ASSOCIATES (vol. 8 no. 3, March 2002) -

*Library Life:
A Column of Eclectic Rantings*


Katie Buller Kintner
Communications Library
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign

So you don't believe in ghosts, huh? Well read on.

The book stacks at the main library of the University of Illinois scare me. The east stacks consist of long, dark, deceptive corridors of terror. The ceilings in some of them are so low that at 5'8" tall, my head is brushing and bumping the pipes criss-crossing them. I'm always seeing shadows and hearing voices when no one else is around. The west stacks are newer, but the automated shelving there resists movement, then creaks and moans when it finally decides to slide open. There is no way to see if anyone else is around and finding a living soul there usually results in a startled glance and quick movement away.

Nervously, I find my books and leave, always looking over my shoulder and down adjacent aisles, wondering if I'm truly alone or if an unseen "librarian" is monitoring my every move. When I finally make it out the main stacks exit, I'm always relieved--I survived once again.

Back in my days at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Library, I was a shelver in the Cutter stacks in the library basement. These stacks consisted of many rows of compressed-shelving drawers, nearly a dozen high, holding a good portion of the library's original Cutter collection. While shelving there, I often heard disembodied voices when no one was apparently around, shadows moving in the empty aisles and spotted strange substances on the floors. Ok, well maybe I was imagining things and maybe the strange substances were contraband Coke spillage, but who ya gonna call besides the custodian, huh?

At the University of Wisconsin, rumors persisted for years that the ghost of the University's first librarian, Helen C. White, could be seen floating through the library stacks, clutching a pink overdue slip in her hand. She was probably chasing down some unlucky ghost student. Okay, the pink overdue slip might be overdoing it a little. However, if you ever saw the photograph of Ms. White in the elevator lobby of the building named for her, you could believe that she might not have left her biblio-realm willingly.

Whether or not Ms. White is still around, a personal experience at the SLIS Laboratory/Library in the same building left me wondering. The library itself is a clean, relatively modern facility with open stacks. There would seem to be few spooky spots but there are old photos depicting early 20th century library school students working in a cataloging lab. We often examined the photos, marveling at how "contemporary" some of the students looked, even with their "Gibson Girl" hairdos and mutton-sleeve blouses. One of them seemed to reading a book and enjoying it far too much for the stern surroundings, smiling widely at the pages she was examining. The "girls" seemed almost real. Maybe they were too real.

The library was closed for Christmas break but although the library itself was locked, library staff and student assistants were inside the library doing "catch-up" work.. One afternoon a student assistant came into the library's technical services room, a strange smile on her pale face. She told me she had been in working in the reference stacks when she heard a woman's voice softly say "Sally Brown". There was no one else in the library at time. Who the heck was "Sally Brown"?

Out of curiosity, we checked the school's alumni records but found no reference to anyone by that name. Yes, it could have come up through the building's ventilation system, but then we would have been hearing voices all the time and certainly hearing more than just "Sally Brown". Had one of those cataloging students finally come out of the photo and made her presence known? You decide.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who believes that some libraries may have staff they don't know about or invisible patrons wandering the aisles. Just do a little asking around. You'd be surprised at what you may find out, even about your own library. (Please note: "ghost-hunting trips" should only be conducted after securing permission from the directors of the libraries mentioned here).

"Joe" at offers this story: "The Carnegie Library in St. Joseph, Missouri…is supposedly haunted by the spirit of a former librarian. I believe they call her "Rose", and she does NOT like the library being noisy at all. When nearing closing time, there have been reports of hearing footsteps (usually on the second floor; you can see the second floor from the first floor, because it's kind of off-centered, and almost "balcony like"). There have also been reports of hearing someone whispering, giggling, playing with your hair or neck, and saying "shhhhh". More accounts even claim that after an employee has put a book in the correct spot on the shelf, they will turn around to find the book in the same spot, but in another bookcase, opposite the one it was originally put in."

Unusual or "spooky" events at the Pendleton Public Library (formerly Umatilla County Public Library) in Pendleton (OR) are often attributed to "Ruth", the library's reported ghostly entity. "Ruth" was at one time Ruth Cochran, assistant librarian and president of the Eastern Oregon Library Association. Back in 1947, Ruth became ill while closing the library and went to rest in the library's basement. While resting she became too weak to move and was eventually found the next day and rushed to the hospital, where she died. Until the library moved to a new building, odd noises were often blamed on Ruth. Ruth apparently did not move with the library however and the new building is apparently "Ruth-free".

"Toby" haunts the Cairo (IL) Public Library. "Toby" is blamed for footsteps and other odd sounds, ghost "lights" and creaky chairs. "Toby" was apparently a library patron at some point but other than that, I haven't found much more about him. Anyone who has further information is welcome to email me directly at

On the other hand, "Phyllis" the Bernardsville (NJ) Public Library spirit is so well-known that she has been issued her very own library card. Phyllis has been spotted as an apparition in the front room of the library building. She is supposedly the spirit of Phyllis Parker, a revolutionary-war era innkeeper's daughter who lost her mind after the British executed her boyfriend for being a spy. Phyllis was last seen in 1989 when a little boy said "hi" a lady in a long, white dress in the reading room.

