Haunted Rochester: A Supernatural History of the Lower Genesee

Haunted Rochester: A Supernatural History of the Lower Genesee


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After this survey of Rochester's super natural history and tradition, "the Flour City" will never look the same!

Avenging specters, demon-tortured roads, holy miracles, weird psychic events, prehistoric power sites, ancient curses, Native American shamans, active battlefields, ghost ships, black dogs, haunted monuments and the phantoms of Rochester's famous--all are part of the legacy of Rochester and the lower Genesee. Supernatural historian Mason Winfield and the research team from Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc., take us on a spiritual safari through the Seneca homeland of the "Sweet River Valley" and the modern city in its place. After their survey of Rochester's super natural history and tradition, "the Flour City" will never look the same.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781596294189
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing SC
Publication date: 07/30/2008
Series: Haunted America
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 773,327
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Author, researcher, and supernatural historian Mason Winfield has published five books: Spirits of the Great Hill, A Ghost Hunter's Journal, Haunted Places of Western New York, Village Ghosts of Western New York and the regional sensation Shadows of the Western Door. Winfield designed and appeared on The Phantom Tour, a 2-hour TV program / DVD on haunted history in Western New York, has appeared on NBC's Today Show, and stars in a 2006 episode of Legend Hunters. He is the founder of Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc., a company that designs and develops various forms of haunted" tourism, including walking and carriage tours, conferences, and performances. Cultural, historic, and architectural preservation are vital issues to Winfield, and Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc. is proud to support those causes through their partnerships with cultural organizations."

Read an Excerpt




Ghosts and Revenants, Memory, History, and Folklore" was the theme of the 2007 World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York. A guest of honor and featured speaker was Abenaki author and publisher Joseph Bruchac, who told ghost stories of the native Northeast. The Abenaki are not even linguistic cousins of the Iroquois nations, but they come from the same region as the easternmost Mohawks.

Someone summarized the tone of the evening as a lot of tales about "skeletons" and "cannibals." Most Native Americans of the Northeast, including the Iroquois, believe in ghosts, and they know the haunted places in their current and former territories. But they don't develop stories of the European style. The creepiest aspects of their folklore feature supernaturally powerful human eaters and corpses reanimated into forms that might in other traditions be labeled revenants, ghouls, zombies and vampires.

Even today, the Iroquois attitude toward ghosts is different from that of most other Americans. Many Iroquois have a strong faith in presences that we might call spirits — of the human dead or otherwise. But these are not ghosts — apparitions. They are invisible. They could quite well be gods, Little People (the Iroquois fairies), animal spirits, acts of magic, the powers of fate or entities of other sorts that were never incarnated. Most Iroquois reports of ghosts imply that they are some leftover of the human personality, as if the orenda ("life force") that filled people when they lived might occasionally congeal and re- project their image in some environment that was once natural to them. This makes a lot of sense when you go by the reports of witnesses worldwide. But no Iroquois I know would put it that way.

Ghost sightings happen so frequently on reservations that the residents hardly notice them. They're amused by the terror of whites. Another type of apparition, a clearly psychic image projected by a dangerous site or a human medicine person, can trouble reservation folk beyond words. Some whites, to their misery, have had encounters with these sorts of things. This image, however, is not a ghost. If it is valid, it might be an example of what today's Iroquois call medicine, and the rest of us call magic. It is either, in extreme shorthand, a projection of world magic (orenda) or human magic (otkon). Whatever it really is that white people encounter at these sites, they usually just report it as "ghosts."

We have pieced together some psychic events and stories related to the Genesee Valley's first inhabitants. It is only right if you feel them in this book. You walk this valley with them.


The classical world believed in two kinds of sacred places: ones people made holy through architecture and devotion, and ones the gods designated through their natural works of fountains, falls, faults and other fey places. The mightiest, of course, are ones that are both — human shrines at geophysical power spots.

The Genesee Valley had plenty of monuments and markers sacred to ancient societies. Some were mysterious even to the Senecas. The only ones we can write about are those prominent enough to the first whites to be listed in the histories. Wherever these sites are, they are magnets for psychic folklore.

