Buffalo Rising’s Haunted History Series with Mason Winfield, offers readers a virtual mini-tour of several famous Buffalo landmarks, guided by beloved local historian, author, and paranormal scholar, Mason Winfield. The Haunted History series was created to celebrate the Halloween season in this unprecedented time. This content was made possible thanks to the generosity of our sponsor, Ellicott Hotels.
There is truth and there is paranormal truth. Truth, however we assure ourselves of it, is supposed to be real and objective. Paranormal truth needs only to be authentic. Paranormal truth is the record of what people say and think about paranormal subjects. It is folkloric, not scientific. The two kinds of truth do occasionally come together, however, the line between them is never certain. Welcome to the paranormal – and life.”
– Mason Winfield
Buffalo’s City Hall is a zone of “Exceptional Human Experience,” a term coined by British paranormalist Paul Devereux. At these powerful sites, there are numerous accounts of things that have been seen but cannot be proven, or disproven.
Through his work as a researcher, historian, and tour-guide, Mason Winfield has heard hundreds of stories of incidents of psychic phenomena, shadows darting at the eye-corner, elevators with no one in them stopping to open, and people feeling extreme fear and trepidation at night.
“Buffalo is world-famous for its architecture, but there is a side to its most celebrated buildings that most of us never see – the mystical and sacred,” said Mason. Architecture and historic events alone do not transform structures from hallowed to haunted, rather geographical placement, a structure’s footprint, building alignments and the architects themselves can all figure into the paranormal significance of a structure.
From the water, Buffalo’s City Hall commands the skyline. From it’s main entrance facing Niagara Square, it is an impressive and imposing structure. In the foreground, an obelisk rises – a fixed point, and marker of architectural significance. Both structures balance between modernism and classical architecture.
City Hall was inspired by the shape of an octagon, a classic and sacred form that has connected to psychic effects of all types from hauntings and healings to religious visions and enlightenment.
“It was thought by the ancients that the shape of a structure would help create a relationship with the gods,” says Mason, “I can’t think of a more monumental haunt in any American City. Great Architecture and ghost stories tend to go together. Think about every village, they all have a prominent haunted house, and that house is always in one of the classic historic styles. It’s something that looks like it ought to be spooky.”
According to Mason, this powerful and mystical building is located on a powerful mystical site. “Let’s not forget that it’s located at one of the circles in Frederick Law Olmsted’s street plan, the McKinley Monument, an obelisk is at the center of Niagara Square. And if you stand at the obelisk, and look to the East, and you will see another obelisk located in Lafayette Square.
These two obelisk’s aligned with the exact center of City Hall form a straight line. The significance in this line is that it forms what is referred to as a ley-line, a connector of powerful sacred sites. “Whoever set this system up is, as the mystics would say, plugged in. They understood landscape supernaturalism, or pre-industrial geomancy.”
At major geological sites, physical power translates into spiritual power.
City Hall is what Mason calls an utter monument, possibly located on what could have been prehistoric “power route.” It’s possibly located on a spot at which there had been an ancient native monument.
A lot of people in the United States think of these landscape monuments, like Stonehenge, as associated only with the old world, “I point out on all my talks and tours that the Americans, particularly our region were home to a great many earth and stone monuments. And they were absolutely mysterious to the Native Americans.”
In early histories of Buffalo, where there is documented discussion of choosing the site of Niagara square to be the foundation of the City plan, Joseph Ellicott, Buffalo’s surveyor, considered by some to be the founder of Buffalo, there is suggested reference, although not exactly clear, that the site was considered to have an ancient monument.
The physical site of City Hall has therefore always been significant, and it was likely no mistake that this was chosen as the physical center of Buffalo.
THE SITE OF ERIE COUNTY’S ONLY PUBLIC EXECUTION
As the city center, the site of Buffalo’s future City Hall was located, as it is today, near the courthouses.
A prominent execution, the only public hanging to occur in Erie County, happened on the site of City Hall. June 7, 1825, the three Thayer Brothers, Israel, Isaac, and Nelson were hanged for the murder of Great Lake Seaman, John Love.
The brothers fell in debt to their tenant and on December 15, 1824, they lured him into Israel’s kitchen and murdered him. First they tried to shoot John Love with a black powder gun, and when that did not immediately kill him, the brothers bludgeoned Mr. Love with a cleaver. Not having planned what to do with a body in the winter in Buffalo, they buried him in a very shallow grave in a nearby stream.
