by Claire Fleming | published Oct. 7th, 2016
A cemetery is the cliche home of "paranormal activity." Walking in a cemetery at night can play games with one's mind. Besides the crickets, the rain and the pavement beneath your feet, all you hear is silence. Anything you see or hear could be a figment of your imagination — or maybe it isn't. In here, you will hear what you want to hear and see what you want to see. What lies here are stories untold, silence and the inevitability of death. Walking quietly through the twists and turns of the road, you see gravestone after gravestone. Some are pristine, but some have illegible names that have eroded away along with the lives those that are buried here once lived. Questions of all the souls buried beneath the earth linger here, unanswered. All you can do is step quietly and respectfully, wondering if your mind will begin to play games with you or if you might experience something you can't explain.
Rochester and its surrounding areas happen to be hosts to quite a few cemeteries, including the famous Mount Hope Cemetery and Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, but these are not the only places urban legends permeate in Rochester.
"Some people are so terrified, they don't want to be in their homes," said Rob Pistilli, founder of Monroe County Paranormal Investigators (MCPI). both private and public places hold unexplained experiences — including some frightening ones. Whether or not you believe in spirits or ghosts, the unexplained is always a source of inquiry. For people like Pistilli, it's finding the answer that is most intriguing.
This first legend, perhaps Rochester's most famous, is the tale of The White Lady of Durand-Eastman Park. This legend has been told since the 1800s and has numerous versions and varying details. Rochester Subway highlighted a few of the different stories and noted the most popular details. In most versions, a woman lived in a castle and had a daughter that was either abducted or ran away. The woman is rumored to have never found her daughter and thrown herself off a cliff into Lake Ontario in despair. It is told that the woman still rises from a pond in Durand-Eastman Park and searches for her lost daughter. In some versions, The White Lady is young and travels with two hound dogs, and in others she is old and decrepit. While the tale of The White Lady has not been confirmed, there are some aspects of the tale that have been disproved.
"[The White Lady] didn't have a castle at all; what everyone thinks is her castle was really a restaurant," said Pistilli.
Pistilli argues that just because a legend is well-known doesn't mean it is based in truth. The restaurant known to be the White Lady's castle closed during the Great Depression, and the building itself fell to ruins. All that is left is a wall.
Less paranormal but still creepy is the rumor that a Jack the Ripper suspect is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Jack the Ripper was a serial killer in London who killed and mutilated prostitutes in impoverished areas in 1888. While the true killer has never been found, Francis Tumblety was and still is one of the main suspects. The rumor that Tumblety is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery was confirmed by Democrat & Chronicle, who also reported on his background. Tumblety was born outside of the U.S. (exact location is unknown) and moved to Rochester to be a quack doctor and a con man. He was widely known as misogynistic and was charged with having a connection to Abraham Lincoln's assassination. While Tumblety was never found guilty of any of these crimes, he is ironically buried in the thirteenthth section of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
Mount Hope Cemetery is one of Rochester's most prominent historical landmarks, but some say that it was haunted even before the cemetery was built due to a deadly cholera outbreak.
Some 350,000 bodies are buried at Mt. Hope, more than Rochester's current living population of about 210,000 according to the 2015 census.
Many of those living nearby claim to have seen spirits and flickering lights in Mt. Hope. In 2000, the skull of Gen. Elisha G. Marshall, a civil war general known as "Evil Genius," was stolen. The more disturbing piece of this story, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, is that the general's grave was robbed, her bones were taken and scattered around the cemetery, and evidence of a satanic ritual was found at the burial site. Pistilli noted that while Mt. Hope has been investigated by paranormal groups, the outcome of those investigations cannot be discussed after one investigation was conducted in poor taste.
In fact, there are many historical places in Rochester that have been investigated by paranormal groups who don't want to be associated with the findings, including Geva Theatre, Rochester Public Library (which was investigated on the Syfy show "Ghost Hunters") and Valentown Museum, according to Pistilli.
Even though many public places in Rochester don't accept investigations, residents of Rochester have contacted MCPI with questions about their homes and spirits that may reside in them.
"People always say, 'This is going to sound crazy,' and then I remind them they just called paranormal investigators," said Pistilli. Interestingly enough, sometimes those "crazy" things can be unmasked by real occurrences. Pistilli reports that out of all 500 investigations MCPI has done, about 75 percent of them can be debunked by a normal cause. Pistilli reminds us that sometimes people see what they want to see: "Some people want to be scared."
"Some people want to be scared."