Rochester holds three falls along the Genesee River. These were general mystery spots to the Senecas, who considered them, like other strange or spectacular natural places, special to "the Little People," the fairies called Djogao and nicknamed today "the Jungies." We don't expect to learn much beyond that. Traditions about the Little People are the most private that the Iroquois have. Fairy sites in Europe were associated with other aspects of psychic folklore: witchcraft, monsters, giants, mystery lights, treasure and ghosts.

Seneca trails underlie some Rochester streets. Four big Seneca towns were nearby. One, in today's Victor, would have been Gannogaro (flexibly spelled). Gandougarie (with the reputation of a prison camp) was in East Bloomfield, Totiakton was in Rochester Junction or near Mendon and Gannounata was around Lime and Avon.

Old Native American power sites were often near major trails and were geologically distinct. City planners delight in destroying them as much as they enjoy demolishing architectural treasures of white society. The Cold Spring in Buffalo is one such site, now buried beneath apartments at Main and Ferry Streets. Another is a spring along the same trail, today's Route 5, by "the Place of the Great Hearing" in Batavia, now under an auto shop. Both sites catch a bit of folklore. It seems as if radiant energy spirals above them, drawing ambivalent psychic experience out of the twenty-first-century people who tenant or frequent the sites. Doubtless, there are dowsers and mystics who could explain this to us.

At the corner of East Avenue and Council Rock in Rochester is a weathered limestone boulder with a lot of history. Orringh Stone's tavern was located around here, but long before it did business, Council Rock, flanked by an enormous elm, was the meeting place for the valley Senecas. So many important decisions were made there by the Senecas, and who knows how many nations before them — Denonville's invasion, Sullivan's march, the treaties, the relocation.

East Avenue was widened in 1904. Council Rock was preserved. The state historical association put a tablet on it in 1919. When East Avenue was widened again in 1931, the rock was moved twenty feet north. If you were to draw a circle a hundred feet around the imaginary former site, it would include the current location of the stone. A few homes and spaces in that circle get psychic reports today, but none we've heard have been of the "spectral Native American council" variety. Ghosts are the flowers of psychic energy at a site. We should not decide in advance what to expect, and we should not be surprised by what we get.


A young Seneca couple journeyed along Lake Ontario to join their families on the Niagara River. They camped near Long Pond in today's Greece and met a handful of fellow travelers.

The Genesee Valley could be lawless in pre-Revolutionary days. The travelers were a party of white renegades. At first they shared fire and conversation, and then they cast admiring eyes on the fair young woman. They drew closer to her and stopped addressing the husband. Soon, one started going through the few belongings of the couple, looking for anything of value. Others started pawing the wife and told the husband to scram. They either didn't know he was Seneca or didn't know the Senecas at all.

The young man drew the only weapon near him — his knife — and fell on them instantly. His wife ran into the darkness. One renegade who turned to follow her took a mortal wound. It was clear that any who turned to chase her would share his fate as long as her husband lived. He dealt at least one more deathblow and wounded many. But the white men had numbers, clubs and tomahawks. The young Seneca man suffered many wounds and at last dove into the pond. Somewhere near the center, he went under, singing his death song.

All was still, and the whites stood with their guilt in the firelight. Suddenly, from an invisible grove, they heard the woman's voice, chanting bitterly. None needed to know Seneca tradition to know that they were being cursed. They never reached their destination. No one knew what became of them — whether they were finished by a party of avenging Senecas or by something less material and far worse.

Ever since, a legend has surrounded Long Pond. The husband's noble form reappears as a sheeny spirit in the center of the waters. Images are common in pools by moonlight, when imaginations are enhanced by darkness. The apparition could be anything, but whatever it is, historian Shirley Cox Husted recalls seeing it.


A grisly ritual dominates the art of the Moche, a pre-Incan Andean civilization. Their murals show a sacrifice in which a victim's throat was slashed and the first blood was caught by a priestess or goddess in a special cup. Academics speculated that the ceremony could be mythological, perhaps an event from Moche cosmology, but then a cup like the ones in the murals was found in a high-ranking female's grave. The finders still speak of the moment of discovery. The Genesee may have its own version of this ritual. The following is a story we have heard.

One of the old hands in local archaeology was asked if ever, in all of his experience with religious objects and human remains, he had encountered anything that had "creeped him out."

