ROCHESTER NY – It’s a chilly fall evening on the Friday before Halloween. Leaves cover the grass, giving Rochester’s iconic Warner Castle a festive aura.
It is a perfect night for fright.
Jenni Lynn, a parapsychologist, holds two dowsing rods in each hand. The two metal L-shaped instruments move to the right and left, responding to the user’s accidental or involuntary movements.
Dowsing rods have historically been used to locate oil, gemstones, groundwater, or… ghosts.
Dowsing is pseudoscience, thought to be no more effective than speculation. Nevertheless, Lynn believes the rods provide an opportunity for communication.
She explains when the rods turn inward, it indicates “yes,” and outward implies “no.”
“Are you here because of Warner Castle,” Lynn asks? The rods move outward − no.
“Are you from Mt. Hope Cemetery or one of the houses near here?” The rods answer no to both questions.
“Are you here with someone tonight?” The rods move inward.
A group of Rochesterians look on, amazed.
“Now is a good time to discuss the difference between ghosts and spirits,” Lynn tells them.
The crowd of locals on Rochester’s Candlelight Ghost Walk is about to discover their location, the intersection of Mt. Hope and Reservoir Avenue, is said to be one of the most haunted corners in the city.
Lynn has owned Rochester Candlelight Ghost Walks for 19 years. Her parapsychology study delved into how our brains perceive the paranormal, typically based on upbringing and religion, or lack thereof.
She’s the daughter of a ghost hunter father who took her on haunted walks. Lynn fell in love on a visit to a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, attraction, the site of one of the deadliest battles in America’s Civil War.
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Rochester’s famous ghost stories
She grew up fascinated by terrifying local tales.
The famous legend “The Lady in White” is about a ghostly woman and her two dogs searching for her missing daughter.
The tale of Francis Tumblety is another favorite. Tumblety was a phony physician in 19th-century Rochester. He visited London to peddle patent medicines at the same time Jack the Ripper engaged in a killing spree. Trumblety became a prime suspect.
“He grew up across the other side of Mt. Hope Cemetary,” Lynn mentioned about Trumblety. “Hundreds of ghost stories come out of Mt. Hope Cemetary alone. I’m constantly on the hunt for more stories.”
The number of stories and sightings happening within the general area is what makes the corner of Mt. Hope and Reservoir avenues unique.
Local legend says Mt. Hope Cemetery has been haunted since 1838, when it opened due to a cholera outbreak. The city needed a space to house the dead. Thus, Mt. Hope became the first municipal cemetery in the United States.
There are over 350,000 people buried in Mt. Hope. There are just over 211,000 people in the city of Rochester.
Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony are buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery, but what roams the graveyard at night is not so identifiable.
As Jenni Lynn leads her ghost walk to the cemetery gates, she shares the story of a security guard who spotted a little girl on the side of the road as he attempted to lock the gates at closing. The security guard took the child’s name right before she darted off to stand in front of a headstone… with her name on it.
So, what haunts this part of town, ghosts or spirits?
Lynn explains the difference while holding the dowsing rods.
“Ghosts are those that have departed but have not actually left the earth. Spirits are most of our loved ones. When they pass, they crossover to whatever you believe is heaven.”
Using the rods, she asks if she is with a ghost or spirit. The rods move inward, indicating yes to the latter; a spirit is present on the grounds of Warner Castle, right across the street from Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Christopher Gian-Cursio purchased Warner Castle in 1944 and turned it into a sanitarium. Like Francis Tumblety, Gian-Cursio was described as a quack doctor who prescribed his patients’ alternative medicine.
According to Democrat and Chronicle article from May 23, 1946, Gian-Cursio was acquitted of practicing medicine without a license. A Niagara Falls man died after spending six weeks at his sanitarium.
“He lost several patients here at the castle,” Lynn said. “It’s said that if you come here late at night, you’ll see some people wandering in old hospital grounds.”
Whether it is ghosts or spirits, does Jenni Lynn believe any of the stories, or is it just business?
“There absolutely has to be some truth to these sightings,” she said. “Rochester is full of paranormal activity, and Rochester has a thirst for it.”
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