Yes, Katie Manning-Hilton says she can see dead people. No, it’s not particularly scary, it’s actually part of her job.
Though the Rotterdam native used to cover her ability up, or at least try to keep quiet about it, in the last decade or so she’s opened up and made a career out of it, doing readings, hosting shows and even assisting police.
“I’m booked seven days a week and I’m booked two years [out],” Manning-Hilton said.
It’s helped that she’s not solely a medium, who say they can communicate with spirits, she says she’s also a psychic, who can look into another’s future.
“My mom was the first person to recognize [it],” Manning-Hilton said, “When I was three years old, I was reading her thoughts. She was in the kitchen and she was getting supper ready and she was looking in the refrigerator and she thought to herself ‘There’s no milk. I’ve got to go to the market to get milk.’ I came out [into the kitchen] and I said ‘We get milk now?’ ”
From then on, her family would test her with flash cards or a deck of cards. She knew the color and the number without looking every time without fail. Around that same time, Manning-Hilton started asking questions about people in restaurants or family homes that no one else could see.
Her mom read as many books as she could about gifted children. Most of the resources said that the ability would go away once Manning-Hilton was in elementary school in Rotterdam. It was all supposed to become background noise. But it didn’t, if anything it was amplified.
“It grew with me,” Manning-Hilton said.
She went on to attend St. Rose, where she says she met many ghosts and spirits.
“St. Rose is very haunted,” Manning-Hilton said. But she still tried as much as she could to keep it hidden.
“I was very fortunate, my best friend, Denise Riggi, she always knew I had this ability and she was very protective of me growing up,” Manning-Hilton said, “She just treated me like I was anybody else.”
Yet, even after college and during the early years of her professional career when she worked at the Chamber of Commerce in Schenectady, she never was just like “anybody else.”
“I was in a meeting one time and I was looking out of the second-floor window and they were rehabbing the Katie O’Byrne building. There was a woman on the second floor. She was fretting and [kneading her hands]. Then all of a sudden she moved just a little bit away from the window and [I] could see through her,” Manning-Hilton said.
At a glance, it can be difficult to tell whether or not some of the people she sees are people that everyone can see.
“You don’t realize that what you’re seeing is different from what other people are seeing,” Manning-Hilton said.
It’s not until she notices that they’re missing body parts or that their clothes are from a completely different era that she realizes that they’re dead. She’d gotten good at keeping quiet whenever she sees them, only telling her friends and family every once in a while.
That changed about 13 years ago, at — of all places — a dentist office.
Manning-Hilton went in for a procedure and overheard two nurses talking.
“. . . one said, ‘That’s so weird about your neighbor, that they never heard anything,’ With that, I started to see a person that had gone missing in front of me. I reached up and grabbed the nurses hand and I said ‘Are you talking about — and I said the name of the gentleman,’ She goes, ‘Oh my god, are you psychic?’ ”
Manning-Hilton admitted that, yes, she was a psychic medium. She expected to move on from the appointment with cleaner teeth and not much else than another weird story to tell. But the missing man left with her.
“He kept showing me different things, where he had been walking, he kept showing me graffiti. Normally they just leave me. Well, he didn’t. He kept talking to me,” Manning-Hilton said.
She felt stuck; she couldn’t just ignore him but she didn’t know what to do with the information either. While her father, John Manning (formerly a chairperson of Metroplex), told her to go to the police, Manning-Hilton was nervous. She thought they would just call her crazy and move on.
“We called the Rotterdam police, he checked it out. He called me from the field and said ‘Everything you just said, even the graffiti on the wall, is absolutely valid,’ ”
Manning-Hilton said. While she didn’t see where the man was, she gave all the information he was telling her in an interview with the police and the next thing she knew, other cases were coming her way. She was interviewed by several precincts for various missing person cases and, though many didn’t believe in her abilities at first, most changed their minds as soon as they interviewed her.
“I was working my day job and at night, I was going out and working on police cases trying to keep it a secret,” Manning-Hilton said.
Harry Buffardi, a professor of criminal justice at Schenectady County Community College has known Manning-Hilton since he was a sheriff in Schenectady County in the early 2000s. Although some on the police force don’t think there’s merit in working with psychics, Buffardi disagrees.
“Anytime someone comes to you with information you treat it like a lead,” Buffardi said, “I’ve seen psychics come and invigorate a case.”
His students often ask him about the merits of interviewing psychics. Traditional science doesn’t support the existence of ghosts or the ability of the living to connect with them, but according to a Gallup survey, about three in four Americans have at least one paranormal belief.
And Buffardi believes it’s worth talking about. It’s one of the reasons he invites Manning-Hilton to come in and present to the Criminal Justice Club at SCCC every year.
“I think it brings something to the learning atmosphere,” Buffardi said.
Sometimes the students are completely skeptical. But Buffardi has seen Manning-Hilton shake that skepticism pretty quickly. In one case, a student was a staunch skeptic and challenged her to give him a reading. Manning-Hilton started telling him about his grandmother and other detailed things about his family. Buffardi said the student was shocked and didn’t challenge Manning-Hilton for the rest of the presentation.
