Feb 16, 2016
EAST BETHANY — About seven years ago, Sharon Coyle learned that Rolling Hills Asylum was going up for sale. Having visited the historic location before, she felt a special connection to the site, which eventually led her to move cross-country, and purchase the property. It’s important to her, Coyle said, to preserve the site that was a part of a lot of people’s history.
Now, she and her fiancé Bradley Polle maintain the facility, leading visitors on tours of the site, and telling them about the historical importance of the site, as well as the paranormal side of Rolling Hills. Recently, Managing Editor Tiffany Towner visited Rolling Hills to talk with Coyle. Printed below is part one of two of the Q&A Towner conducted with Coyle. Part two will appear in Tuesday’s edition.
Obviously you’re interested in the paranormal. Did that interest start when you were young?
Yes it did, actually. My mother always told me about experiences that she had when she was little, and her mother had had – my grandmother – and things my grandmother had written in the Bible that freaked her out. Of course, she’d write in her Bible about it. So yes, I was always very familiar with the paranormal since I was a kid.
Was there a first paranormal experience that you had?
Looking back on it now as an adult, I realize these things were most likely paranormal activities that happened when I was very little, like 4, 5, 6 years old. And then when I grew to be in my teens, we actually moved into a very historical house that was very active, very haunted. When we moved into the historical house, my aunt had moved from Boston, and it was an old colonial ... and there was a soldier that used to go into my aunt’s room and sit on her bed and freak her out. She got so scared that she ended up moving back to Boston, because she didn’t want to live with us anymore, it scared her so much.
Did you ever see the soldier?
Not the soldier, but I had a lot of other activities that happened in the house. My mother experienced stuff. Guests would come over and they’d see things. My brother was actually in the service, and he was stationed in Germany. He came home with his kids and his wife, and the kids were little, like under 8, maybe under 9, and they were going to stay upstairs in the guest bedroom, which was formerly my aunt’s room. The house had all been remodeled, my mother did an amazing job. All beautiful wallpaper and sanded the floors – gorgeous. And they would not go. They didn’t know anything about this, anything about the activity. They would not go through the house unless all the lights were on. It wasn’t a scary house. But they felt all this stuff.
When you had paranormal activity happen to you, was it scary to you, or just kind of interesting?
It just seemed normal to me. Stuff that would happen to my dad and me, like things would go missing off my bureau, my dad would come, and we’d have a big, pane glass window here, and a table, and he’d sit at the table every morning and have his coffee. He’d come home at night and he’d put his keys right on the windowsill every night. Routine: every morning, take them and leave. The last person that owned the house passed away in the house. Her name was Marie. She’d take stuff. She’d take his keys and hide them on him. Finally, after tearing apart the house, he’d have to say “Marie, put those keys back, I’m super late.” And we’d go back in and they’d be there on the table. Things would go missing off my bureau: combs and brushes and barrettes.
Did you start getting involved in paranormal groups?
Not then. Not until after my mother passed away. Not until early 2000 did I actually get formally involved. I always was reading about it, going to places and picking up vibes, but not officially going into groups.
And you said it was your mother’s passing away that spurred that?
She was the last of my family, and she passed away. But growing up, she always said, “When I come back, I’m going to come back and contact you.” And I was lost. Honestly it was a blow beyond blows. I was just devastated and I was lost and looking for answers and I missed her terribly and that’s how it started. Actually, it was really weird. I think it was probably in October ... I think it might have been some paranormal show on TV, and I pulled open the computer and I started looking up groups, like on Meetup and stuff like that. And that’s how I started delving into it formally.
I actually did several different little test meet-up groups. ... It’s a really good idea to do that when you’re getting involved with a group, is to try different ones, because it’s not only about the paranormal, it’s how they view the paranormal: how they view dealing with living and dead people; their philosophy; their respect level of the living and the dead. So there’s a lot of things that you have to consider when you’re joining a group, that it meshes with your own foundation of a person. So you have to go through some sour apples before you get to the right one.
What was the right one for you?
I actually joined several different groups before I had my own group. I started off with ... I think it was California Ghost Hunters or something like that. But then about a year and a half into it I opened up my own group called Journey Paranormal Society. Shortly after that, probably a few months after that, I opened a Meetup group called Start the Journey, a Paranormal Meetup Group, and we ended up being the largest paranormal Meetup group south of San Francisco and north of San Diego.
