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Spooky Spaces

Spooky Spaces


Spooky Spaces

By Chuck Salem, CEO at Unique Venues

It’s that time of year. That time when the days get shorter, the leaves go from a brilliant hue of gold, red and orange, to gray and lifeless arms seemingly calling out for help. Yes, it’s Halloween 2020.

It’s been a scary year…that’s for certain. And while I wish I were writing to give you comfort, instead, I’m writing to share some haunting tales from two of our venues. They are sure to give you a spine tingling feeling like someone is behind you watching! But we hope these stories make you also want to hold your next event at one of these venues, too.

Hunker down, get a hot cocoa, turn down the lights just enough to read, and imagine.

Image courtesy of The Verizon Executive Education Center

Our first story takes us to Roosevelt Island in the heart of New York City. The venue is The Verizon Executive Education Center on the Cornell Tech campus. This campus has been built on the grounds of the former Blackwell Penitentiary. Roosevelt Island has had a storied history, formerly known as Welfare Island. The now abandoned Renwick Smallpox Hospital, just south of the campus, is where thousands of patients died and their bodies were burned and dumped into the East River. Residents across the river in Manhattan have reported seeing lights coming from the abandoned ruins of the hospital and residents of the island have heard strange noises around the site. The Strecker Lab which is just north of the abandoned ruins of the hospital and close to the campus was the site of grotesque medical and scientific experiments.

On the north end of the island was the New York City Lunatic Asylum which once housed over 1,700 patients, many of whom were severely mistreated. Even famed author Charles Dickens visited the asylum and is quoted as saying “everything had a lounging, listless, madhouse air, which was very painful,” and he expressed his “feelings of such deep disgust and measureless contempt." Today the asylum is an upscale apartment building. You might even have an extra tenant in your apartment, but at least they won’t eat much! Residents have reported strange sounds and some pets refuse to go into certain parts of the building, sensing paranormal activity!

Residents and visitors have reported numerous sightings around Roosevelt Island's asylum and lighthouse, but rumor has it that several residents have heard or seen strange goings-on near the site of the old penitentiary, the grounds of the Cornell Tech campus. Among them are the eerie sounds of former inmates, still tirelessly working away on various sites they were assigned to decades ago. If you are a ghost hunter or paranormal fan, book your next event in the Verizon Executive Education Center on the Cornell Tech campus and experience the ghostly hauntings of Roosevelt Island for yourself! If you book your event for October 2021 you can even book a haunted walking tour of the island with

To learn more about The Verizon Executive Education Center, contact Kathy Mendall, Event and Visitor Relations Manager at

Our next story actually sets the stage for one of America’s most haunting tales.

Image courtesy of Yale Conferences and Events

Yale Conferences & Events has the privilege of planning events across Yale University’s beautiful New Haven, CT campus. However, one property stands out: the Betts House, a 21,000-square-foot mansion built in 1868 and acquired by Yale in 1972. Although the house itself is not known to be haunted, one of its former owners, Sarah Winchester, is the inspiration for one of America’s most compelling ghost stories.

Born Sarah Lockwood Pardee in 1839, she was the daughter of a craftsman and a member of a significant local lineage. In 1862, she married William Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester, founder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Best known for the Winchester Model 1873, or the “gun that won the West,” the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was a commercial powerhouse that added to the Winchester family’s already vast fortune.

Unfortunately, Sarah would endure a series of personal tragedies during this time. In 1866, she and William had a daughter, Annie Winchester, who died at five weeks of age. Three years after Annie’s death, Sarah’s father died. Then in 1881, her husband William died of tuberculosis at just 43 years old. Sarah’s mother died the following year and in 1884, one of her sisters died of cancer.

Although Sarah’s inheritance made her one of the wealthiest women in the world at the time, she had lost almost everyone closest to her. Ready to leave her painful past in New Haven behind, she moved out West in 1884 and began to build a house on a 160-acre estate in San Jose, California. Legend has it that Sarah had consulted a medium, who revealed that a curse had been put on her family. Her only recourse to escape, the gossip went, was to constantly renovate and expand her house into as many configurations as possible in order to confuse the vengeful spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles.

Sarah spent the next 38 years building a massive, 161-room Queen Anne-style mansion that is now known as the “Winchester Mystery House”. She did not use an architect and added on to the building in a haphazard fashion, so the home contains numerous oddities such as doors and stairs that go nowhere, windows overlooking other rooms, and doors opening up to bricked walls. Sarah died in 1922 and is now buried next to her husband and their infant child in Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven. She left a Will written in thirteen sections, which she signed thirteen times.

In 2018, Sarah’s story was brought to the big screen in the supernatural horror film “Winchester”. The popular podcast Criminal dedicated an episode to Sarah’s story in 2019 called “The Widow and the Winchester”.

Are you brave enough to use the Betts House for your next meeting or event? It’s ok if you’re not because Yale University has over 200 high-quality meeting and event spaces for you to choose from instead.

To learn more about Yale Conferences and Events, contact Kate Vieillard at

We hope you enjoyed reading some haunting tales from two of the nearly 1000 venues we represent on and We are ready to help you find the perfect venue for your next event. And don’t worry, we’ve taken the ghosts into account when calculating social distancing capacities!

To book one of our many venues, contact Stephanie Watson at or by calling 877-244-6110. Happy Halloween!
During this global pandemic, the team at Unique Venues has been working to serve our industry planners and venues with free resources including roundtables, webinars, and workshops. You can visit our COVID-19 Resources page to learn about our upcoming programs this month and next that you may be interested in registering for. Be sure to follow Unique Venues on Facebook (@uniquevenues) and be on the lookout for Facebook Live sessions from Unique Venues CEO, Chuck Salem who will be providing tips and trends for weathering the storm.