EAST BETHANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Strange voices, shadowy figures and things that go bump in the night are common occurrences at a former poorhouse in Genesee County.
That’s what the property’s caretaker and volunteers say happens on a daily basis inside what’s now known as Rolling Hills Asylum in East Bethany, just south of Batavia.
“This building picks who it wants here,” explains Sharon Coyle, who acquired the building and grounds in 2009.
“I’ve been a lot of places all across the country and by far this place is the most consistent.”
Coyle developed an attraction to the building when she came years earlier for a ghost hunt.
When she heard the building was facing an uncertain future Coyle decided to leave California and make it her mission to preserve the property and its history, and remember the residents who lived and died at the sprawling complex.
“It just draws us. You can’t leave the building,” said Eric Sickles, an RHA volunteer and ghost hunter. “It just something you can’t explain and it keeps you coming back.”
Rolling Hills Asylum
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Originally named the Genesee County Poorhouse when it was opened in 1827, the property transitioned to an infirmary and nursing home over the years.
People from all walks, including paupers, resided on the grounds at some point, according to Coyle.
“Children, adults, widows, orphans, war veterans, drunkards, mentally and physically disabled people.”
Preserving the history is one thing, but Coyle and her team of volunteers say there’s another component to the property — ghostly encounters.
They’ll tell you that hundreds of spirits occupy the property. The Rolling Hills Asylum website has a page devoted to photographs and audio recordings taken by RHA staff and visitors.
“It’s very active. You see a lot of shadow people either anamorphous shapes or human shapes coming in and out of hallways,” Coyle says.
RHA volunteer Deidre Emminger was initially skeptical of ghostly encounters, but says that changed with time and her own experiences on the property.
“You can’t deny it when it happens to you,” said Emminger, who along with her husband Scott conduct paranormal investigations regularly.
“Once you go home and review your evidence or share another personal experience that’s new you want to come back and find out more about that situation,” she said.
Scott Emminger recalled one experience that he’ll never forget.
“My neck was burning…burning. And I went to my wife. I said my neck’s on fire,” he recalled. “I had scratch marks from my hairline down my neck. One of the greatest pieces of evidence I have ever found. I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me.”
“I don’t think there’s ever a time we’ve come here and not had something different happen.”
You could say Rolling Hills Asylum is a giant paranormal laboratory; a supernatural bonanza to those who believe in such things.
News 4 joined Coyle and RHA volunteers recently for a tour of the multi-level building and a tunnel connecting other structures.
Using spirit boxes, which scan radio frequencies for audio responses to questions, the team attempted to communicate with the dead.
At one point the device picked up an unknown voice that seemed to say, “What?” when asked for a name.
“It gets pretty cool here,” said Karla Fox, who also volunteers her time at RHA.
There’s also a morgue in the building that gets pretty active, according to staff.
Featured prominently in the room is an empty suit suspended with fishing line on a wooden hanger, used by the team to communicate with spirits.
Scott Emminger says there’s no noticeable breeze or draft in the room to aid the suit’s movements.
“If you watch the suit it’ll turn. It’s starting to turn now,” he said. “If it puts its back to you…the back of the suit to you…it doesn’t want to talk.”
“You unravel one question and then there’s 17,000 more. Some things we’re not supposed to find out until after we die,” Coyle said.
Coyle says there have been instances in which people get pushed around in wheelchairs and see shadowy figures lurking in hallways.
At one point our camera, set to night vision using infrared light, picked up shadows in the hallway. But it wasn’t clear whether the image was the result of another light source projecting the shadow of crew members behind the camera.
One thing is clear; investigating paranormal activity is not an exact science and is subject to plenty of scrutiny.
Sharon Coyle understands that some people are very skeptical of all this ghost stuff, but she’s okay with that.
“We love skeptics. Skeptics keep paranormal investigators honest. They make you look at things and analyze it,” she said. “We have a lot of skeptics that turn believers. They really do.”
Rolling Hills Asylum, which offers historical tours and ghost hunts throughout the week, is a place where some believe the past is projected in the present — where natural collides with the supernatural.
“Whether they believe or they don’t. I know. I know what happens here,” Coyle says. “There are thousands of people that come through this door every year that know.”