Yes, it's that time of year again. The warm months are coming and it's sure to get hot at the top of that hill. Hold onto your hats, it's Goodleberg! AIEEEEEEEEE!!!!!
In the last ten years I’ve profiled two hundred haunted sites along the Niagara Frontier and across Western New York. At none of them has there been this kind of trouble. I honestly think there’s something special about this place they call Goodleberg.
For the supernatural history of the place you should check my first book "Shadows of the Western Door" (1997). For now, a little real history:
The old cemetery in the Town of Wales (in use around 1811-1826) is only a mile or two uphill and east of Route 16 in the Town of Holland. Most of its hundred or so tenants were locals of German and Anglo-American ancestry. A troubling number of them seemed to be young, probably due to a cholera epidemic that hit the region in the 1830s. Others here could have died traumatically, since there were land wars hereabouts, also in the early 1800s. Yes, the name could mean, “Hill of the Ghouls.” Yes, an abortionist and "person of interest" in at least one murder did live within walking distance in the 1940s.
High school kids have been partying at Goodleberg since at least the 1970s. Its reputation as a haunt is almost certainly older.
I am sure imaginations were active in the young people who went up there. Many experiences were doubtless enhanced by the substances consumed at the time or the gossip-wagon in retrospect. At any rate, the place was an urban legend all over the southtowns by at least 1980.
I wrote about Goodleberg in 1997 in my first book. In 2003 I mentioned it again in half a paragraph of "Haunted Places of Western New York." I’ve been contacted by members of both the upstate and national news media about Goodleberg, as well as by others working on TV and film documentaries. I always gave them a list of local sites with brief descriptions. I often threw in Goodleberg reluctantly and at the end. It was always one of their picks. Some of them even came to me wanting to know about it.
I seldom visit Goodleberg. I have been there after dark only a handful of times, and except for the mentions of it in my books and at media appearances have never attempted to capitalize on Goodleberg in any way. I have never charged anyone to accompany me on a tour of the place. I have never done an investigation of Goodleberg, though I have been on hand twice as others attempted to.
I do have a bus tour script called “The Haunted Hills,” which is a riding tour of the country roads south of East Aurora. Goodleberg is one of the sixteen stops. I led such a daytime ride once for an educational bus touring company in the late 1990s.
In late spring of 2005 I was contacted by East Aurora Town Recreation about doing a couple of vehicle tours as a summer activity. My friends at Town Rec are always looking for family-friendly activities that will get people out enjoying our region and learning something about it. As part of our campaign to whip up interest in the spooky theme, we mentioned on our poster for the bus tour that we would visit “the dreaded” Goodleberg. We sold out two trolleys weeks before our August 19 debut, and all seemed merry with “haunted tourism” in the South Towns. Ahem.
June and July 2005 were hot and steamy, and apparently the high school kids had been having a heyday up at Goodleberg. It was driving the residents of the road crazy, and damage to the stones - which they blamed on vandals - left them outraged. No one knew how hot things were getting up there until late July. By then it was too late.
Between the time of our bus-tour plan and its debut, an ad appeared in several Erie County papers asking for psychic reports and experiences about Goodleberg. The ad never mentioned who was behind it. It was in fact the leader of one group of ghosthunters from the Genesee Valley. To many of the residents of the Town of Wales the ad could only have come from me, and it was the icing on the cake. There was an uproar.
Teams of ghosthunters have been visiting Goodleberg for at least ten years. (Some of them end up going to bat for the cemetery against rowdy adolescents.) I am fairly sure they have been respectful to the site, though I cannot say they’ve been discreet. Carloads of them arrive and stay till the wee hours on many weekend nights. Residents of the road can see the cars if not see and hear the ghosthunters. And then there was that ad. It was all anyone in the Towns of Aurora and Wales seemed to be talking about in late July 2005. It, Goodleberg, and me were the subjects of town meetings in Wales.
Most of the locals knew of my books and TV appearances and had some idea that they had raised Goodleberg’s profile. They also knew those endeavors were in the past. The ad seemed to be a sign of something new, possibly as part of a campaign to continue to capitalize on the bones of War of 1812 veterans of the Town of Wales.
Finally there was a public figure to blame for the escalating goofery. Most people in the area thought it was me running the ad.
A reporter for the East Aurora Advertiser ran a very critical article basically blaming me for things at Goodleberg (and presuming that Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc. and its walking tours of ten different villages was nothing but an industry of root-magic in the Town of Wales). This misperception, willful or not, allowed residents to vent about my walking tours as if they all go tunneling through Goodleberg. (“Disgusting,” one righteous dame was reported to call them.)
I don’t blame people for venting if they presume I take people on midnight juju-hunts to where “the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.” But let's get our facts straight.