What kind of things would your group do?
We would do little investigations, we’d have paranormal meetings. We’d have a couple smaller, local celebrity events.
And going to haunted places in the area?
Haunted places, sometimes just naturally haunted locations, like I lived ... right around the corner from the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. It was a very haunted Native American area and so we’d go out and do stuff out there. I would go to the Queen Mary, we’d do the USS Hornet and bring events up there. I was the first group to get into the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro, Calif. It’s one of the last remaining Warner Grands from the Warner Cinemas, and we started investigating there. They’re still doing investigations there, so I feel like I pioneered that. It’s a beautiful theatre and I really wanted to support it, so we were paying location fees and so forth to be in there.
When was the first time you came to Rolling Hills?
June 12, 13 and 14 of 2008, and I know that because it was a Darkness Radio Dave Schrader Ghost Hunter event and it was on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th. We came early and he was having a pre-meet-and-greet on the 12th and a silent auction to be able to get into Rolling Hills early for 10 people with one of the celebrities. I got in on the 12th as well.
And what brought you here?
It was on my bucket list.
So you knew about the building while you were in California?
What was the prestige of the building that—
That it was haunted. I didn’t know a lot about it back then. I knew they called it an asylum, but I didn’t know all the history of it back then as I do now.
What did you find that first time you came here to Rolling Hills?
Oh my God I had three incredible nights of activity. It was crazy. And I’d been to a lot of places, but I mean, full-body apparitions and Class A EVPs and people touching you and your hair being tugged. It was just off the charts. It was really three incredible nights.
What’s some of the folklore that surrounds Rolling Hills? Are there certain people that haunt certain areas?
We have a lot of people that are very well-known from the building. It used to be an old poor house. It actually opened up in 1827 as the Genesee County Poor House, and it housed all the widows and orphans and Civil War veterans and Native Americans — all the displaced people from all walks of life and all levels of mentality. Actually, almost three years ago I was able to get a grant — I don’t know if you noticed the marker? So we honored the poor house. And then it became in 1938 this building that we’re sitting in, which is known as the West Wing, opened up as the Genesee County Infirmary, and was the first fire-proof facility of the county. ... Then in 1964 it became the Genesee County Nursing Home. So that’s a little history of the property. As far as people, one of our favorite spirits that everyone comes to see is Roy. He’s our seven-and-a-half foot shadow man. He’s kind of a ladies man, he likes the ladies. But he got dropped off here when he was a boy and he had a hard life.
After you visited Rolling Hills for the first time, you went back to California, I assume?
Yeah, never thought I’d come back here. It was off my bucket list. I grew up in a one yellow-blinking (light) town, a scooch bigger than Bethany, but never thought I’d come back to the East Coast. I lived a mile from the beach in California, loved it. Hate the winter. So I never really thought I’d come back here, but then in the spring of ’09 I got a phone call that the place was closing down. Didn’t really believe it at first from the person who called me, and then I realized they weren’t joking, and had a meltdown on the phone, like someone looked at you and said, “I’m sorry, your grandmother just died,” kind of meltdown. Started bawling on the phone. Hung up the phone and was trying to figure out — I didn’t even know. At the time I was married. I called my husband at work crying so hard. He goes, “Who died?” I said, “No, no, Rolling Hills is closing.” He said. “Really?” Click. [chuckles] So he comes home and we talk about it. He goes, “Why don’t you go look at it?” I think he thought a $300 plane ticket would shut me up about it honestly. So I came out and looked at it and the place was actually not what I remembered. There was debris everywhere inside. People left a lot of stuff behind and it was just a mess. So, hung my head, went home. They wanted way too much money for it. Convinced him to come out with me and look at it again anyway. Maybe my eyes weren’t seeing what I should have been seeing. And he thought I was completely crazy. Went back home again; way too much money for what was here. I kept calling about it, couldn’t get it out of my mind. Found out it was going up for auction Oct. 25 and my birthday was Oct. 26, so I heard angels singing and thought it was a sign. I flew back out and was the only one who showed up other than the bank. And they were very aggressive and I walked out crying because they wanted too much money. But we came to an agreement and here I am going into my seventh year.
by The Daily News (2/15/2016)