"Just once," he replied.

A freelance archaeologist, a "pothunter," brought the museum something that made his hair stand on end. It was from the grave of a woman in the Genesee Valley. By the artifacts around her bones, he judged that she had been a priestess. Found buried with her were two small cups made from the stem of an antler and a deer bone ground and sharpened into a big hypodermic needle. As he took these objects and held them in the moonlight, a chill took his breath away. The academic who recounted the tale felt something funny himself upon beholding them — "Like my grave was stepped on." There may be an explanation.

Missionaries in the Northeast described a ritual involving a macabre serving set. When some indigenous villages had an important captive and decided to make an example of him, a hierarchy of tormenters went to work. The final figure was a priestess in whose charge was a set of antler cups — two small, delicately carved bone vessels — and an equally fine bone needle, tapered and sharpened. When it was inserted between the ribs of the victim in just the right spot, the heart pumped its sweetest blood directly through the marrow channel and was caught by the antler cups.

This was no Iroquois ritual, and the objects point to a different influence in the Genesee Valley, but imagine the feelings of the first discoverer as he threw the earth off them like a coverlet. How many victims had they claimed?


The Genesee Flats" is what the locals called the wide valley made by the Genesee River between Geneseo and Mount Morris. At early dusk in February 1807, a Leicester resident crossed the flats on his way to the western bank. Halfway across, an uncanny wailing filled his ears. Night noises were nothing new in this wild, wooded country, but this sound was humanlike — a wretch in despair and torment. It could have been the howls of the underworld, but coming from the wrong direction. It went on as long as he could stand to hear it in the clear air overhead.

A handful of neighbors came to the spot the next night and heard for themselves the ghastly noise. Word spread, and folks came from all parts of the valley. The crowds grew, sometimes to as many as two thousand people. They were not disappointed.

Humble miracles often became sensations in that undeveloped country. (It was estimated that in 1826, fifteen thousand people watched Buffalo's last public execution.) No wonder they kept coming to hear this wailing spirit. The miracle was that it was dependable. Like clockwork, it sounded off at twilight for two consecutive weeks.

A large group of Senecas lived at nearby Squakie Hill, and many of them had observed the marvel. A council was called. A chief's father had recently died, and it seemed likely that this was his disoriented soul. It had lost its way to the land of the Creator, and, caught in a frightful netherworld, its cries were calls for help.

A hundred warriors waited beneath the sound and fired their guns in unison into the air. When the echoes faded, the gusty shrieking was no more. The sounds were not reported again after the Seneca ceremony, so perhaps their explanation had some truth to it.


Squakie Hill is a ridge at the northern end of Letchworth Park. Seneca villages and prehistoric Algonkian communities were located here. Earthworks and stone ruins found in this area are signs of civilizations before them. Squakie could be an Anglicization of a number of Native American terms, including the name of the nation the Seneca blamed for bringing witchcraft among them. A sign of the hill's sacredness, this was the site of the last "White Dog" ceremony to be held in the valley. No wonder karma loomed here, and an angry spirit had the force of place to hold it.

A frontier hero of the War of 1812 was the Seneca chief they called Young King. The war had barely ended when he had some kind of fight with the government blacksmith at Buffalo. A blow from a scythe cost him an arm and caused outrage among the Senecas. As they pursued their legal options, one of the Great Hill folks stomped off to Buffalo.

John Jemison was the son of the "White Woman of the Genesee," Mary Jemison (1743–1833), and the fearsome chief Hiokatoo. Orsamus Turner saw the self-appointed executioner on his way to Buffalo, decked with paint and horsehair and carrying traditional weapons. To the author of History of the Holland Purchase, he looked like "the Angel of Death." The blacksmith stayed out of sight until things cooled, but Jemison may have been more than a hothead. His own people believed he was a witch.

Rochester's unofficial founder, Ebenezer Allan, spotted something troubling in John Jemison as a boy, and Allan, a first-rate frontier scumbag himself, ought to have been able to tell. Something happened in Jemison's boyhood that gave his brother, Thomas, the idea that he was a witch. From that point on, the rumor stuck.

