Carnival rides, roller coasters, fun houses, arcades, sparkling lights on warm summer nights reflecting off the lake, these are the sights and sounds of Sylvan Beach on Oneida Lake in central New York. For over a century, vacationers flocked to Verona and Sylvan Beaches in the summer, leading the area to called the “Coney Island of Central New York.”
Today, visiting the local amusement park and beachfront is like stepping back in time. After the lights go down, many visitors and employees have reported encountering the unseen among the old buildings, leading the Sylvan Beach Amusement Park to be featured on the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters in 2013.
Prior to European settlement, the Oneidas and the Onondagas, both members of the Iroquois Confederacy, lived in the Oneida Lake region. They called the lake Tsioqui, which means “white water.” Remnants of their fishing villages are still occasionally uncovered around the lake. During the early 1800s, Yankees from New England poured into the area, looking for more fertile land.
James D. Spencer and his sons began real estate speculation on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake in the 1850s. They recognized it as a prime vacation spot, and hotels and amusement parks soon sprung up. Carello’s Carousel Arcade (independently owned) opened in 1896, and children can still ride their original wooden carousel. Unfortunately, the original fun house at the park burnt down. The oddly named Laffland was installed in 1954. Its deceptively cheerful clowns have been terrifying children for decades.
Sylvan Beach Amusement Park features many rides and games, including Kiddieland, Laffland, the Bomber, Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars, Rock-O-Plane, Bumper Boats, arcade, Treasureland, Bonanza Shooting Gallery, and the Galaxi Coaster. Other well-known Sylvan Beach businesses include Yesterday’s Royal, Harpoon Eddie’s, and Eddie’s Restaurant. Yesterday’s Royal is closed down and currently sits empty, alongside several other amusements and local bars. Hopefully they will reopen in the near future.
According to legend, Sylvan Beach and Yesterday’s Royal restaurant-hotel are haunted by the restless spirits of three former employees. Abby, known as the Lady in White, is mainly seen and felt in the hotel. The ghost of “Scotty,” a carny whose body was found in the Treasureland building, has been seen throughout the park and in the Playland attic. Jack, another carny who died at the amusement park, is suspected of opening doors and hanging out at the bar in Yesterday’s Royal.
In September 2012, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) spent a week at Sylvan Beach investigating the amusement park for paranormal activity. They reportedly documented a wide range of unusual activity that reinforced generations of ghost stories told about the park.
Doug Waterbury, owner of Sylvan Beach Amusement Park and Yesterday’s Royal, told the Syracuse Post-Standard, “They put in quite an effort and found interesting results. We’ve had for decades reports of all kinds of ghost sightings and other paranormal activities in Sylvan Beach amusement park and Yesterday’s Royal.”
The episode, titled “Scream Park,” aired in late February, 2013. This led to “Park After Dark” ghost tours, led by a group called CasperCops. According to the tour organizers, paranormal activity observed on the 2014 tour included coins and pieces of wood flying through the air and hitting the floor. “On top of the coin noises during the August 9th tour, I observed a dark in color object fall from the air hockey table,” he or she wrote.
“It appeared to be a container full of coins but when it hit the floor I only heard what sounded like one coin. By the time that I had moved to the air hockey table with my video camera, no container or coins were found.” The tours are offered on Friday and Saturday nights at 9pm during the summer season, and tickets cost $20.
When I visited the Sylvan Beach Amusement Park in early August 2015, I found myself transported back to the carefree summers of my childhood. It was a shame to see so many closed businesses, but this summer has had exceptionally mild weather. My friend and I spoke with several park employees who were not only aware of the ghostly activity, many had witnessed it themselves. Kahuna’s Burgers and Floats seemed to be a hotbed of activity. If you visit, make sure to also stop at Carello’s Carousel Arcade and have your fortune told by Zoltar the wise gypsy.