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Q&A: Documenting the supernatural

Author, researcher, storyteller and supernatural historian Mason Winfield is the founder of Haunted History Ghost Walks. He has written or edited 14 books, and most recently appeared on Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum.” His September release, “The Rose Witch,” is a study of Western New York’s ethnic supernatural lore and traditions. His newest book, the second novel in “The Whistlers” series, comes out this month.

Why the interest in the supernatural?

The supernatural/paranormal is a great hook for reaching the general public; you can use the theme to raise awareness about subjects that almost anyone would consider valuable, including history, architecture, folklore, and Native American culture.

Are you a believer or a skeptic?

Sorry to split the baby, but I’m a skeptical believer. The true dispute here, if we’re sticking with ghosts, is between “materialist” and “spiritualist.” The materialist believes the universe is entirely physical. For this person, there could not be a God, heaven, spirit, afterlife, or ghosts. The spiritualist (small “s”) is someone who believes that there could be immaterial presences and states of existence. The skeptic stands between these two positions. I am a situational believer in these topics, based on the event and the issue.

Do you think WNY is a hub for the supernatural?

Western New York has more supernatural folklore than you would expect based on the stereotypes (very old places, lots of historical conflict). We’re just a little over 200 years deep. Yet ghost stories are absolutely everywhere on the Niagara.

Which local ghost walk fascinates you most and why?

I love the East Aurora tours because that’s such a great walking town. East Aurora is a village, not a city; the walking climate is almost pastoral. East Aurora’s past is deeply mysterious, too, and ancient Native American material comes up as a vital component of the tour.

Have you witnessed supernatural events yourself?

I have seen what I believe to be three ghosts — apparitions. The first two were in the Town of Aurora where I have lived for the last 30 years. One came in April 1995. It was a blinding, brilliant, unusual white light-source that appeared in the darkness of my then-bedroom. I have my reasons to at least consider that it was an after-life signal related to the death of my grandmother days before.

Another Town of Aurora event was a nocturnal sighting of three human forms posing curiously beneath a street light. I know I saw them, and just after I passed them they vanished. I actually turned back and looked for them. I shined my headlights all over the area. There was nowhere for anyone to run to in the open fields, at least not that quickly.
The third and most recent sighting — from the Christmas season of 2009 — was a ghost cat. (Yes, there are animal ghosts, at least reportedly.)

What qualifies a place as haunted?

You can’t prove a site is haunted or not. No one can. Science would believe in ghosts if it was as easy as it looks on the TV ghost hunting shows. All you can say about a possibly haunted site is that you or other people have said they had — or did not have — a psychic experience there. It’s all subjective.

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