That spring the body was found and the three Thayer brothers were implicated and charged. A reading of the court proceedings can be found here. As the convicted murder’s were paraded through Niagara Square to be executed, a gigantic mob assembled. It was estimated that more than 15,000 people gathered in Niagara Square.
In 1825, the population of Erie County at that time was estimated at 24,316. The City of Buffalo had only 5,141 residents. Incidentally, Erie County was established in 1821 and will be celebrating its bi-centennial anniversary next year.
People had traveled in from all over the place to witness this execution. As the Thayer Brothers were led to their execution, they started to think this group was here to call for their release and a stay of their execution.
As the realization started to come over the Thayer Brothers, that they really, truly were going to be hanged, they started making this odd call to each other that has been described as a person imitating a pig being slaughtered, “reeeee, reeeee, reeee.” The three brothers start calling out to each other in this way.
It wasn’t long before all 15,000 people started calling back, “reeeee, reeeee, reeee.” The entire area resounded with this gruesome, mournful call. And the mob didn’t stop until the last of the three Thayer brothers was done swinging.
It’s been said that one of the psychic sound effects repeated in City Hall today is this eerie “pig-like” shrieking.
ABOUT CITY HALL
Buffalo’s City Hall was designed by celebrated architects, Dietel and Wade. Construction was completed in 1932 by the John W. Cowper Company, who had previously completed construction on Statler hotel and The Buffalo Athletic Club.
For the team of Dietel and Wade, Mason adds, “they love designing monumental buildings with elaborate and curious ornamentation. This ornamentation is sometimes called Art Deco, or Eclectic Classism, or American Modernism. John Wade called it American-esque or babylonian. I think there’s a megalithic overtone.”
The old standing stones of Europe were all rounded at the top and at a great distance, City Hall looks like one of these ancient monuments. Another Buffalo Building, also octagonal and very haunted according to Mason, which has the same rounded top look at a distance is Buffalo’s Central Terminal.
“I would love to ask an astronomer to plot out the alignment between these two towers to see if there is astrological significance.”
The ground area of the site on Niagara Square is 71,700 square feet. The total cost was $6,851,546.85, including architect fees, making it one of the largest city halls in the country, and at the time one of the most costly city halls in the country.
Construction began on September 16, 1929. The cornerstone was laid May 14, 1930. The building was completed for occupancy on November 10, 1931, even though parts of the building were occupied as early as September 1931. The building was formally dedicated in July 1932.
The building has 32 stories, 26 of which are usable office space, and is 398 feet high from the street to the tip of the tower. There are eight elevators to the 13th floor, a significant number for the superstitious, and four to the 25th floor.
City Hall was also a testament of human ingenuity, it was equipped with a “non-powered air-conditioning system.” As designed by Joseph Ellicott, the City of Buffalo’s buildings are situated to face away from the harsh winds of Lake Erie and the city radiates westward.
Wade made use of this powerful and constant wind to cool and ventilate the building, “Large vents were placed on the exterior of the building to catch wind that would then travel down vents to beneath the basement, where the ground would cool the air. This cooled air would then enter a series of vents that would distribute the cool air through the building. The wind off the lake was usually strong enough to power air through this system.”
The main entrance of City Hall is made up of symbolic units forming columns and lintels. The City of Buffalo’s website describes the imagery,
When approaching the main entrance, the central figure perched above represents a historian, with pen in hand, ready to open the book of Buffalo’s history and write the next hundred years. The first group on the left of this portrait is representative of past generations of Buffalonians passing knowledge and guidance onto Buffalo’s youth. The second group on the left is representative of the steel industry and is portrayed by an ironworker. The advancement of Buffalo’s universities in science and medicine are depicted third from the left. The fourth image is representative of electrical energy and is portrayed by electricians and linesmen with a dynamo in the background.
When looking to the right of the central figure above the main entrance to City Hall, the first group shows a man, woman and child. They are representative of the stability and fertility of the community. The second portrays stevedores and lake crews which represent the importance of Buffalo’s lake shipping. The third depicts law and education (note the figure reclining on the owl-adorned couch); while the fourth is representative of a locomotive engineer, ship captain and aviator. These represent the diversity of this waterfront community.
Underneath the entrance frieze and behind the columns are four sandstone panels. Those panels represent the hardship of the American Pioneer. First, there is a woman doing the harvesting; next a man is hunting deer; thirdly, a woman is depicted weaving a basket; lastly, a man is shown constructing a log cabin.
