New York City has more than its fair share of sinister secrets. (Could Ghostbusters be set anywhere else? Think about it.) But the real scares are beyond city limits. Check out these getaway destinations for the macabre set, which hit the state’s most haunted histories. There are no fairy tales here, only ghost hunts and real-life stories of murder, greed and insanity. Craving some spooky fun within the five boroughs? Check out these local haunted houses and ghost tours.
Most haunted places in New York state
In 1964, six children and a young mother perished in a fire at this former three-residence property. Over the years, museumgoers have reported a host of creepy happenings: a smell of ash lingering in the basement, toys flying off the shelves, the sensation of having one’s clothes or hair tugged, and even a phantom feline.
historicpalmyrany.com. Ghost tours by appointment only; from $35.
It’s no wonder that this spot, once a church and a funeral home, is now an institution dedicated to all things supernatural. According to staffers, paranormal investigators (including the Ghost Hunters team) have captured voices, shadows, orbs of light and other evidence of lingering spirits. Keep your eyes peeled for the specter of military vet Edgar Zernicke, whose ashes went unclaimed in the basement for decades.
ironislandmuseum.com. Tours $5, overnight investigations $105–$175.
Whether or not you believe the “nonfiction” book or the franchise of horror films it inspired, there’s no doubt that some scary, real-life stuff happened in this otherwise charming looking Dutch Colonial–style abode at 112 Ocean Avenue. In the early ‘70s, a young man murdered his parents and four siblings in the house. When another family bought the house after the murders, they reported witnessing all sorts of creepy smells and feelings and had unexplainable, ominous visions. The fam moved out just 28 days later. It's still a private residence, so don't be that guy that takes a photo in front of the abode. Serious. Just don't.
For a half century, this Art Deco number was a bustling transportation hub. But although the last train departed in 1979, reports of moving apparitions and the feeling of being watched suggest that BCT remains plenty active. Ghostbusters recommend beginning at the baggage-claim area (watch out for a woman named Rose), where the overall state of abandoned disrepair only adds to the station’s spooky vibe.
buffalocentralterminal.org. Paranormal investigations $15.
If you’ve ever longed to explore a decaying asylum with just a flashlight and an EVP meter, consider your prayers answered. These rooms are arrayed with hospital beds, ratty dolls and old medical equipment, all amplifying the eerie atmosphere. Make sure to visit the second floor of the east wing to see if the Shadow People Hallway lives up to its ominous name. (Fun fact: Appropriately, the former poor house was a shooting location for American Horror Story: Asylum.)
rollinghillsasylum.com. Tours and self-guided ghost hunts $20–$55.
Trips to this vino-boastin’ hotel in the Finger Lakes may involve more than one type of spirit. At the late-1800s Romanesque Revival structure, which over the decades has been a casino, a supper club and a Prohibition-era speakeasy, patrons have claimed to glimpse a forlorn woman in white who stands silently on the front lawn. According to legend, she was an Italian opera singer named Isabella who decamped to the castle with her lover, only to meet her demise when one of its tunnels collapsed on top of her.
belhurst.com. $75 and up per night.
Want to hear the scandalous stories that certain cemetery residents wish they could have taken to their grave? Of course you do. During these weekend tours, kerosene lamps light the way as you’re guided through town tales of murder-suicide, corruption, extortion and insanity that are so terrifying, they will leave you shaking among the tombstones. Psst: A handful of famous bodies lie beneath the soil, including “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” writer himself, Washington Irving.
sleepyhollowcemetery.org. Murder and Mayhem tours $25.
Opened in 1843 as the first state-run hospital for treating the mentally ill, the former New York State Lunatic Asylum was considered state of the art at the time of its completion. However, the good intentions of creating a treatment center were rarely supportive and caring. Within the massive Greek Revival hospital, facilitators regularly performed lobotomies and electroshock therapy. Patients lived in filth, confined to cramped quarters with little care. It was here that doctors invented the Utica Crib, an inhuman, long, shallow cage where they kept agitated people to calm them down or to punish misbehaving residents. Though it closed in 1973, Old Main (the local nickname for it) still stands. Some people claim they’ve seen faces looking out the window and heard screams coming from the abandoned building. Today, it’s mostly off-limits to the public, but in the government has sponsored occasional ghost tours as recently as last summer.
A grandiose hotel on a private island overlooking Lake George sounds like the perfect place for some rest and relaxation—or eternal rest, for some guests. You can still rent a room there for around $280 to $600, but you might not be alone. At the gorgeous 19th century Victorian resort, stories of ghost sightings are mainly confined to the elegant restaurants, but the Sagamore’s most notorious ghost is more likely to be found playing outdoors. About 70 years ago, a small boy who would often sell lost golf balls back to pro shop customers was hit by a car during his search. If you listen very closely, you can still hear him giggling.
In 1817, George Clarke began the nearly two-decade process of building what was then the largest private residence in the U.S.—but he died within a year of its completion. However, some believe that even death hasn’t kept Clarke from enjoying his dream house. More than 150 years of paranormal experiences have been documented, including apparitions, footsteps and sheets being pulled off beds. If that’s not eerie enough, the property also features a detached family crypt, which you can experience for yourself during candlelit tours of the grounds on Friday and Saturday nights.
hydehall.org. Candlelit ghost tours $20.