The Advertiser reporter even noted that my tours “have come to the attention of the authorities,” as if our tours had made them independently suspicious of us, as if we’d been spotted casing nuclear power plants or otherwise testing the bounds of the Patriot Act. That’s a funny way to write, “There was a State Cop at the Town of Wales meeting.”
The article had other laughable mistakes. For instance, the reporter presumed that there were burials from the 1770s, which would be Revolutionary-era. As evidence of a mystery-colony of Euroamericans, this would really be revolutionary. This part of the Niagara Frontier was not open to Euro settlement till after the Treaty of Canandaigua (1794), and no one settled here till about 1800. If he's found evidence of a Euro colony before that he should write to National Geographic.
The week after this article came out the Genesee Valley ghosthunter who had launched the ad came stoutly and strangely to my defense with a letter of his own, lashing back against the plague of small minds and scattershot judgements. Still, he didn't stand up and take public credit for that ad. That was his chance.
I could have told anyone that an ad like that is not the way to collect psychic folklore. I seriously doubt that any of us will get something of real value by being public that way. It puts all the onus of communication upon the witnesses. In my experience you just have to go out and find them.
The note’s timing was particularly unfortunate, coming at the height of the vandal-season and just as tensions were escalating. Researchers have to keep a lower profile. Let people blame the crazies, which is where blame for the craziness lies. Trouble is, they can only identify people who make themselves public. Authors, ghost hunters.
We ran our bus tour anyway. Yes, we did stop on the road across from Goodleberg cemetery. Not only had we mentioned that we were including the stop on our tour, but it would have seemed shameful and even silly to take people on a tour of the region’s famous haunts and leave out its most famous haunt. People have heard so much about Goodleberg. It was an opportunity to teach people about it responsibly. We didn't get out.
I feel bad about the condition of Goodleberg. I don’t feel to blame for it. With the explosion of technology - both in e-communication and the perfection of surveillance gadgets - and the current interest in all things ghostly, it’s no wonder that people are “on” to Goodleberg. It was only a matter of time.
The destruction of any monument is utterly deplorable, whether it’s done by vandals and neglect or sprawl and development. I am also not sure Goodleberg’s notoriety is responsible for its condition, at least not all of it. Much of what’s happened at Goodleberg has been natural. A geologist who accompanied me on one daytime visit noted the curious soil and exposed position of the graveyard, and also the fragility of the stones. He felt that much of the loss was due to seismic and climatic factors. We see what the freeze-and-thaw cycle does to Western New York roads.
By now, Goodleberg is dangerous, from several perspectives. It has always been illegal to be in any graveyard after sunset, but now they are enforcing. If you’re caught up there in the dark you’ll end up in jail, no matter how respectful you are, and, man, are those locals going to crow. They are on the lookout.
But you could be in more trouble if you don’t get caught by the State Troopers. As with many of the Buffalo area’s legendary haunts - the Central Terminal, the Buffalo Psych Center - the human inhabitants can be dangerous. Some thrillseekers are jealous of their turf, and fights have been reported at Goodleberg.
Finally, the place could be dangerous of its own. A ghosthunter from Erie County was struck and killed by a car on the night of a solstice in recent years. On a May Eve in the late 1990s someone dug a six-foot cone into the grave of a child, looking for something. That couldn’t have been a fun moment to surprise anyone. So many others report psychic effects plaguing them on trips to and from Goodleberg (something also reported by UFO experiencers).
If people had been reverent, discreet, and respectful Goodleberg could have been a pilgrimage-site for decades. It could have been a place of mysticism and vision. Now it’s over, at least for the near future.
For myself, I don’t really regret the inability to visit there after dark. I seldom did. I honestly don’t think you can prove anything by continually visiting “haunted” sites and waiting for something to appear. It’s not what I do, anyway. I’m a historian, teacher, and folklorist.
I don’t envision haunted sites as theaters in which ghosts will show up when we attend like actors in a play. I don’t think we can “surveil” them like wildlife in the rain forest, at least not on cue. I am not at all let down that things seem to be this way. It’s the reality. I don’t expect it to be easy to understand or document ghosts, and most of the old classic investigators didn’t, either. There have to be some mysteries in life.
But if you want to get closer to the heart of the mystery of Goodleberg, join my friend Rob Lockhart at 7 PM on May 16 in East Aurora and all the rest of us at our new offices - "Philistine Hall" - for a discussion that goes into far greater depth than this article, and with lots of new material. Researcher and Haunted History Ghost Walks tour guide Rob Lockhart will nail down the case, at least as far as anyone knows it in 2007, for the mysterious "Dr. Speaker."