the Pacific theater in World War II to fight against Japan's merchant marine and navy. It had six World War II Pacific war patrols and was awarded three battle stars. Now on the National Registry of Historic Places, The Croaker floats quietly at its berth, but all is not quiet within. Crew, visitors, and paranormal investigators have encountered an angry spirit who pulls on people's hair, breathes down their necks, and blocks their passage through the submarine. Who is the spirit? Some call him John. They claim he was killed onboard during a mission. Is this true? John's anger may impede his ability to communicate the truth.
While the other ships each have their claims of paranormal activity, it is the USS Little Rock that is most haunted. There are constant declarations of moving shadows, whispered conversations, feelings of being watched, footsteps sounding, and the appearance of apparitions. In the galley, a sink turns itself on. A sad, tearful sailor follows women around the ship, seeking comfort from the pain that tortures him. Another sailor enjoys pulling practical jokes on visitors and joining in on their tour.
Commissioned in June, 1945, Little Rock is a survivor of the largest class of US wartime cruisers that patrolled the Mediterranean and North Atlantic and the only guided missile cruiser on display in the US. It never served during World War II. Why then, is there so much activity? The Little Rock was used as a hospital in the Mediterranean when several injured men were rescued off the USS Liberty which had been attacked by Israeli ships and aircraft. Many of those men died. Their bodies were stored in the meat freezer until they could be buried.
There were many fatal accidents onboard. One sailor was crushed between the hull and the dock; a torpedo exploded in the missile room, killing the man firing it, and to this day that sailor is still on duty, his spirit refusing to leave its post.
Paranormal investigators have attempted to communicate with these spirits and have, on occasion, been successful. While meeting them is quite scary, these spirits mean no harm to visitors and crew. They just want to serve on their ship.
Visit the Naval Park
- Buffalo Naval and Military Park
You may not encounter a ghost on the naval park ships, but they are interesting to tour.
Do you dare?
Haunt Number 1: Iron Island Museum
Lovejoy, Buffalo, NY
The most haunted place in Buffalo is the Iron Island Museum. This building has seen tragedy and sorrow in its 127 years and some of that sadness still lingers in the form of spirits who have no desire to move on.
The exterior of the Museum looks like a church because it was built as a Methodist-Episcopal church in 1885. It became a funeral home in the 1950s and in 2000, when the Iron Island Preservation Society moved into the building, over 20 containers of cremated human remains were found in the basement.
Activity has been prevalent in this building for many years, but when it became a museum the activity increased. More than one spirit occupies the building, and paranormal investigators believe many of the spirits are there because of the artifacts they are attached to. Some spirits, however, saw their bodies laid out here when it was a funeral home and they have decided to stay, even though their bodies are long gone.
From the moment you walk into the building, you feel the spirits. The air is heavy with their presence. These ghosts call people by name, move objects, rearrange furniture, drain battery energy, turn lights on and off, and open and close doors. The ghost children, three boys and a girl, have been known to sit on the laps of the living, mess around with investigator's equipment, and play with toys left for them in one of the rooms. Even during meetings and events, there are often noises, bangs, knockings, and footsteps overhead. No one who is familiar with this building is surprised when they walk into a cold spot.
A grumpy gentleman haunts the attic and occasionally comes down to the main floor, trying to shoo the living away; a nun can be heard praying in Polish in the central terminal room; shadows slink around the basement, and a ghost cat rubs against the legs of the living (I had this happen to me). Throughout the building, voices are heard. Most of the spirits enjoy conversing with visitors, however at least one ghost has sworn at people more than once.
The evidence is overwhelming. The museum is constantly monitored by video cameras resulting in captured ghostly movement. Investigators have recorded giggling and vocal answers to their questions. Photographs have shown orbs, mist, and the shadow of a man standing against a wall.
My paranormal team received a gift from the ghost children, who moved a crystal from the gift shop over to one of our cameras. On a different investigation, another team member and I were watching the video monitor. When we began discussing aspects of the investigation and wishing we could see something move with our naked eyes, one of the children knocked a soda can off the table. We heard the child laugh. We couldn't help but laugh, too.
The museum has been featured on Ghost Hunters, My Ghost Story, and Ghost Lab television shows. The spirits were on hand to perform for the cameras for each of these shows.
There is no doubt Iron Island is haunted. Very haunted. At times it can be down right scary. Just ask the museum staff. Or come out and see for yourself.
Investigate Iron Island Yourself
- Iron Island Museum
See the website for ghost hunts.
Would you want to take a tour or investigate Iron Island Museum?
Do You Believe in Ghosts?
Ghost Walks and Pub Crawls
Mason Winfield is a local paranormal investigator and spiritualist who has spent most of his life exploring the strange and odd happenings in Western New York. He conducts regular ghost walks and pub crawls in the area that will make goosebumps pop on your skin.
This is my favorite books on places in Buffalo believed to be haunted.