The well-preserved doctor’s home and office provide curious onlookers with a snapshot of life in the late 1800s. While that’s cool and all, it’s the collection of crude, mid-1600s medical instruments that will send shivers down your spine. Not only that, Dr. Best and his wife and son all died inside the house. Paranormal investigations have found soaring EVP levels along with the faint sounds of the Best Family and a tinkling piano.
drbesthouse.com. Paranormal investigation Oct 20 at 7pm; $30.
Many died in this old 19th century poorhouse. Some 17,000 bodies are believed to be buried on the premises, almost all in unmarked graves. Opened in 1826 as the Genesee County Poor House, the large farmhouse served vagrants by making them work on the farm. It would later be used as an infirmary, orphanage, tuberculosis hospital and nursing home. Those who have gone on the public and private tours have seen some paranormal activity in the psych ward, morgue, graveyard and the former bedroom of Roy, an inmate (all residents were referred to as this) who now haunts visitors as a seven-foot-tall “shadow man.”
rollinghillsasylum.com. Historical tours $20, flashlight tours $25.
Sure, cemeteries are expected to have their share of creepy happenings, but few can lay claim to the same frightening legends of this graveyard. Tucked away on a small street off Sawmill Rd/89 that leads to an abandoned dirt road, this spot is not only the final resting grounds to many children but also (according to lore), it was the place where a seven-year-old mentally handicapped girl was stoned to death by her own village. Many of the 19th century gravestones have been tipped over or destroyed, and the shadowy spirits are not happy about it. Oh, and the wooded seclusion makes it seem all the more likely that no one will hear you scream.
Don’t let the architectural splendor of this 119-year-old building fool you: Ghoulish reports describe flickering lights and shadowy figures, clocks mysteriously rewinding by eight minutes and a dutiful night watchman who still makes his rounds well after expiring in the structure’s 1911 fire. During a gratis tour, see if you can spot the hidden devil carved into the wall by a disgruntled stonecutter.
ogs.ny.gov. Haunted tours through Nov 2; free with reservation.
In a little hamlet in Rockland County, the state dedicated 2,362 acres to the care of mentally and physically disabled children and adults. Though beautiful to look at—the grounds and buildings were modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate—like many of the state-run facilities for society’s most vulnerable members, Letchworth Village quickly gained a reputation for mistreatment. Reports of patients covered in filth and living without clothes, inadequate bedding or food plagued the institution. This is also the place where the very first polio vaccines were tested on young children (the first human trial of a vaccine, period), and while the test was a big success, choosing young children removed from parents’ care seems like a misstep, to say the least. Today, the buildings on the boys’ side remain abandoned and off-limits to the public, but trespassers with no regard for the law have come out spooked by weird sounds, moving objects and other ghostly activity.
For people living in Brunswick and nearby Troy, the abandoned Forest Park Cemetery—known locally as the Pinewoods Cemetery—is a place only to be traversed by the bravest of souls. If you explore this wooded area through tall, overgrown grass, you will likely feel chills running down your spine from inexplicable cold spots. Decapitated angel statues have been known to bleed from their stone necks, and should you peer inside one of the vandalized mausoleums, the coffin might just be missing. Spooky.
Though the Fort William Henry Museum is actually a replica built in the 1950s of the original British stronghold off Lake George, that hasn’t stopped the hundreds who died in a massacre from returning to the grounds where they were centuries before. Back in 1757, Fort William Henry was lost when thousands of French soldier attacked and destroyed the military stronghold during the French and Indian War. Today, you can take a ghost tour, and guests have reported hearing whisperings like “Hurry up,” and shadow people appear in visitors’ photos.
fwhmuseum.com. Tours $17.
It might seem like a treat to visit this grand former movie palace that brought a cosmopolitan glamour to the city back in the 1920s, but the century-old beauty comes with a price: ghosts. Look out for Clarissa, an actress who supposedly died falling from the balcony, or Oscar, an old stagehand who might make the lights flicker.
Once part of a large estate for the president of the Singer Sewing Company, this Victorian bed-and-breakfast has frightened more than a few greenhorns. Private ghost hunters and guests alike have sworn to seeing a woman pacing the halls and to hearing unexplained noises, footsteps and music from an unseen piano. Can’t bear the thought of an overnight stay? The mansion’s fall BYOB murder-mystery dinners serve suspense without as many spooks.
burnbraemansion.com. Murder-mystery dinners Oct 6, Dec 8 at 6pm. $40.
This pre-Victorian gem, home to four generations of the influential Seward family, is also the site of two attempted murders. True-crime aficionados can ogle the 153-year-old, bloodstained sheets of a brutal but failed assassination attempt on the house’s own William Seward (the secretary of state under President Lincoln), while museum-led tours and talks will prove that not all horror stories need ghosts to be creepy AF.
sewardhouse.org. Haunted history tours Oct 25–30; $15.
Despite appearing on both Travel Channel’s Most Terrifying Places in America and SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, this spot’s gentle and kind owner insists that the spirits here are more of a Casper variety than vicious supernatural beings. This is good news for anyone hanging out in nearby Niagara Falls or Buffalo who’s looking for a chance to sip on a refreshing glass of wine, take in the views of Lake Ontario and then go looking for spirits, some of whom might date back to the original family that built their farm there in 1834. Don’t be too alarmed if you feel something brushing up against your leg—that’s likely the ghost dog who also runs with this otherworldly crew.
Written by By Katherine Alex Beaven and Tolly Wright