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Ghosts in the Library!

Image of female ghost in pink dress reading a book in the library stacks

One of the most enduring Halloween characters is the ghost. It’s easy to draw (good for children), it’s an easy costume to make (good for parents), and it blurs the line between the living and the dead, giving it an intriguingly spooky quality. It captures the imagination in ways other monsters do not. Adding to their spookiness is the fact ghosts can appear in a variety of places: attics, cemeteries, old mansions, abandoned amusement parks, orchards, and even libraries.

While CMU’s Park Library doesn’t have a resident ghost, some other libraries do. Or they at least have unexplained phenomena they attribute to ghosts. Here are a few of the most noteworthy.

The Cairo (IL) Public Library boasts a ghost named Toby. Staff members have reported hearing noises during night shifts, like someone walking around upstairs. And they occasionally find the lights on though they know they turned them off in that room. Two former library employees reported seeing a ghostly light rise from behind a desk, go slowly past the office they were standing in, and disappear into the book stacks. The library also had a rocking chair which made creaking noises all by itself, as if someone were rocking in it.

The local-history room of the New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington, North Carolina, is famous for its hauntings. Staff and visitors report hearing odd noises, finding objects inexplicably moved to different places in the building, an occasional chilling tap on the shoulder --only to turn and fine no one there-- and sightings of a bearded man in 19th century clothing.

One former librarian reported finding papers spread on tables when she reported to work in the morning, though she had put everything in its place the night before. She suspects this was the work of the ghost of a former local Civil War history buff. The librarian often found a book entitled The Papers of Zebulon Baird Vance left out on a table. One day she gave the book to a ten-year-old boy who had come to the library to investigate the ghost. When he returned the book to her later, he also gave her an envelope he had found in the book. The envelope was addressed to the person believed to be the ghost. The librarian had handled and looked through that book dozens of times and had never seen that envelope.

Visitors to the Houston (TX) Public Library’s Julia Ideson Building report hearing ghostly violin music late at night. The culprit is said to be the ghost of Jacob Cramer, the library’s former security guard, who died in 1936. Cramer frequently practiced the violin in the library’s basement apartment where he lived with his dog Petey. Over the years, patrons have found sheet music scattered across the floor or heard the phantom clicking of a dog’s claws on the floor. Most common, however, is the distant violin music attributed to the ghostly Mr. Cramer.

The Sweetwater County Library in Green River, Wyoming, has reported unusual activity from the day it opened in 1980. Unwisely, the library was built on top of what had been a 19th century cemetery. Though most of the graves had been relocated decades before the new library was built, one coffin was discovered on the property five years after the library opened.

Since then, library staff and visitors have witnessed lights going on and off for no reason, have seen dots of light dancing on the walls of closed rooms, and have heard flapping noises reverberating throughout the building. In the days before computers, the library used typewriters, and one day two of the machines were seen typing on their own.  

And most hauntingly, a librarian once turned away from her computer for a moment to retrieve something, only to find an eerie surprise when she turned back to the screen. Appearing on the screen, in very large letters, was her name.

And lastly, the most famous haunted library of them all: the Willard Public Library in Evansville, Indiana. The Willard Public Library is home of “the Grey Lady.” She was first spotted in 1937 by a custodian on his way to stoke the library’s coal furnace late at night. He encountered a lady dressed all in gray, with a gauzy material covering her face. He shined his flashlight on her and noticed the beam of light passed right through her, at which point he fled the building. The custodian continued to encounter the Grey Lady, until one day he quit because he found her presence so disturbing.

Since that time, staff and patrons have reported smelling perfume in certain spots in the library and passing through eerie “cold spots” when walking through the building. Chairs have been pulled away from tables after having been pushed in neatly and boxes have suddenly flown from shelves. A former staffer once reported hearing typing coming from a corner on the second floor after the building had closed for the day, only to go to the corner and find no typewriter there. The most recent sighting was in 2010, when a library employee spotted the Grey Lady in the basement hallway, in the exact spot she had been seen by the custodian in 1937.

The Willard Public Library has embraced its most famous resident, going so far as to set up a website dedicated to the Grey Lady and hosting ghost tours of the library every October. If you’re interested in trying to catch a glimpse of the world’s most famous library ghost, check out the ghost cams set up at the spots where the Grey Lady is known to have appeared over the years.

Happy Halloween!

Blog: University Libraries posted | Last Modified: | Author: by Tim Peters | Categories: CMU Libraries
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