Friday 18 July 2014

Rolling Hills Asylum - Bethany, NY

Awhile back a friend of my mom told her about this cool place just outside of Batavia, NY called Rolling Hills Asylum. She had done a tour of the place and really enjoyed it, so she suggested my mom and I check it out when we were next in town.  She explained that it had been bought by a woman who opened it up for tours and ghost seeking and that it was the most haunted asylum in the USA, the 2nd most haunted place in North America and the 4th most haunted place in the world. While I am open to the paranormal aspects, mom was far more interested in the history. Both she and I enjoy visiting old buildings and cemeteries so this seemed like a place we had to check it.

We booked tickets and hotels for April 10th and made plans to head down to Buffalo. We visit Buffalo fairly often, but usually for shopping or a hockey game – so this was something completely new! Excited about our trip we mentioned it to both Nanny and Aunt Honey, who were also intrigued. Fortunately we were able to get two more tickets and hotel rooms. Details of this trip can be found in my April post but to recap our ordeal - our car broke down in Amherst, NY! We had a great morning, did some shopping and had lunch at our favorite teahouse (White Linen Teahouse). But when we started to head out to Batavia, we missed the turn onto the highway. That was strange since mom had driven this route often but we figured we would turn around at the next street. All the sudden the car started ticking like crazy and all the lights and displays shut off. We pulled into the parking lot of an apartment complex and the car died completely. At first we thought we could still make it by getting a rental car, but AAA had a huge wait time (3+ hours) so it wasn’t going to work.

We were right across from a hotel (the same chain we were going to stay at in Batavia) and they arranged for our reservation to be transferred and sent over a shuttle for Nanny and Honey. Mom and I waited for the tow truck, went to the Ford service center and picked up a rental car at the airport. By this time it was almost 9:00pm, pitch dark and pouring rain.

It wasn’t a great day but we were all safe and together. That night over a glass of wine, we thought about how it played out. Had the car died on the highway that could have been dangerous, and what amazing luck we had to end up right across from a hotel. Plus, the night was dark and raining – and Nanny couldn’t risk a fall as when she fell three years ago she suffered a terrible break of her arm. We decided that for whatever reason, we weren’t meant to go.

I did make sure to email the owner and let her know not to expect us, and she was amazing. Prior to this I had read a few negative reviews of her on TripAdvisor and was a bit apprehensive… but my experience with her was 100% positive. Sites like TripAdvisor are great, but I have definitely learned to take some reviews with a grain of salt (i.e my awesome experience with The Couples Resort!).

As the weeks went on all four of us were still determined to visit and were fortunate to get a last minute chance over the weekend. Nanny decided not to come as she was worried about the walking/stairs and believed that us not making it there was some sort of sign. So it was just mom, Aunt Honey and I. We left early Sunday morning, made a few stops in Amherst and Batavia and arrived at Rolling Hills by 6:30pm.

Rolling Hills Asylum was originally a working farm in Genesee County and then a Stagecoach Tavern. In 1827 it was established as the Genesee County Poor House and housed a variety of people – the poor, widows, orphans, the sick, the unemployed, the disabled and the mentally ill. It was a place meant to care for those who couldn’t care for themselves. According to a local newspaper article, On December 9, 1826, the following announcement appeared in the Batavia Times newspaper: 
“Notice is hereby given that the Genesee County Poorhouse will be ready for the reception of paupers on the first day of January, 1827. The Overseers of the Poor of the several towns of the County of Genesee are requested, in all cases of removal of paupers to the county poorhouse, to send with them their clothing, beds, bedding and such other articles belonging to the paupers as may be necessary and useful to them.” (The

It was still being used as a working farm at this time, so that helped feed the residents and offset other costs. In 1828 an addition was built on the property which was meant specifically for the insane and anyone else who was committed. As the owner pointed out on the tour this was at a time when mental health wasn’t understood meaning many illnesses like bipolar, autism, dementia, Tourette’s etc were likely represented here. Plus, it was also a time where a man could very easily commit his wife without real cause.

“The actual cost per person was very low… amounting to about $1.08 per week per resident. Many of the residents also crafted things to sell. The farm workers raised Holsteins, pigs, draft horses, chickens and ducks, vegetables and fruits and they canned jams, jellies, and meats. They also manned a bakery and a wood shop where coffins were made for use as needed and for sale to local mortuaries”, (The

Over times laws changed, and in 1875 children under 16 were sent to another facility and in 1887 the mentally ill were also moved. The Poor House continued to function, and over time became more aimed toward senior care eventually becoming the Genesee County Nursing Home. In the 1960’s farming stopped, the facility closed in 1974 and some of the buildings were torn down.  It remained vacant for almost 20 years, and then had a succession of private owners. In 1992 it opened as Carriage Village and housed shops. In 2002 it was bought again, and became the Rolling Hills Country Mall. It operated as a co-op from 2004 until 2007 and it was during this time that the paranormal element was explored. Ghost tours began occurring and once the co-op closed it became the primary focus. It was renamed to Rolling Hills Paranormal Research Center, and was the first historical site in NY state to start overnight ghost hunts and tours. It is known that at least 1,700 people died on the property over the years and its believed that there are hundreds of more that weren’t documented. The current owner – Sharon Coyle bought it five years ago after feeling a strong connection to the property and is operating it as Rolling Hills Asylum.

