Rolling Hills attracts the paranormal

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The owner of Rolling Hills Asylum has no shortage of evidence that spirits roam the rooms and hallways of the historic former poorhouse in Genesee County.

Recordings of voices responding to questions.

Photographs of orbs and images of what appear to be faces and bodies.

Disembodied screams and growls. Knocks and footsteps.

Sharon Coyle, the owner of the asylum an hour east of Buffalo in East Bethany, and her team of volunteers have collected a lot of this evidence over the years. Much of it came after visits by paranormal hunters – experts if you will of the haunts and haunted.

“Everybody gets pictures or video or audio,” she said of the professional and amateur ghost hunters.

“We had a group in on May 25th and there was about 40 people and every single group had personal experiences. It was a crazy night.”

Her favorite visitors are the skeptics.

“Skeptics at least have an open mind,” she said. “Something has to be very strong and definitive for them to actually believe in it.”

Some of the rooms in Rolling Hills are staged, like this room with three creepy dolls.

Paranormal research has hit mainstream, with various television shows dedicated to ghost hunters, which has given Rolling Hills a boost. Some see it as a training ground for paranormal investigators.

Rolling Hills has been featured on SyFY’s Ghost Hunters and Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, two of the more popular paranormal programs.

“The Asylum became a stewpot of tragic cases mixed with dark personalities — a recipe for hardcore haunting today,” is how Ghost Adventures described the season 3 episode.

Some come for the history, which the building is steeped in.

Genesee County Historian Susan Conklin compiled historic records and other information for the property that is used for the website.

In 1826, the Genesee County Board of Supervisors selected the site at the corner of Bethany Center and Raymond roads for a county poorhouse to house orphans, the destitute and the unstable.

“They made the people work because it was a county facility,” Coyle said.

Coyle said some historic records indicate that there may have been a cemetery on the 108-acre property, but none spell out the specifics of where it might be. She has never found a cemetery registry or a plot map.

A nursing home also occupied the building until it closed in 1974. Coyle said there are more than 1,700 documented deaths at the facility.

“A lot of people actually come for the history, which I’m thrilled about because this is a very big part of New York history,” she said.

Some of the rooms are staged with creepy dolls, children’s toys and beds. There’s a morgue, a chapel and an underground tunnel.

As soon as the sun sets, the rooms and hallways turn dark. The building seem to come to life.  

Jason Milton, Jeremiah O’Reilly and Eric Sickles are volunteers who help with tours and ghost hunts.

“I came here for a Halloween event a long time ago, just for fun, and I was very skeptical,” Milton said.

“I was here with a bunch of friends and stuff that I couldn’t explain started happening and that kind of just made me really, really interested in the paranormal field.”

Sickles believes thousands of spirits live in the building, which makes it a perfect spot for skeptics and beginners.

“I do a lot of the maintenance and even when we’re doing maintenance there’s activity, and there’s always somebody different,” he said.

They’ve even named some of the spirits. For example, there’s Aunt Maude from the kitchen, Raymond in the boiler room, Elizabeth in the chapel and Roy the tall shadow man, whom the team from Ghost Adventures may have caught on an infrared photograph.

The Ghost Adventures team visited Rolling Hills last year and it did not disappoint

Ghost Adventures paranormal investigator Zak Bagans, the spiky hair leader of the show, also had an interaction with a spirit named Raymond in the underground tunnel.

“I have hands on my chest right now,” Bagans said.

“It is hard to breathe. ‘You standing right in front of me Raymond? Because I am not afraid of you,’” he said while he held a recording device.

When the team played the recording back later they heard a voice respond, “I’m not scared.”

Coyle said she was always drawn to the building.

So she jumped at the chance to buy the property nine years ago.

“People always ask me the story,” she said.

“Yeah, I was drawn to it, I don’t even know why. Even to this day it makes no sense, it’s a huge project.”

Over the years, the team has countless stories. Coyle said she generally does not get scared, but that may have to do with how she has become the caretaker of the building … and the spirits.

“I feel very comfortable here,” she said.

“And I think they don’t do anything negative to me because I try to take care of the building, it’s a big project. I try to treat them well, I don’t antagonize them, I don’t disrespect them.”

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