John Koerner feels an obligation to track down the truth. As a history professor at Niagara County Community College, he describes himself as "obsessed" with the challenge of deciphering the truth, sifting through history to learn which happenings are true and which are false.
The quest has led Koerner to develop a series of paranormal walks throughout Western New York, where the professor guides tour groups throughout area locales and educates on the mystical history of each town.
One of Koerner’s first projects has been Lockport, where he is currently guiding a series of walks for the second consecutive year.
The Lockport walk, as part of Koerner’s "Paranormal Walks" series, is offered each Saturday at 7 p.m. and takes about 90 minutes. Koerner begins each tour by introducing himself and his credentials, then leads a walk up and down Main Street, where he touches on the ghoulish history of the buildings along the street.
Koerner, who previously wrote two books about aspects of the paranormal, said he feels a duty to teach the public about mysterious happenings in the area, if he can.
“I thought it would be appropriate to bring some of these stories to the public in a walk,” Koerner said. “I’m kind of obsessed with trying to figure out things about the unknown, that are closer to the edge. I want to figure out what is true and what’s not true, and to bring that to the public.”
The tour this past Saturday was attended by about 60 guests, most of whom were from the Lockport area. Most walkers said they didn’t have much experience in the paranormal realm but were intrigued by the subject and wanted to learn more about the city’s history.
A few guests made the drive from southern Erie County. Boston resident Robert Yung said the drive was well worth it.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’m happy I went,” Yung said. “Nothing too Earth-shattering, but now I’ll know a lot more next time I come through Lockport.”
Koerner stopped at about 15 different sites and give a brief description of each one's paranormal history, while an assistant chimed in at select sites to explain certain ghost-seeking devices such as an electromagnetic pulse recorder (which detects certain voices that the human ear cannot hear) and a special thermometer.
Koerner has been hosting these tours for two years, in both Lockport and Hamburg. He said he has many guests who take one tour and then feel compelled to take the other, or decide to take the same tour a second time and bring family members.
Koerner said the Lockport tour took about a year to research, and that a new tour in the Canalside district of downtown Buffalo is in the works, for possible introduction next fall.
He also pointed out the organic nature of his tours, that is, how he is receptive to the introduction of new facts and ideas by tour guests who know a thing or two about the area’s paranormal history. He added the site of the former Friendly’s restaurant due to a tip from a tourist, and also added paranormal-related information about the local Department of Motor Vehicles office after a conversation with a few tour-takers.
As a result, the same tour is never given twice, and new perspectives are added each week, Koerner said.
“I’ve found that people are very willing to share their stories and add them to the walk,” he said. “We also get a lot of photos that are sent in, and a lot of people come back and bring their families for the second time.”
Indeed, Koerner tries to keep his walks family-oriented with a variety of fun endeavors such as encouraging walkers to sing as they go from location to location. On the way to the YMCA, Koerner attempted a rendering of "YMCA" by The Village People, and he tried to get guests singing "Casper the Friendly Ghost" on the approach to the now-closed Friendly’s restaurant.
Saturday’s tour group included Lockport residents Molly and Joe Rex, Damon and Pam Eyre, Audrey Collesano and Jeanette Collins, who all lingered near Lake Effect Ice Cream (where the tour started and ended) afterward to discuss the covered topics.
In respect to the unique nature of the tour, this walker will not divulge the specifics of paranormal activity discussed. I'll simply say that the tour is ongoing every Saturday night through Nov. 2, starting at 7 p.m. at Lake Effect Ice Cream, 79 Canal St.
Walks through Hamburg begin at 7 p.m. Fridays through Nov. 1.
Each tour costs $10 per person, and a coupon is available at www.paranormalwalks.com.
Compared to other ghost walks that are a bit more pricey, Koerner thinks he provides a solid deal. The fact that no two walks are ever the same helps keep things interesting, he added.
“We try to keep it affordable for the family. Just because of my profession of teaching history, I feel that I’m always obligated to find out the truth," he said. "We’re always trying to take steps forward with the paranormal.”