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The Haunted Poor House

The Haunted Poor House
While Buffalo's poor house is now part of UB, Genesee County's poor house is full of ghosts

As journalists we like to base our world around facts. To believe in something we need proof and everything must have a source. So when tasked with writing a feature on a haunted building, it should be easy to dismiss the unexplainable phenomena that may happen to someone inside of Rolling Hills Asylum. However it’s not that easy, because to many when something goes bump in the night, it’s not an unexplainable experience at all. These moments are caused spirits or ghosts, still clinging on to something they left in our world.

Rolling Hills Asylum (RHA) in East Bethany was once home to the Genesee County Poor Farm. Established in 1827, according to the Genesee County website those eligible for assistance at the property were: “habitual drunkards, lunatics (one who by disease, grief or accident lost the use of reason or from old age, sickness or weakness was so weak of mind as to be incapable of governing or managing their affairs), paupers (a person with no means of income), state paupers (one who is blind, lame, old or disabled with no income source) or a vagrant.” The building operated as a working farm until 1887, when patients were moved to a facticity Buffalo. After that point the building operated as an infirmary, tuberculosis hospital, and nursing home until the last patients were moved to Batavia in 1974.

Over 1,700 documented deaths occurred at building throughout its history, and many of the dead were likely buried on the property in unmarked and undiscovered graves. It is because this, that many paranormal enthusiasts believe that the spirits of those that have died or worked in the building, still inhabit the property to this day. Haunted North America has rated RHA as the second most haunted site in North America, and in 2015 named RHA number 13 on it’s Best Year Round Haunted Attractions (Rolling Hills is the highest rated non-theatrical attraction.)

It wasn’t until 1992 when the building was reopened as an antique mall that much of the unexplainable activity started happening and since then, RHA has been favorite location of paranormal enthusiasts from across the country, including current owner Sharon Coyle. “In 2008 I was living California, and I came out to Rolling Hills Asylum for a Darkness Radio event and had three great nights of activity, I really fell in love with the place” said Coyle. “Fast forward to 2009, and I got a call saying that the building was going to be closed forever, and I was shocked.” Coyle decided that she would move from California, purchase property, and live in one of the existing houses on the site. “It was actually a bigger calling than my own choice. I really just wanted to save a historical property first of all, and being involved in the paranormal for many years, when visiting here, I found that the spirits here are what you call an intelligent haunting. I thought [the spirits] would have been really distraught if something had happened to their home, and the property may have been demolished or damaged. I didn’t want a property that could have been a real asset to the area to go to waste,” said Coyle.

Through research and paranormal investigation Coyle and her team of volunteers have been able to determine who some of the spirits still at RHA were when they were living. “Some of spirits tell us, but we look at historical documents, we talk to historians and do research. Sometimes people come out of the woodwork who knew someone that lived or worked here and it coincides with evidence that we’ve gotten through EVPs or photos,” said Coyle.

One of the spirits you may encounter at RHA is Nurse Emma, the former head of nursing for the facility, a woman from old world Germany who according to Coyle doesn’t take kindly to men entering her bedroom without properly introducing themselves. According to Coyle, the spirits of several children run throughout building. They may cling to those with small children at home and like to sing nursery rhymes. If you have voice-recording running and stop singing midway through a verse, they might finish the song for you.

Down in the butcher shop you may experience the smells of raw meat, and visitors have experienced activity in the room after telling dirty jokes. The east-wing of the building has been labeled as “shadow hallway,” as many shadowy figures may drift in and out of the long dark hallway. You may see the seven-foot tall shadow of man by the name of Roy, a former patient who likely suffered from gigantism. According to Coyle, as a boy, his wealthy father who was embarrassed by his son’s excessive height dropped Roy off at the poor house where he lived the rest of his life.

Along with the many other spirits that Coyle and the volunteers at RHA have been able to identify, visitors have also experienced loud banging or slamming coming from rooms with no one in them. Male visitors who take a seat in the building’s barber chairs have claimed to feel as if their hair is being cut. Doors may open or close on their own, and if you take a seat in a wheelchair it may start rolling for no explainable reason.

If you are someone who feels the paranormal stories from RHA are more of a hoax than a haunt, Coyle has a suggestion for you. “Come out and see for yourself. If nothing else, come out for the history. It’s a very historical property. Come on the tour, where we talk a lot about the history and the people that were here, the paranormal overlaps into the history. Come out for the curiosity, come out because you think you’re going to prove me wrong, and I’ll prove you wrong, because you’ll probably walk out of here some sort of personal experience,” said Coyle.

For more information on touring Rolling Hills Asylum visit

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