Ghostcams are prevalent on the web and libraries are no exception. There are two library ghostcams I want to mention here. The first is the Snohomish Library (Everett, WA) ghostcam, which can be seen at The Snohomish Library is apparently home to a female grey-haired spirit wearing a blue dress. It is believed by library staff that this may be the ghost of beloved Catherine McMurchy, librarian at Snohomish between 1923 and 1939.

The other ghostcam is at the Willard Library, Evansville, Indiana, which probably has the best-documented library ghost. This cam can be found at This perfume-wearing spirit is known as the Grey Lady and has even been known to follow staff home during a library construction period. Canadian ghost-hunter "Maer" has a great Grey Lady story. I've boiled it down a little and removed names, but basically intact, here it is:

"…We were invited by the Library Director…to stay the night in the library and see what we could experience. …Joining us on the overnight were a local radio DJ, a Paranormal team from Kentucky, and a group of high school journalism students who, along with the Para Team, won the opportunity to be there."

"While we were at the library (name deleted) was going around taking digitals and looking at books. In one set of stacks (incidentally the one where most of the cam watchers see anomalies) he was looking at books about Jay County (where his grandmother comes from). From behind him, a book came off the shelf and hit him in the back of his arm and elbow before it fell on the floor. Now I'm not talking out of class when I say that (he) is VERY thin. He weighs about 105 and is 5'7. So imagine how far out a book would have to fall to hit a guy like him who was looking at a book across the stack! The book, by the way, was a listing of wills for…Vandeburgh County."

"The grey lady is thought to be the ghost of Louise Carpenter, daughter of Willard. Louise's mom's will is listed in this book (but not Willards). …People believe…that Willard was the one who kept Louise from inheriting from his estate, and that he kept the Library from her. In actual fact. It was Louise's mother, Lucina who left very little to Louise. She borrowed Louise's inheritance to pay things...not sure why, the woman was very wealthy in her own right. You see between the time Willard died and the time Lucina died, Louise divorced her husband. Lucina was VERY taken with Louise's husband ~ even if Willard wasn't. When the will came through, Louise got the same amount or less than her nephews got from Lucina. This had to be an insult to Louise….I mention it only to let you know why that book might be significant."

"I'm sure you have heard of the story of the little boy who was in the children's room when "Betsy's Wedding" fell off the shelf. One of the journalism students at the Library that night noted that "Betsy's Wedding" has many names in it that are pertinent to this story: Louise/Carpenter/Willard. Sometimes you'll find them all on one page. …Earlier in the evening, (name deleted) was giving the kids a tour while we were on the comps in the Research room. There is an old sink hidden behind a partition...this sink turned itself on as a few of the students walked by. The (students') scream was audible! One of our crew turned the sink off and told us that it was some work to do it. In other words...not an easy thing to flip on. The water was not trickling, it was a definite run." (note: the Grey Lady is noted for turning faucets off and on -- Katie).

"Earlier in the day, before we went for dinner, we all decided to see the library at daytime...for the experience….There was a definite cold metallic feeling on my neck at the right base of my skull. It felt like a butter knife handle pressing into my skin. I wasn't nervous in the place, and the feeling, while chilling in itself didn't scare me. …The feeling lasted between 10 and 15 seconds and was gone. I can't say for sure it was of paranormal nature… We had an incident where one of the investigators had an EMF meter go off in one spot while it sat on the Research Room checkout desk. This went on for about 5 minutes (minimum) and then promptly stopped. There were no apparent causes for this to have occurred. One last thing I can recall is that a motion sensor in the adult reading room went off several times, and the Investigators were at a loss as to the cause."

You can watch two ghostcams at the Willard Library. One is in the main research room while the other is in the children's reading room. There is also an archive of "ghost" photos turned in by viewers and nearly as many hilarious ghost "spoof" pictures. Real or not, the Grey Lady of Willard Library is a real web star!

So next time you are in the book stacks and have that creepy crawly feeling that someone is watching you, just remember---the ghosts may not all be in the movies. Pull up your collar, say a little prayer and finish your business. You'll feel better back out in the light.


Here are a few other reported library hauntings:

Fort Concho Museum (San Angelo, Texas): Ghost lights in the museum library, doors open by themselves, doors locking by themselves.

Lewis and Clark Community College (Godfrey, IL): Former college headmistress Harriet Haskell reportedly haunts the college library. Patrons and staff are occasionally "touched" by invisible hands and there are "cold spots" reported.

Rocky Mountain High School (Byron, WY): Footsteps heard going into the library, screams when no one is present, a smelly "haze" in the hallway.

Sweetwater County Library (Green River, WY): Lights go off and on, "flapping" sounds, dancing lights, typewriters typing on their own. Apparently one harried Interlibrary Loan librarian turned away from her computer briefly, but found her name spelled out on the monitor screen when she turned back..

Felbrigg Hall Family Library (Great Britain): A gentleman reading books in front of the fire faded away in front of a staff member. Apparently, for many years the butler at Felbrigg Hall placed selected books at the fireside for the ghost of William Windham III, an 18th century lexicographer, to read.


This article was helped substantially by the individuals quoted above and:

Sno-Isle Regional Library Staff. "Staff Believes ghost haunts Snohomish Library". Accessed 2/18/02.

Eberhart, George M. "Phantoms among the folios: a guide to haunted libraries." American Libraries. Oct. 1997, v.28:9, p. 68.

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