Awaken the SpiritsJan 29, 2021 01:56PM ● By Dave DeGolyer
In many ways, the past year has forced us to re-evaluate our perceptions of things, to question what we thought we knew, to pause and consider the possibility of things that seemed unimaginable. We have been reminded of the importance of being present, as well as the value of being aware of our surroundings and of being connected (to our own senses, to the world around us, to each other). So perhaps it’s not that surprising, really, that one of the more popular offerings of the past year for one of the most quiet and unassuming museums in the Finger Lakes has everything to do with perception, with being present, and being aware.
While Corning is famous around the world for the glass innovations shaping that world, it remains at heart the quintessential small town. A short ways away from the tiny bells tinkling above shop doors in Corning’s historic district, you’ll find what might feel like a hidden other world, sitting right there in plain sight.
It’s the perfect place for a ghost hunt.
Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes began in 1976 as a bicentennial restoration project of the Benjamin Patterson Inn (built in 1796), but has grown over the years to include a handful of other historic buildings from around the region, all restored to create a charming representation of life from the past. This wonderfully preserved complex of historic structures includes a one-room log cabin (from the 1850s), a one-room schoolhouse (built in 1878), and a blacksmith shop (from the 1870s) that is still used for smithy workshops and demonstrations.
Each of the buildings has its own rich history filled with an assortment of characters and stories. While some of that history is shared with visitors during the museum’s more traditional guided tours, some has been forgotten. But history is being rediscovered by a group of paranormal investigators and everyday folks who have been taking part in monthly ghost hunts at the museum.
Unlike the traditional guided tours (currently offered for groups up to eight on Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.), ghost hunt tours are held one evening during the month, and they allow visitors a very unique glimpse not merely into the past, but the present as well.
The hunts are a collaborative project between the museum and the Paranormal Association of the Southern Tier, which was formed by Painted Post native and lead paranormal investigator Bill Vockroth and is currently comprised of eleven members. If you’re expecting something out of Poltergeist, Ghostbusters, or The Sixth Sense, this isn’t that sort of experience. “We don’t provoke the spirits,” says Bill. “You see that sometimes in movies—ghost hunters who set out to stir things up. But that’s not our intention.” So far the encounters at Heritage Village have all been positive. “Only one time have we heard ‘get out,’” he says, emphasizing that these aren’t overly spooky or scary tours. “There’s nothing here that will hurt people,” he adds.
These spectral adventures are called Awaken the Spirits Ghost Hunts, a name which seems especially apt as they have awakened not just the spirits that inhabit the historic museum (and it appears there are several, including a mischievous six-year-old named Emily), but also those of the investigators—ordinary folks from various walks of life—who arrive with anticipation and a sense of wonder and curiosity.
Interest in the hunts has grown, so organizers cap the number at twenty-five for an evening. That group is broken into four smaller mini-hunts, each led by P.A.S.T. investigators. The way the complex is laid out, each group starts in a different spot and is led throughout the grounds so that in the end everyone has covered the same area, but separately, assuring them their own unique and safe, socially-distanced experience. Current New York health and safety protocols are being followed, so be sure to bring your masks.
The next guided Awaken the Spirits Ghost Hunts will be held on Friday, February 19, from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m. and from 9:00 to 10:30 p.m. Advance reservations are required. The cost is thirty dollars per person. P.A.S.T investigators will guide each group around the Heritage Village. You may bring your own equipment, but participants on the Awaken the Spirits hunts can also use P.A.S.T.’s equipment. That interactiveness has been very appealing, as folks get the chance to be the ghost hunter, rather than just watching.
Hunts are open to the public, but you may also arrange private party hunts (just you and friends with P.A.S.T. investigators). Family-friendly hunts are available with children no younger than ten years old. Dates for private hunts will be scheduled by appointment throughout the winter.
The team from P.A.S.T has also given the museum hope for the future. Reliant on community events and school programs for the funds that allow the Corning Painted Post Historical Society to maintain the buildings and oversee their use, the museum found itself, like so many other places and people during the past year, in lockdown. The ghost hunts have brought in small groups of enthusiasts and seekers, thereby providing some funding and helping the historical society shine a light on the complex itself.
So if you’re looking for a chance have an unusual, perhaps even otherworldly, adventure with family and friends, and still maintain safe social distancing, ghost hunting might just be what you’ve been looking for. Visit heritagevillagesfl.org or call (607) 937-5281 for more information. The museum complex is also available for other experiences throughout the year—meetings, parties, weddings, even funeral services, and workshop programs in hearth cooking, blacksmithing, textile spinning, and other life practices from colonial times.