LOCKPORT – After a decade of working with a man who made ghost-history tours into a local fixture, John Koerner left and launched his own paranormal tour business, adding in stories of secret societies, demons, miracles, conspiracies and ghost-detecting gadgets, in new walks through Buffalo’s Elmwood Village and this city along the Erie Canal.
“I just felt like I wanted to start my own company based on my own ideas and my own research,” said Koerner, 35, who teaches American history at Niagara County Community College and Erie Community College. “I’ve always been obsessed with trying to figure out the truth. The paranormal allows you to delve into the unknown.”
He spent about a decade working with Mason Winfield, who is well known for his Haunted History Ghost Walks, before starting his business in August. Koerner’s personal ghost encounter, in graduate school, foreshadowed his business: He spotted what may have been an apparition when he was living in Rochester and studying for a master’s degree at Brockport State College.
First he heard a violin playing “horrible stuff” that sounded like a death dirge, he said. He peeked in a window and saw the back of an illuminated figure, playing the violin. When he looked again, there was nothing.
“Either someone broke into an abandoned building to play a violin, or it was a ghost,” said Koerner. “I found out later that was the faculty building for the Eastman School of Music about 50 years before.”
The Hamburg native now lives in Buffalo, has written a series of books published locally by Western New York Wares and enjoys talking to people about their experiences with spooky happenings in buildings and places.
He shares his findings from interviews and old records with people who pay $10 for one of the “Paranormal Walks” listed at paranormalwalks.com. Interested tour takers meet up at 7 p.m. Fridays at the Organic 3 Café at 739 Elmwood Ave. and at 7 p.m. Saturdays at the Sweet Rides Café at 51 Canal St.
“It’s all just meant to have people keep an open mind of the paranormal,” he said.
You bring along “ghost-busting” equipment? What is it?
Motion detector. Gaussmeter. It detects magnetic fields. I bring with me mandrake. It’s a natural root that people would drink to talk to the dead. It’s all about exposing people to new ideas.
Lockport has a spooky, canal-related history?
We have stories of a mysterious creature on the Erie Canal that was sighted outside of Lockport.
The first murder in Lockport history was because the Erie Canal workers were rioting and they killed their foreman. So Lockport’s first murder was because of the Erie Canal.
Then, in the 1840s, they were doing some renovation of the canal. These workers were doing some dynamiting work. Judge Richardson was hated. A huge boulder rose up into the air and crushed him to death. I got that from town historian Dick Dickinson. It’s one of the most famous stories in Lockport’s history.
There is a friendly ghost at Friendly’s restaurant?
One of my students actually works there. The ghost there is very gently whispering to people. Things will fly off the shelves on their own. Nothing threatening. All very gentle.
It might be a suicide from the ’70s. Back then, it was Crystal’s ice cream shop. The owner’s wife, she jumped off the Erie Canal bridge. This was in the late ’70s.
Two bridges down there in downtown Lockport have been the scene of many suicides.
So you are taking a broad approach with your tours? Going beyond ghost stories?
Paranormal includes things like angels, demons, exorcisms, UFOs, secret societies, miracles, conspiracies, vampires. Obviously, ghosts. These are all my own stories; these are stories that I have researched on my own.
I really am a stickler for the facts. I want to make sure that everything is factual and objective. It’s not a tour to convince people of any idea. Just to expose people. I think it’s to redefine what is paranormal. I think some of these things should be considered normal.
Mainstream historians, they would never think these things are acceptable to be talked about. Maybe it’s time to open up our minds to new possibilities of what really is happening in our local history. Objectively, historically, there are actually events recorded by credible people. I have no agenda other than the truth.
What is your story about a secret society?
The Masons. They were involved in kidnapping a man named William Morgan to cover up their secrets. He eventually was killed by the Masons. Two men from Lockport were put in jail for doing this. Strangely enough, the day that they kidnapped him was Sept. 11 of 1826, which is, of course, 175 years exactly before the terrorist attacks.
They eventually kill him, probably at Fort Niagara, Sept. 14. The day that President McKinley dies? Sept. 14, 1901, in Buffalo, 75 years later. If you just stick with the facts, they on their own are amazing. There’s no need for any sensationalizing.
Lockport had a place called the Hodge opera house – there was a séance done there on Feb. 28, 1882. The opera house burned down Feb. 28, 1928. The same day. 1882. 28. It’s all twos and eights. Very unusual. It’s very strange.
Where the DMV is today, there was a family. They were victimized by demonic attack. This all happened in 1867. It was all written up by two Lockport newspapers. They were a tailor family. They made clothing. Much of the family’s clothing was ripped to shreds by unseen hands. There were glasses that were shattered. The appearance of horrible smells and an infestation of black flies. All classic signs of demonic possession.
Then, I find out from doing some more research, that location is the location of Lockport’s first burial ground. A Quaker burial ground. In other words, a place of goodness, because Quakers love everyone.
The second crazy thing was the day that it stops was Dec. 21. Why is that unusual? That is the day of darkness. The day of the most darkness on the earth, the winter solstice day. After that day, the days get longer and longer. After that day, the attacks stop. As light came back to the world, the demons went away.
Is this a coincidence? I don’t know. We should now call it the Demon Motor Vehicle Department. I’m just kidding.
It’s all there for everyone to learn about on the walks.
Know a Niagara County resident who’d make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Bruce Andriatch, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.