He’s hoping that students learn that they need to be open to anything that could help a case, especially missing persons cases, move forward. Even if the information given by psychics doesn’t solve a case, if it’s accurate and helps move the investigation forward, Buffardi said that it shouldn’t be ignored.
Manning-Hilton is not always able to find out whether or not the cases she’s been interviewed for were ultimately solved, as is true for the first case she was interviewed for. Sometimes the cases remain open for years and she might be interviewed several times for the same case over the years.
“I know of cases where she’s been very successful,” Buffardi said.
While she was being interviewed by various police departments for missing person cases, she was also doing some psychic readings and work for a few friends, as word spread about her incredible sense of intuition and accuracy.
It’s what made Jan Willette-Kinsey keep coming back for readings. According to Manning-Hilton, the two met when she was bringing her kids to the doctor’s office. A chance encounter meeting that’s led to a 15-year friendship.
“She has this healing [nature] about her,” Willette-Kinsey said, “Her integrity speaks volumes.”
When Manning-Hilton told her that she’d be going to Italy, Willette-Kinsey laughed, thinking that there’s no way that she could ever go between work, family and everything else going on in her life.
Yet, within two weeks, she was going to Italy.
Then, Manning-Hilton told her that even though Willette-Kinsey’s son was going through a rough patch in his career, he’d find something he loved doing and make decent money. Within a few weeks, she was right.
Over a dozen years ago now, Manning-Hilton started getting so many calls from people like Willette-Kinsey asking for readings and police precincts asking for help with various cases that she decided to become a full-time psychic medium. It didn’t just mean a career change either; it meant telling the world about her abilities, which she’d kept as quiet as she could for most of her life.
It was tough, but it changed her entire life. She started doing readings for people on a regular basis, presenting at Union College and Hippies and Witches & Gypsies, among others. She also holds shows at Rivers Casino and Resort, Bulls Head Inn, Proctors, and many other venues.
“She is such an amazing person to watch,” said Randy Fay, “I’ve never seen her not on point.”
Fay has been a client of Manning-Hilton’s for two years, going to her for readings and going to see her shows. He is always stunned by how she’s able to connect with everyone no matter the crowd size.
“She’ll greet everyone as they come in,” Fay said. According to Fay, she lets the spirits guide her through the crowd and talk to whoever she needs to talk to.
During private readings, Fay said she’s also helped ease some lingering guilt brought on by the circumstances of his grandmother’s death.
“I was with my grandmother [when] she was admitted to hospice,” Fay said. He refused to leave her side even for a minute. But his mother eventually coaxed him to stop home for a break. A few minutes after he left, his grandmother died. It tormented him for years, but one meeting with Manning-Hilton changed that.
“Katie said that [my grandmother] was waiting for me [to leave],” Fay said.
It brought him the closure he was hoping for, though the experience was as chilling as it was comforting.
“You’re sitting there talking to your family member,” Fay said.
Stories like Fay’s are the reason Manning-Hilton finds her job fulfilling.
“I’ve never had a spirit come to me and say that they don’t want their family to be happy. They always want you to live your happiest life. They always want you to live a joyful life. Nobody says, ‘Die with me.’ That’s a bigger thing for people to get. You’re their heaven. Live your happiest life. That’s the most important message I can convey,” Manning-Hilton said.
She’s also helped to clear houses when spirits are restless or lost, causing what Manning-Hilton calls disturbances.
“I had a gentleman who contacted us because his house in Niskayuna was having disruptions and he basically brought it back from a tour at the [Eastern State Penitentiary],” Manning-Hilton said.
Sometimes asking spirits to leave makes them clear out, other times she salts the edges of the property. She’s also used a technique called smudging, which she demonstrated on her series called “Psychic on the Scene.”
She started recording them about three years ago as a way to meet people where they were and give people a glimpse into what she does and how it works. In one episode, she gives a reading at Morrette’s Steak House, in another she smudges (a Native American technique for clearing an area) the basement of a Stockade home.
“My mission is about leaving people better than I find them. That’s my intention. Most of the time when I see spirits, when I feel them, they’re not bad. Sometimes they’re just lost,” Manning-Hilton said.
No matter how many opportunities come her way — and there seem to be more and more popping up each day — Manning Hilton never neglects to remember the support that got her where she is.
“I am blessed with the support and the love and the fans and the family that have been with me through the beginning. I’m [blessed] that my gift has grown over the years,” Manning-Hilton said.
Over the next few weeks, she’ll be teaching a psychic development class in Troy, giving a talk about investigations at the Mohawk Taproom and Grill and will be coming back to Rivers Casino later on in the year.
“For a little girl from Rotterdam that was always hiding what she saw, it’s a hell of a life,” Manning-Hilton said.
For more information on Manning-Hilton visit katiemanninghilton.com.