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Local family tours shed light on Ithaca’s dark side

Sean Bonney-Burrill shares the story of an accidental poisoning at Cornell University.
Sean Bonney-Burrill shares the story of an accidental poisoning at Cornell University.
A group of 20 people gathers on the sidewalk in front of the Clinton House on Cayuga St. in Ithaca, NY awaiting the story of the 19th Century serial killer, Edward Rulloff.

Jessie Bonney-Burrill, who owns and runs Ithaca History Tours, tells Rulloff’s story twice a week. She grew up in Ithaca, and graduated from Cornell University in 2012 where she gave campus tours for three years. She now owns and runs Ithaca History Tours, a company she started because of her fascination with local history.

Bonney-Burrill said, living in Ithaca made her familiar with the landmarks of the city and gave her a basis for her research.

“We have a fascinating cultural history that dates back to really when Ithaca became a city,” she said.

This month, the company is offering a special haunted Ithaca tour focusing on stories of murder, tragedy and strange phenomena. One of the most popular stories is about Rulloff, a one-time Ithaca school teacher who is believed to have killed his wife and child along with many other people in the area. He was tried at Clinton House and later executed in Ithaca.

Ithaca History Tours is a family operated business. Sean, Jessie’s brother, helps her run the show by giving both historical and ghost tours. He said his favorite stories are those that have some sort of meaning to his life.

“I think that my favorite story would either be Rulloff or the haunting in the State Theatre,” he said.

The History Center started working with Ithaca History Tours in May because it is a way to meet people halfway in the community and draw people in to their exhibits, said Scott Callan, Director of the center.

“There’s definitely no high-brow approach about it here. We think it’s a really terrific way to get people interested and excited about the past,” he said.

The ghost tours are offered by reservation at 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through October and last about an hour and a half. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students.

The sky is pitch black as the tour ends at the State Theatre around 7:30 p.m. The group disperses in good spirits, but makes sure to keep a watchful eye out for the ghosts that are said to inhabit the building.


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