While popular haunted places in the Midwest struggle to gain recognition and help from local governments and mainstream business/tourism organizations, one state is getting it right. When I began researching legends in Upstate New York, I came across this website, and I was surprised to discover that the website was the result of cooperation across more than a dozen local tourism bureaus. This year, they released a full-color, 24-page guidebook to dozens of allegedly haunted places you can visit around New York, with phone numbers, addresses, and websites divided by region and type of experience.
Whenever the subject of haunted places or tours is discussed with community leaders in my home state of Illinois, it is usually in hushed tones, as if they are speaking of porno theaters or international crime rings. Despite the benefits of paranormal tourism, for example, a number of years ago local church leaders in my hometown petitioned the public library board to shut down a friend’s ghost tour, which she had ran successfully in cooperation with the library for years, because it was allegedly “occult” related.
Haunted History Tour of New York State is an effort by dozens of public and private organizations, including the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., Livingston County Office of Tourism & Marketing, Syracuse Convention & Visitors Bureau, Oneida County Tourism, New York State Tourism (creator of the popular “I Love New York” campaign), and many others. Their website and brochure offers a guide to over 30 different locations across the state, many of which have appeared on paranormal-themed television shows. The website also has an audio tour, haunted road trips, and a calendar of events.
“I Love New York” is proudly displayed on the cover of their full color, professionally designed brochure. “The trail offers serious ghost hunting locations that cater to investigative teams, as well as seasonal ghostly-themed events for the paranormal-curious,” it explains. “From the great spirits invoked by early Native American tribes, to the first Dutch settlers who carefully avoided haunted places, New York has harbored centuries of hauntings that simply can’t be explained. Explore the trail to hear New York’s bone-chilling history and meet ghosts from the past.”
Kelly Rapone of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism program came up with the idea in 2013 as a way to help market Rolling Hills Asylum. “The idea occurred to me in June of 2013 that there were likely other ‘one-off’ haunted attractions in other counties across the state, and if we were to connect them then a bigger opportunity could be created than anything that we could each do on our own,” she explained. “I sent an email out to all of the state-wide tourism promotion agencies to see if any had anything that would work under this theme, and if they would be interested in being a partner in the program.”
“The tourism people “get it”; it’s all about attracting a new visitor base by creating a new type of visitor experience out of existing tourism product. The locations that are on the trail, specifically the smaller museums and historical societies rave about this program and have said that the trail is providing them a way to increase their revenues all while giving them a platform to share their history with a visitor who likely would have not come through their doors otherwise.”
This acknowledges that legends and lore can be a great way to create interest in local history, not to mention generate local tourist dollars. There is always concern that promoting alleged hauntings attracts vandalism and other criminal activity. No one can stop people with bad intentions from doing bad things, but what you can do is try to remove opportunities for mischief in a controlled, carefully supervised environment in which people can satisfy their curiosity about the unknown. I believe this was effectively accomplished with the Haunted History Tour of New York State, and I hope other states follow suit.