Terror and Tomes: Haunted American Libraries


My library is filled with used books, which can create a rather haunting atmosphere. Who had these books before me? How did they live? How did they die?  The lingering fingerprints, marginalia, and dust from a distant house, bookstore, or library. It is as though each used book brings along its own trail of ghosts. In The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson writes “Materializations are often best produced in rooms where there are books. I cannot think of any time when materialization was in any way hampered by the presence of books.” It seems, then, that the best place to look for ghost stories is at the library, which is full of used books.

Willard Library, Evansville, IN

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Lady in Gray has been haunting the Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana since 1937. She was first seen by the night janitor around 3 am (witching hour, of course) in the basement. Several people since have reported her apparition, water turned on and off, the smell of perfume, cold temperatures, moved furniture and books, phantom touches, and odd items appearing from nowhere. You can see the ghost during a trip to the library, in-person or online.

The library has fully embraced their ghost, offering their space to ghost hunting groups and even placing ghost cams in multiple rooms of the library, which you can watch online. Visitors to the ghost cam site share their screen captures of the Lady in Gray on the site’s gallery.

Doris & Harry Vise Library, Cumberland Univ., Lebanon, TN

I am going to be straightforward and honest and say I’m including this library because there’s a ghost cat. Library director Jon Boniol once saw a phantom cat floating across the the library floor, disappearing behind boxes stacked under a table. Jon said, “I did not see any legs or paws and no motion like a normal cat walking on a floor. The apparition was near the floor, about the right height for a cat, but it appeared to be gliding smoothly through the air instead of touching the floor. I couldn’t tell if it came in through the door or came from under my desk.” A former librarian also reported the ghost of a young girl that liked playing peek-a-boo behind the circulation desk (Britannica).

Peoria Public Library, Peoria, IL

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The story goes that this library sits on cursed ground. In 1830, a very prominent citizen, Mrs. Andre Gray, lived where the library now stands. After the death of her brother, she took custody of his son.

Her nephew got into some trouble, so he hired a lawyer and took out a mortgage on the home (for security). The lawyer sued to foreclose on the home when Mrs. Gray’s nephew could not make payments. A very upset Mrs. Gray kicked her nephew out of the house. Shortly after, he was found dead and floating in the river (University of Illinois). Mrs. Gray cursed the house and anyone that would occupy it in the future. In 1894, the building became a cursed library: the first three library directors died under mysterious circumstances. The library was torn down and a new one stands in its place, but ghosts remain. People have reported their name being called in the stacks, cold drafts and the apparition of a past library director.

Julia Ideson Building, Houston Public Library, Houston, TX

A former library intern described an interesting evening at this library:

The Ideson Building is closed on Fridays, and the rest of the staff was either off for the day or out at a conference.

So at around 4:00PM that day I began to pack up the archival material I was working with when I heard the faint sounds of a violin playing a slow and slightly plaintive song.

“That’s….really weird…,” I thought to myself. The stone walls of the Ideson building are fairly thick, and there certainly wasn’t anyone else in the building who would be playing music! Needless to say, it was spooky enough that I packed up my stuff and went on my way. (Houston Public Library)

The phantom violin player was Jacob Frank Cramer, a former nighttime watchman. In the evenings he would play his violin on the roof before bedtime. He was found dead in the library in 1936, but his violin plays on.

Pattee Library, Penn State University, PA

According to legend, in the 1960s a graduate student was in the library doing research over Thanksgiving Break when she was stabbed and killed (Daily Collegian). People can allegedly hear her screams on the anniversary of her death. Other paranormal activity includes touching, moving objects (i.e. book carts moving on their own), transparent girls reading books, and disembodied eyes (Britannica).

Old Bernardsville Public Library, Bernardsville, NJ

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The building itself wasn’t always a library and actually is not anymore. Built in 1790, the building was known as Vealtown Tavern during the Revolutionary War. During this time a woman, Phyllis Parker, found her lover’s body in a coffin awaiting burial inside the Tavern’s taproom. He had been hung for treason without her knowledge. The sight of her dead lover drove her mad and attached her to the building for eternity. While it was a library, visitors and staff reported voices, uneasy feelings, and the apparition of a woman (The Old Bernardsville News).

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