There is a variety of tour options – all of which include a guided tour of the property that details its history. At the end of most of the tours there is time for self-guided ghost seeking. The one we selected was the Pysch Hold – a 3-hour tour that included the 1.5-hour tour and 1.5-hour self-guided part.

We were met outside by the owner – Sharon and her partner Brad. Together they led us inside where we filled out our waivers and went over important information. It’s worth noting that anyone interested in this MUST carefully read over the do’s and don’t on the website. Admission can be refused for a number of reasons – for example if you are late, wearing improper shoes, or under the influence of drugs/alcohol.

The tour started promptly at 7:00pm and we followed Sharon and Brad down into the basement. Immediately mom, Aunt Honey and I were happy Nanny didn’t come. There were a lot of stairs/walking and areas that were dark. Plus, as it has rained earlier the floor was a bit damp. It would have been a lot for Nanny who is 78, and I think she would have been so focused on not falling that she wouldn’t have enjoyed it. The first room we visited was one where the highly mentally ill/criminal patients were kept – it was a very dark, cold and depressing room. There were shackles remaining on the wall from where patients would have been chained. Sharon and Brad went over the various paranormal devices they would be using on the tour – an EMF reader which would identify hot and cold spots and a Maglite that spirits could use to contact us. In writing this blog I did some research and there are of course two sides regarding these tools – the side that truly believes any readings/elements from these devices are indeed spirits, and the side that feels they are similar to props and special effects. I am of the mind that anything is possible. Could there be spirits at Rolling Hills? I believe there are. Could any readings/light effects been done by Sharon or Brad? Possibly. However nothing I personally saw suggested that.    

The EMF was going off in red - it was a hot spot!
The next room we went into was the morgue. This room was initially a bakery when the property was first opened, but over time became a morgue. The large freezers were helpful when winters were bad and the graves couldn’t be dug. This room gave me chills. Hanging in the middle was a mans suit and it kept moving. I checked the windows afterward, and there was no breeze or air movement – but that suit kept moving. Various guests who have laid down on the morgue table during their individual time have experienced strange feelings of pressure on their chests, and were even left with strange markings. Neither mom, Aunt Honey or I were brave enough to try it and see for ourselves!

The suit that kept moving 

Freezers - initially for baked goods, then for bodies! 
In the basement we also visited the kitchens which were massive. We heard stories of the cooks who worked there and how the family of one recently got in touch with the owner. Apparently that has happened a number of times, where someone sees Rolling Hills on a paranormal show and gets in touch to share their personal memories with Sharon. Through these encounters, she has been able to piece together a ton of information in addition to gathering photos. We stopped in the room that was used to butcher meat, as well as a few other rooms that were in the basement. Much of the hallways were dark, and I was thankful I had brought my flashlight. Both Aunt Honey and I were taking photos, hoping to get a glimpse of something, but both cameras died within minutes of each other. I didn’t even get to take a selfie! One of the rooms in the basement was very strange. It had a number of children’s beds and toys, and when we were on our own I swear I saw a strange movement from the corner of my eye. I was alone (Mom and Honey were across the hall), and it was this brief glimpse of what appeared to be a child-like figure crawling under the bed. It was a bit unnerving and I didn’t spend much more time in that room! It could have been my flashlight – but going over the event in my head, it truly seemed like something else.

The Kitchen 

As the tour continued we walked upstairs and visited a few of the upper rooms which had housed residents. One of the rooms left Aunt Honey emotional for reasons she can’t explain. It was the room of Roy Crouse, a resident who lived there for most of his life. Roy was almost 7 ½ feet tall and likely suffered from gigantism. His father was a prominent member of society who became ashamed of his son’s height and looks. When Roy was 12 his father dropped him off here and never returned. His mother snuck in visits, but Roy remained at Rolling Hills until he died in his 50’s. Even before Sharon began the story, Aunt Honey began to tear up and couldn’t stop. Once we were on our own, that was the first room we returned to.

Each of the rooms have been set up with various items – some actually original items from Rolling Hills and others replicated from various stories and photos people have shared. The reason for this is to have these objects act as trigger objects for the spirits. In some rooms there are desks, others have beds, and some have books or toys. It definitely adds something to the overall experience of wandering through the building. There was one room set up with a variety of dolls – porcelain, baby dolls, Barbie’s, stuffed animals etc.  The overall effect is spine-chilling and it was one room Honey didn’t want to stay in.

I think the strangest thing I saw was on the wall in the basement – it was a large Santa (either wooden or painted on) with a skeleton skull for the face. In addition to the tours and paranormal shows being taped there, Rolling Hills has been in various TV shows such as American Horror Story. Plus, they have done various events within the building like haunted houses – so some areas and items (like the scary Santa) are likely from that. But those things very much add to the overall atmosphere of the place.

