Haunted History Trail And ‘Path Through History’ Failures

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Haunted History TrailTwo of the buzzwords for the Path through History project have been “cooperation” and “collaboration.” Achieving them has been difficult, particularly given the number of small historic sites that simply do not have the staff to spare for such an effort. Another problem has been the lack of support for history tourism by the tourist departments. I’ve been told they might promote something if you bring it to them, but will not help create it.

As it turns out, there is a new area where county tourist departments are cooperating and collaborating in support of a trail with statewide implications: the supernatural. As previously reported in The New York History Blog, haunted mansions are big business, especially at Halloween. So the next time you are re-evaluating your organization’s strategic vision, keep in mind the opportunities of positioning yourself to appear on New York State’s “Haunted History Trail.”  This is not another April Fools prank; there are lessons to be learned from this endeavor. The website of the “Haunted History Trail” includes the following “About the Trail”:

From the great spirits invoked by early Native American tribes, to the first Dutch settlers who carefully avoided haunted places, New York has harbored centuries of spooky events that simply can’t be explained. Interest in the eerie has steadily increased with television and movies exploring the ghosts, UFOs, and things beyond the realm of human understanding. All of this awaits you on the HAUNTED HISTORY TRAIL as it takes you to the places where human forms come out of the mist and strange lights wink from the dark.

Was that a slight breeze across your arm, or did some ethereal being brush against you?

Explore the trail to hear New York’s bone chilling history and meet ghosts from the past. Stay tuned. As more ghosts reveal themselves, we’ll tell their tales. We’re about to become one of your favorite haunts.

Under the link “Explore the Hauntings” is the following.

What will scare you the most? Spending the night in a haunted castle? An unexpected voice or touch when no one is there? Touring a cemetery as shadows waver in the torchlight? New York State is not just a place to play — it’s a place that can play to your fears and make you believe in ghosts. The trail offers serious ghost hunting locations that cater to investigative teams, as well as seasonal ghostly-themed events for the paranormal-curious. Muster your courage if you want to participate — alone or with friends. Question reality by daring yourself to visit some of New York State’s most interesting places. Just remember that here, there really IS something lurking in the cemetery, the forest, and the closet.

The site also includes opportunities to “explore by region” [ed. there is no Adirondack Region] and choose from “experiences”  – Haunted Inns, Ghost Hunts, Guided Tours, Creepy, UFO, Family-Friendly Events, and Guided Tours

“Many haunted spaces offer guided tours that point out where paranormal activity has occurred. Or they tell stories of ghostly apparitions and tragic deaths,” the site says. “With a guide, you’ll be given the haunted past of the location and may experience new sightings.”

What is truly significant for the historic sites struggling to have their voices heard in the tourist market, is the list of partners who participated in this endeavor which has been blessed by ILoveNY: the Albany County Convention and Visitors Center, Tour Cayuga, Columbia County, Dutchess County Tourism, Finger Lakes Chamber of Commerce, Finger Lakes Visitor Connections, Genessee County, Livingston County Tourism, Niagara Tourism and Convention, Oneida County Tourism, Orange County Tourism, Orleans County, Oswego County, (Otsego County) This Is Cooperstown, Saratoga County, Syracuse, 1000 Islands, Tioga County, Ulster County, Wayne County.

If your favorite historic site is having problems with your tourist department, maybe they are on this list.

The contact information is

Haunted History Trail of New York State
c/o Genesee County Chamber of Commerce
210 East Main Street
Batavia, NY 14020

800-622-2686 x23 or 585-343-7440 x23

There is no email address provided, but there is a web contact submission form here (warning, turn down your speakers!).

I became aware of this trail from an email sent to me by an irate individual who reads The New York History Blog. The concern they expressed was that given all the problems with the woeful Path through History program, why is the supernatural getting the state support that real history is not? The website did not appear to be a state-based one so I decided to investigate what it was.

I called the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce and spoke with Kelly Rapone. In that county, the government has contracted the Chamber to serve as the Tourist Department. It promotes Genesee County as a destination primarily for families. Last year, it developed the idea of utilizing its supernatural locations as potential tourist attractions. It then took the initiative to collaborate and cooperate with other county tourist departments to develop the trail. Isn’t this exactly what has not happened in the Path through History program? In this case the individual sites did not contact each other, a central staff person organized the effort. This is exactly what I recommended the path project do.

Rapone informed me that the county tourist people know each other, see each other at conferences, and are in email contact. This means it is no big deal for all 62 counties and New York State to be in contact with each other, if they want to be. Genesee County contacted the other counties, 12 responded favorably in 2013, seven more have so far in 2014, and more are expected. The trail was established as a pay-to-play program so each participating county had to kick in some money to pay for the materials and website in order to be listed. The Genesee County Chamber, which originated the program, also administers it.

Their latest press release states:

The tourism promotion agencies of 20 counties across New York State have banded together to promote their haunted tourism attractions to thrill-seeking visitors.

Now take the word “haunted” and substitute “American Revolution” or “women’s rights” or “immigration” or “genealogy.” Couldn’t the same thing be done? So here we have an example of the cooperation and collaboration that the Path through History constantly claims it supports, but it is due to the initiative of the Chamber of Commerce operating independently of the state.

This raises a larger questions. Do the county executives support the Path through History? What effort has Cuomo made to enlist the counties in this effort? Do county tourism departments participate in the Path through History? They certainly don’t in the Hudson Valley. Is all the burden placed on the individual historic sites as if they have the spare staff to devote to new projects? Is it any wonder that almost all the events on the Path through History weekends are programs historic organizations already do and would do if the Path didn’t exist (although not necessarily on those exact dates)? Will the Path through History project ever have the leadership it deserves?

This is an advocacy issue for the history community.


3 thoughts on “Haunted History Trail And ‘Path Through History’ Failures

  1. Mike Riley

    It is much as who is going to vote in the next election, which group is the most enthusiastic? Ghost hunting is hot, look at the amount of programs on cable, even on Travel Channel. The people who do it are young and they will travel to see, or at least try, to see a ghost. We had a group into a historic house we own and in one night we had more visitors then we do in a year of history talks. With a ghost, it doesn’t matter if it is a canal ghost, or a store owner ghost in the downtown, it is a ghost. And that is all that matters. It certainly broadens the base for tourists, as they don’t give a boo about the history of the place, they just want a ghost. I can see why all these Tourism Departments jumped on the ghost wagon.

  2. Joni BlackmanJoni Blackman

    I understand the public’s interest in the supernatural. However we are an educational institution according to our NYS Charter. I will not use the word ghost, haunted, supernatural, etc. in any of our programming. We run a very successful local cemetery tour that tells the real stories without mention of ghosts and haunting.

  3. Roy Clement Jr

    This is a great idea the Town of Clay in Onondaga County has the perfect place where a Confederate Prison ship sank all prisoners perished and the area is badly haunted but they will not admit this actually happened I know they could use the money it would bring in. So how do you get them to realize this ?
    Yes I have said this before but not as a suggestion for the Town to make some money!!


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