The Iroquois Indians are a vital part of the Western New York history. Their importance was at one time symbolized by decorations on four bronze doorways, since removed to make way for the now present revolving doors. The carvings represented aspects of the Native-American culture of Buffalo.
Within the vestibule, immediately inside the entrance doors are four columns with the Indian symbols of The Four Winds. To the left, thunder and storm depict the North Wind, while to the right the South Wind shows sunshine and happiness. In the rear of the vestibule, the same figures represent the East and the West winds.
The height of the domed ceiling makes quite an impression upon those entering the main lobby. The bright colors of the tile that make up the Dome create an Indian Chief’s bonnet laid out flat. The center of the ceiling depicts the sun.
There are four statues in the lobby, each which represent the characteristic of good citizenship, Virtue, Diligence, Service, and Fidelity.
“The ornamentation is remarkable, it’s very multicultural. In fact, it’s vested with Native American themes and symbolism.” Mason explains that you will also find in older buildings like City Hall mosaics and carvings of the swastika.
Swastika is a very old and ancient symbol from around the world – “formed from a square that represents the four corners or points of the compass directions. This building was designed and built before the Nazi’s assumed this ancient symbol as their own, but it can still be quiet shocking to people to see it represented there.”
The building’s main color is due to the tawny Ohio sandstone and gray Minnesota limestone. Upper floors include yellowish stone with terracotta tiles at the top of the tower, which are deep, rich earthy tones.
Buffalo’s City Hall is more than a building, it’s a living work of art. A megalithic powerhouse and testament to human ingenuity and spirit. From the location placement, to the escalating shape, to the symbols carved and placed, City Hall was meant to channel what it means to be from this land, past, present, and future. It’s therefore, no surprise that it is indeed a site that continues to exude exceptional human experience. When you visit, or walk through its main doors, look up and nod to the figure in the frieze — a historian with a quill in hand, always ready to record Buffalo’s story.
Haunted History Tours | The Original Western New York Ghost Walk Since 1996
As long as people have talked together, there have been wonder-tales, including stories of ghosts. For fifteen years the ghost walks of Mason Winfield (author of nine books) have set the standard in upstate New York. Incorporated since 2004 as Haunted History Ghost Walks, these walking tours of haunted village sites are historic, informative, engaging, and even spellbinding. Mixed with the observations of local history and ghost stories are many eyewitness encounters. Marked by their eclectic blend of good scholarship, Native American tradition, an original paranormal philosophy, and superb storytelling. Book a tour here.
ABOUT MASON WINFIELD
Mason is a historian and folklorist, fascinated by the academic study of subjects like parapsychology, occult conspiracy, ancient mysteries, geomancy, and First Nations/indigenous tradition. He is always looking for connections, “as an author, researcher, scholar, and storyteller. Mason Winfield is a paranormal profiler who tries to make sense out of the big picture. Raised in the suburbs near Buffalo, NY, he was the only child of a middle-class family. An active, energetic kid with a deep inquisitive streak, an early predilection for reading and drawing. He has lectured all over New York State about ghostly and folkloric tradition. Mason is the world authority on the mystical, occult, and supernatural connections of East Aurora’s Arts & Crafts Movement community Roycroft. He has appeared as a guest expert on numerous TV, radio, and internet programs. He designed and hosted The Phantom Tour (2003), a two-hour TV program/DVD on haunted history in upstate New York. He has appeared on NBC’s Today Show and stars in a 2006 episode of the Travel Channel program Legend Hunters and has addressed the “ancient mysteries” conference of the New England Antiquities Research Association.
Mason has spoken about Native American legends and tradition on all three upstate New York Seneca reservations, as well as led workshops at the Spiritualist community Lily Dale concerning aspects of parapsychology and world tradition. In 1996, Mason founded Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc., an upstate New York “supernatural tourism” company that leads walking and vehicle tours, conferences, pub crawls and performances.
As an historian and author, Mason has written or edited twelve books, including Shadows of the Western Door (1997) was a Jim Brandon/Weird America-style paranormal survey of Western New York. Ghosts of 1812, a study of the Niagara war and its folklore (Western New York Wares, 2009), and (with Michael Bastine) Iroquois Supernatural, a study of the traditions of the Six Longhouse Nations (Inner Traditions International/Bear & Company, 2011).
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// Read more from Mason on Buffalorising.com