Witch or not, Jemison was known as a healer all through the valley. On long nightly forays in the woods, he gathered herbs for his spells, potions and poultices. He was also a seer, whose dreams and visions told truth. He foresaw many deaths, including his own. Some he also caused. The killer of two brothers, he was twice a Cain.

Early in July 1811, Thomas Jemison came to his mother's Genesee Valley home a bit the worse for drink. There, he found his witchy brother. Their quarrel ended only when John Jemison dragged Thomas outside by the hair and killed him with a tomahawk. His mother found Thomas on her doorstep. The Seneca council concluded that this was a simple fight, for which neither party was to blame.

Mary Jemison had another son, twenty-eight-year-old Jesse. She relied on him after the death of her husband and ordered Jesse to steer clear of his brother John.

One May morning in 1812, Robert Whaley of Castile hired a crew to help him move lumber. It included both Jemison brothers. At the end of the day, John Barleycorn came calling, and a fight broke out. Witch- warrior John Jemison pulled out a knife. His younger brother tried to take it away. Any one of Jesse Jamison's eighteen wounds could have been fatal. There were no legal consequences in this case either, as it probably seemed like no more than a drunken knife fight. But John was a pariah — until people needed magic. In the spring of 1817, he was called to Buffalo as a healer.

A few weeks later, Jemison was partying again with several Senecas on Squakie Hill. A quarrel started, and two men history remembers as Doctor and Jack decided to kill him. Pretending to be friendly until the party broke up, they hauled Jemison off his horse, hit him with a rock and finished him with an axe. He was fifty-four.

Iroquois society was no stranger to duels and feuds. It also had reasonable laws, and this was premeditated murder. But blood didn't have to have blood if a killer sent an offering to a victim's family and it was accepted. Usually this gift was white wampum, a beaded sash holding the Confederacy's symbol, the two squares–diamond–two squares configuration called "Hiawatha's Belt." The murderers tried this with Mary Jemison. She refused the gift and advised them to run before the council met. This they did, escorted by their relatives. At the border of Seneca country, they faltered. They couldn't leave their families, their villages, this valley. Their uncle Tall Chief advised them to face the council, say their goodbyes and take their punishment "like good Indians [sic]."

Jack snarled and even threatened his life. The old man raised his voice:

If you go into the woods to live alone, the ghost of John Jemison will follow you, crying, "Blood! Blood!" and will give you no peace! If you go to the land of your nation, there that ghost will attend you, and say to your relatives, "See my murderers!" If you plant, it will blast your corn; if you hunt, it will scare your game; and when you are asleep, its groans, and the sight of an avenging tomahawk, will awake you!

They ended up wandering, despised and despising each other and their own lives, which they ended apart on Squakie Hill. One poisoned himself, and the other shot himself soon after. Jemison's revenge had come.


Excerpted from "Haunted Rochester"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Mason Winfield.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Young Lion of the West,
Old Genesee Ancestors,
Power Places,
The Legend of Long Pond,
The Deerhorn Cups,
The Wailing Spirit,
Two-Time Cain,
The Curse of the Bones,
The Lore of War,
Patriot Hill,
Faded Coat of Blue,
Blood Knee Deep First!,
Ghost Ships,
Ghostly Forms,
Hell's Herder,
Lady of the Lake,
The Demon Road,
The Dust Devil of Boughton Hill,
Jesus on the Thruway…and Friends,
Psychic Happenings,
A Head Start on Hell,
The Phantom and the Faustus,
The Goblin Slinger,
The Teddi Dance,
The Blue Mary,
Haunted Buildings,
Rochester: Ghost of a Building,
Irondequoit: The Reunion Inn,
Rochester: The Powers That Be,
Greece: Mother of Sorrows,
Pittsford: Powder Mills Park,
Fairport: The Green Lantern,
Fishers: Valentown,
Rochester: House of Pain,
Rochester: The Dinosaur,
Rochester: Architect of the Occult,
Rochester: Of Owls and Architecture,
Rochester: The Rundel Memorial,
Rochester: Field of Spirits,
The George Washington Effect,
Two Voices Falling,
To Drive Like Hell,
The Lady and the Tracks,
The Douglass House,
Flower City Suffragette,
He Does It Right,
Son of Rochester,
The Collector,
About the Authors,

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