We went into a few more rooms upstairs and learned additional history about the building and previous residents. At one point our group was gathered along a long hallway and Brad and Sharon asked the spirits to show us they were there. Suddenly the two lights went on and off! We walked up to the very top level and into a small room that housed a few of the nurses. There were two large walk-in closets that just seemed to be calling people to enter. Sharon quickly warned the group that if anyone went in they needed to make sure that someone stayed on the other side as there was a prankster spirit that liked to lock you in!

The Hall were the flashlights were going on and off

Throughout the tour both Brad and Sharon recounted their experiences at Rolling Hills. Brad has been only doing this a few months and he has already encountered many spirits including a little girl named Elizabeth. Both he and Sharon have never felt scared or worried about what they were encountering. They may have been a bit unnerved at first with some spirits, but over time realized none of them meant any harm.  Brad also had a few audio recordings of random voices as well as some photos of a face in a window, and a figure in a doorway which he showed to the group.

It was an excellent tour and we really go to see a lot of the rooms and learn about the history of the building and the residents. The self-guided time at the end was awesome, as we really go to go explore on our own and take a longer look around in some rooms. Mom, Honey and I started in the basement and worked our way up. Darkness was just falling so we were extremely happy to have brought flashlights. In the morgue we found two women from our tour trying to use an iPhone app to make contact with a ghost. I am not sure what it was called but apparently it used specific sound waves to try and bring the spirit forward. I guess its true that these days there is an app for everything! In another area of the basement I jumped in fright because two other tour members were sitting in the darkness and I just happened to catch a glance of them. Honestly by that time the whole atmosphere of being in the dark, mysterious basement had us on edge so we chickened out and went upstairs!  It is worth nothing that tour groups are kept small enough, so there is plenty of room to space out afterward during the self-guided part.

As I have said before I am open to the paranormal – I always have been. But I do believe that in order to have a paranormal experience you need to be open to it. Mom is far far far from open to it! If it had been just Aunt Honey and I, I think we may have experienced something. Mom wasn’t taking the paranormal element seriously – for example in the kitchen she made a joke along the lines of, “If anyone is here, can we get some coffee?” (Aunt Honey and I apologized to Maude (the ghost who used to be the cook) and explained that mom wasn’t trying to be rude). Despite not being a believer, mom did enjoy the tour and loved seeing the rooms and learning about the property. So it’s a tour that even non-believers can enjoy! 

While I believe, I don’t exactly think that ghost seeking/hunting can be done by an iPhone app and again, recognize that any flashlight effects, EMF readings and all audio/photos that we saw could have been staged. But honestly, I don’t think they were. Sharon was upfront that she would be honest with us and give truth over any evidence that we gathered. She recounted stories where guests had come up to her with audio recordings or photos that weren’t anything paranormal – instead they were other guests voices echoing throughout the building or a shadow from an object in a room. She was honest with these people and didn’t let them think otherwise. In my personal experience when mom, Honey and I sat down at the table to do the paperwork the light next to me started flickering on and off. It was a bit unnerving since we had literally just arrived. But Sharon quickly pointed out the chord was loose and that it wasn’t a ghost! She could have lied and made a huge production about how the spirits were welcoming us, but she didn’t.

Plus, over the course of the tour it became clear that she is a true believer and has been drawn to Rolling Hills. Sharon was living in California when she first visited and felt an instant connection. (That alone can be considered proof as anyone who has experienced a Buffalo-area winter can attest to the fact it’s rare you would leave California willingly to deal with that!) When the property was put up for sale she tried unsuccessfully to buy it. Finally it was auctioned off and she was able to come to an agreement with the bank. From the second you walk inside it is clear that this isn’t an attraction that is going to make her a millionaire. The property is 20 minutes outside of Batavia, which in itself is a smaller town 45-50 minutes away from Buffalo. The road leading up to the property is a country road that I imagine can be hell in the winter. Previous attempts to turn the property into shops or seniors homes have failed. It’s a huge, old building – with broken windows and leaks – and a huge space to care for. Sharon was clear that all money that comes in goes right back into the property and told us about some of the repairs she has made, some of which were generously donated. But as she explained, at the end of the day she still has a mortgage and expenses. She has been doing this for almost five years and still lives on the property in a small building set away from the main structure, so its not as if she comes here, does her job and then leaves for the comforts of a modern home. Rolling Hills is truly her life and it shows in the way she talks about it. She proudly showed us photos of the place over the years, as well as some of the residents and her voice conveyed so much love for the history and building. While some may be inclined to think the paranormal is all some act to draw people in, I honestly walked away believing that Sharon does truly believe and experiences these elements.

Just a light? or a Spirit? 

I definitely recommend visiting this place, and hope to return! For more information check out the links below.

An Paranormal Investigation - with Audio/Video - I borrowed a photo of the exterior from them!

Article from Weird NJ

Article from The Examiner

An Article from a Paranormal Website

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