It was a dark and stormy night as we made our way to the haunted asylum in rural New York state. While enjoying a Valentine's get-away, we heard about a ghost hunt at the Rolling Hills Asylum in East Bethany. I read up on the building and its history and immediately decided that, despite my complete skepticism with regard to the existence of ghosts, it was still a great opportunity to explore a historic building with legal permission. These opportunities don't present themselves often. Aside from that, I had never seen a ghost hunt besides those on TV. It would be fun to see first hand.
It was, in fact, still daylight as we set out on the highway to find this place. The wind had come up and snow was accumulating quickly on the road. Being true, hardy Canadians, however, we would not let the distasteful conditions get in the way of what promised to be an interesting experience. We arrived and waited for the appointed time. Others were also waiting in their vehicles as what little light was left in the sky disappeared, and the snow piled ever higher on every surface. When the time came, we entered this impressive old structure, and were immediately told the rules and checked for compliance. We were brought to a room where we were asked to fill out forms waiving liability, etc. Before very long, with the formalities over, we were taken on a guided tour to give us an overview of what we were seeing.
On January 1, 1827, a former stagecoach tavern became the Genesee County Home and opened its doors to paupers, drunks, "lunatics" and vagrants. The following year, an additional stone building was attached to house for "the confinement of lunatics". The mentally ill would continue to find themselves dumped here until 1887 when the Board of Supervisors for the County decided they should be sent to either the Buffalo State Hospital, or to Willard Asylum.
Like most other facilities of this type, the Home was a working farm. Those who stayed there worked the farm, providing for themselves, and earning their keep. Because the Home was largely self-sufficient, the cost of operation was a mere $1.08 / resident per week in 1871. One of the longest-term residents was Phoebe White who stayed for as long as 58 years, having entered at the age of 9 because she was an "idiot". At that point in the home's history, 146 people were being cared for.
From the 1940's until its closure in 1974, the County Home functioned solely as a nursing home for seniors.
After the tour, and our introduction to the various scientific tools for the detection of, and communication with, the dead, we were turned loose to conduct our own investigations. The staff were clearly believers who were quick to relate their personal experiences in the building and where we could expect hot-spots of activity. I set out to do what I always do. Explore, and take pictures.
For those who do believe, or even just for those who enjoy being creeped out, this is seriously a great experience. The whole place is dark with almost no light coming from outside. The wind from the on-going snowstorm rattled everything and anything loose, which in an old building is quite a lot. All of this comes together to create the perfect spooky atmosphere that can set almost anyone's mind to playing the odd trick. Was that a moving shadow at the end of the hall, or just the way my light moved as I walked? Was that a low moan coming from the basement, or just the wind blowing through any of a hundred openings?
After thoroughly exploring the building, and losing the feeling in most of my fingers from the cold, we decided it was time to call it a night, and see how dangerous the highways had become as a result of the weather. We thanked our hosts, exchanged email addresses with a couple of the other visitors who happened to be from Ontario, and set out. To our happy surprise, the snow had stopped accumulating and the intrepid road crews had been hard at work clearing our way back.
As stated, I don't believe in the supernatural, ghosts, etc., yet I still enjoyed this, if for no other reason than the history of the place. I would advise you to check it out if you're nearby, but honestly, no one is near by. You have to go there intentionally, which I do advise. It's worth it, skeptic or not.