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Jamie Ditaranto

Ghost Hunting at Rolling Hills Asylum

SmarterTravel

As the sun sets in Genesee, New York, low-hanging clouds cast ominous shadows behind Rolling Hills Asylum. I’ve just arrived to find a surprisingly big crowd outside this abandoned asylum at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night. The place is packed with ghost hunters. A long line of flashlight-wielding and glow stick-wearing visitors is lined up at the door, waiting to get inside and hoping to encounter something paranormal. Tonight, I am one of them.

Rolling Hills opened as the government-run Genesee County Poorhouse. The building was later used to house not only the needy but also orphans, people with disabilities, and people with mental illness. In its near-200-year history, thousands of unfortunate souls passed through the halls of Rolling Hills, and it is widely believed that many of them are still there. One of the most popular stops on the Haunted History Trail of New York State and a favorite filming location for television shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, Rolling Hills is considered one of the most haunted places in the United States.

spooky hallway inside rolling hills asylum
Jamie Ditaranto

When the doors open, the line shuffles along as our bags are checked at the door. There are absolutely no weapons allowed inside the asylum, and management maintains a zero-tolerance alcohol policy—two stipulations I’m incredibly grateful for as I get ready to roam a spooky asylum in the dark with 50 or so strangers. Once inside, our group is led to “the green room” to sign our waivers and get the low-down on our ghost hunt. As we sit around a table covered in a Halloween-themed tablecloth, our guide for the night and Rolling Hills’ proprietor, Sharon Coyle, enthusiastically gives us advice for our ghostly encounters.

“Make sure you talk to them about interesting things,” she says. “Don’t talk to them in the past tense and definitely don’t ask them if they’re ‘stuck.’ They’ll get bored of that pretty quickly.”

She emphasizes that patience is key and reminds everyone in the room that when ghost-hunting professionals on television shoot an episode, it’s usually done over multiple days. For our ticket, we just have tonight.

Sharon leads us through the asylum for the first hour, telling us the history of each room and some of the more noteworthy encounters that have been recorded at Rolling Hills. Mediums and ghost-hunting professionals have catalogued hundreds of personalities and located portals to alternate dimensions. After the tour, our group is free to split up and explore the massive facility on our own, and we’re encouraged to interact with everything we see. The rooms are dressed for different themes, and our massive group thins out pretty quickly as groups split off to begin the ghost hunt. In the classroom, some ask trivia questions out loud hoping for an answer. In the morgue, braver souls lay on the metal autopsy table.

Rolling Hills is one of the few haunted locations where visitors are allowed to “free roam,” meaning they don’t need a guide leading them the whole time. And depending on the ticket they purchase, visitors are allowed remain on the premises until 4:00 a.m.

Did I see any ghosts? I can’t say that I did. Did I feel like I was in a horror movie? Absolutely. Visiting a haunted place like Rolling Hills Asylum is nothing at all like visiting a haunted house. There are no actors, no fake cobwebs, and no one hiding in the corner trying to scare you. Whether you’re a true believer or a horror-film junkie, Rolling Hills is an authentic way to get yourself spooked.

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Jamie Ditaranto visited Rolling Hills Asylum as a guest of the Haunted History Trail of New York State. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.

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