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.
But, soft: behold! lo where it comes again!
I’ll cross it, though it blast me. – Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use a voice.
Speak to me.
“All theatres have ghost stories.” begins Mason Winfield, noted author and historian, and those ghosts are typically “utterly silent.”
As founder and operator of Haunted History Ghost Walks for nearly 25 years, Mason has heard countless stories of incidents of psychic phenomena, shadows darting at the eye-corner, phantom audiences, and voices heard in the dark night.
Of all the art forms, theatre has the richest tradition of the supernatural. Is the stage a channeling place between our world and the next? Does time overlap? And so, these apparitions are echoes of players past and future. Or could it be simply that the theatre automatically engages our human imagination? This is something that every person must decide for themselves.
According to Winfield, “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.”
“I can call spirits from the vasty deep.”
“Why, so can I; or so can any man:
But will they come when you do call for them?”
(1 Henry IV, 3.1)
The Allendale has the ghost stories you would expect and old important theatre to have, “Pre-COVID, we would operate a walking ghost tours of Allentown, and as we passed the Allendale Theatre at night, frequently the staff would come out to listen and say, ‘hello,’ and chip in a few of their own personal experiences.”
The historic Allendale Theatre is currently home to the Theatre of Youth. The building was constructed as one of Buffalo’s first neighborhood theatres in 1913 by clothing retailer Levin Michaels. Originally from Rochester, Michaels had a background in developing theatres.
The Allendale is built in a neo-classical revival style which included gold trimmed walls, leaded glass windows and a domed ceiling with dozens of modern light bulbs. Electric light had only come to buffalo about a decade earlier.
“This was a very important theatre in the early twentieth century,” adds Mason. At first, it was a popular movie house that specialized in silent films and photoplays of Broadway productions, with a custom-built symphonic organ for accompaniment.
In 1919, the owner added a lavish proscenium stage and dressing rooms. A local theatre group took up residence. The Buffalo Players included members of the Knox, Schoellkopf and other prominent local families, along with traveling troops and national acts.
“We’ve had quite a number of famous actors appear at the Allendale. W.C. Fields, Katharine Cornell, Isadora Duncan, and three members of “America’s founding family of the stage” the Barrymore’s– Ethyl, Lionel, John.”
“Allen Street, much like Chippewa Street, has an illustrious history and a vivid entertainment industry – but it’s fortunes have risen and fallen.” The Allentown Association saved the Allendale from certain demolition. In 1986, Theatre of Youth entered into a partnership with the City of Buffalo to raise funds and renovate the theatre for its permanent home. The $3.5 million project took 13 years to complete and the Allendale was re-opened in December 1999.
Although there is not a single famous ghost that can be named, there have been numerous reports of full-form human apparitions. For example, there’s talk about an apparition that appears in the cat walks above the stage and in the technology booth. There’s talk of seeing the face of a little girl that sometimes appears in the wood work of the building.
The overnight staff would say that the building was one of the best haunts they’ve ever heard of in the City of Buffalo. The minute it gets dark, the public is gone, and it’s just the overnight crew the building starts chirping like a forest full of crickets at night and acts up with spontaneous sound effects.
They have a tiled room that hosts one of the legendary ghostly forms, “the woman in white.” The folklorists classify this very common phenomenon as “The White Lady.”
The staff talk about darting images at eye corners, stretching shadows, “whenever I hear about these shadows, it always makes me wonder if it might not have been a fully-formed ghost that they didn’t see fully. The parapsychologists that have done countless interviews with eye-witnesses on ghosts, they report that the typical ghost is seen for about 1 – 5 seconds. Five Seconds is long for a ghost.”
There are also impressions of the phantom audience in the Theatre of Youth. Part of the audience area will appear to have shadowy forms. “It makes you wonder if the ability to see certain apparitions is related to the light that is coming in right at that time. I’ve personally heard the sounds of dogs barking at times in the lobby. There’s no explanation for that, until you consider that Allen street was an old dirt road on a farm. Who knows if the sounds might come from 200 years before that.”
One of the most interesting stories comes from the year 2003, it was the Christmas season, the winter solstice. The play running was, “The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever.” A young girl, about the age of 8, approached a tour guide and told him that she had been in the show at the Allendale.
She reported that there had been some discoloration in a wall panel. All the young actors could see a face in the wall and that it would change its expression for them. Some thought that it would talk to them. Some kids would tell their parents or the adult actors about the spot, but the adults could never see what all the children saw. The kids got a tremendous amount of enjoyment from this phenomenon. Given all the individual, unrelated experiences, we are left to conclude that the Allendale is “a very Haunted site, though I wouldn’t say in any sense it is dangerous. That’s TV stuff, ghosts don’t hurt people.”
Allen Street on which the Allendale Theatre is located formed the southern boundary to an early Buffalo farm. The street is named after Orlando Allen, member of the New York State Assembly and the 18th mayor of Buffalo (1848-1849).
Orlando Allen was born in New Hartford, Connecticut in 1803. He moved to Buffalo in 1819 to serve as president of the First Bank of Buffalo before becoming more involved in public life. He was a founding member of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, the governing body of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and one of the first presidents of the Buffalo Historical Society. He died on September 4, 1874. (Photo digitized by Cornell University).
The street winds around today just as it has for more than 200 years. Originally a dirt road that supported horse, bike, motorcars, to the modern street we see today.
SUPERNATURAL FOLKLORE AND A THEATRE TRADITION
Don’t whistle in the theatre.
You don’t whistle in the theatre because the old rigging instruments used to be controlled by sailors that would whistle to each other to communicate what to move and when – it was a code – so the fear was that if you whistle the wrong tune a sandbag could fall on your head!
Always leave on a ghost light.
A ghost light is often a single lightbulb left on the stage whenever a theatre is dark. “Some argue that its function is to chase away mischievous spirits; others insist it lights the way for the ghosts that are said to inhabit virtually every theatre, keeping them happy and contented. Either way, that light ensures that no one takes an accidental tumble off the stage.”
Tell actors, break a leg rather than good luck.
“The expression probably reflects a superstition (perhaps a theatrical superstition) in which directly wishing a person “good luck” would be considered bad luck, therefore an alternative way of wishing luck was developed.” However there are numerous theories, none of which can be proven or disproved.
“Theatres are all thought to be haunted but the impression out there is that if a theatre is not haunted, the acting troupe had better make up a story, as the superstition goes, if a theatre loses its ghosts, its fortunes will plummet, the plays will fall flat, the audience will stop attending, and everyone will lose their job.”
Not only are theatre’s haunted, but works of theatre can be cursed as well. The most famous of which is William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Actors are even afraid to speak the name aloud within the walls of the theatre.
So when you attend a play at the Theater of Youth, keep your eyes on the living actors onstage, and you just might spot a few elsewhere. And if you are feeling courageous, try speaking this incantation alone at night, and see where your charms might land.
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
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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The terracotta-trimmed building was inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture. The first floor featured a lounge, billiard room and library, and the second floor’s lodge room is still intact today. The club’s success led to the building’s expansion in 1924. The addition included an ornate ballroom and auditorium for cultural and social gatherings. It also expanded the FOE’s recreational program by including a pool, bowling alley, new billiards room and gymnasium. Years later, mini golf would also find its way into the building.
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October 2nd-November 21st
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// Read more from Mason on Buffalorising.com