I have heard (but not believ’d) the spirits of the dead
May walk again: if such thing be, thy mother
Appeared to me last night; for ne’er was dream
So like a waking. – The Winter’s Tale, Act 3, Scene 3
Tuesday, April 23rd is William Shakespeare’s birthday, and there are plenty of spooky things in his works. Banquo’s ghost. Hamlet’s father. The three witches of the Scottish play. And of course, you can read all about them in some ‘shade-y’ places you can easily visit: public libraries! Agreed, libraries aren’t necessarily the first things that come to mind when you think about ghostly visitations – and yet, there are haunted libraries all over the world, and these are places you can actually get into with relative ease.
Marie was tipped off to this by a couple of other sources: an article in American Libraries a few months ago about the Deep River, CT public library and its purported spirits, and an Encyclopedia Britannica blog post by one of the magazine’s senior editors some years ago on haunted libraries around the world. Who knew? (It pays to read.)
There are the usual stories regarding the unfriendlies: howling, whispers, sudden changes in temperature or cold drafts where there shouldn’t be any, feeling that you’re getting poked or shoved or being watched, etc. In haunted libraries, however, people sometimes encounter exactly the opposite – it’s as if some of the library ghosts go out of their way to be civil and helpful, not unlike the living librarians (they must be a good influence on the dead). So: here are some stories about the friendlies, or at least the neutrals.
Let’s start with Deep River, CT. The village of about 4,600 used to be known as Saybrook and is in the heart of the former Saybrook Colony, which was established in 1635 at the mouth of the Connecticut River, in the town now known as Old Saybrook. There are a number of towns using the Saybrook name in one fashion or another, however, so in 1947 the town of Saybrook renamed itself Deep River a to lessen the confusion. This was nothing new, as various parts of the former colony had begun breaking off into separate towns way back as early as 1836, starting with Chester. Today, the general area is often called Tri-Town, being made up primarily of the towns of Deep River, Chester and Essex, CT.
In the magazine article, Deep River’s library director, Ann Paietta,, describes the various sightings by library staff and patrons. The incidents have run the gamut from staff overhearing a child’s laughter in empty areas to smelling cigar smoke, to being greeted with after-hours noise upstairs that sounded like there was a party going on at the library during one paranormal investigation (the building was once the residence of the long-dead Richard Pratt Spencer family, which was known to entertain lavishly). You have to say one thing about these spooks: they sure sound like they’re enjoying themselves!
So far, more than 30 ghost investigations have been conducted in the library since Ms. Paietta began working there, each and every one of which she has attended. There have also been newspaper accounts. Even the producers of SyFy Channel’s Haunted Collector show have been by and put their trip to the library in the show’s very first episode (in their enthusiastic hype, the show’s producers also may have ‘overstated’ the extent to which the hauntings prevented people from attending library events … like, probably not at all).
Naturally, the ghost stories have been a big draw for the kids, most of whom think having a haunted library is really cool. As for Ms. Paietta, she figures that anything that brings more kids into the library is a good thing. She’s even used receiving a ‘haunted tour’ of the library as an incentive to get the kids to read more.
But Deep River’s library is far from the only set of spooky stacks. Here are several more, starting with the nearby Bridgeport Public Library. Some library staff members in this 1927 building say they’ve encountered a ghost in the 6th or 7th floor stacks near the historical materials. The specter, which they nicknamed Lola, is said to be friendly and helps find missing items. Nice!
Danvers, CT Peabody Institute Library: The ghost of an old man sits in a reading room of this historic 1892 book haven. Some folks claim he shushes people who are talking loudly. And right he is.
Fairhaven, CT Millicent Library: A woman in black is said to run her fingers along shelved books on the upper floors (checking for dust?), while a man in a tweed jacket, purple bow tie, and small, round-lensed eyeglasses has been seen mopping the basement floor. Ghosts who like a clean library – how helpful!
Denison University, William H. Doane Library, Granville, OH: A shadowy woman in an old dress sometimes wakes up snoozing male students on an upstairs floor. Right. Sleep at home, gents.
North Webster (IN) Elementary School: A ghostly young boy in khakis and a blue sweater sometimes is seen trying to check out books in the school library, per the Shadowlands website.
Multnomah County (OR) Library, North Portland Branch: During the early 1990s, a man was seen on a security camera several times, sitting in a second-floor conference room when the room was empty and closed (maybe he didn’t get the memo that the meeting was canceled). Once, a library assistant actually watched the figure vanish from the screen while a supervisor went upstairs to investigate.
Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System, San Pedro Branch: On some evenings, a disembodied voice has been heard to invite people to “Please come check out a book.” Well, that’s one way to try drumming up more business.
Arundel Castle, Sussex, England: A bluish ghost supposedly dating from the late 17th century has been seen browsing through the bookshelves. Nothing like having literate visitors, eh?
Bristol Central Library, Reference Library, Bristol, England: A gray-robed monk who allegedly haunts Bristol Cathedral has been said to visit the library next door to consult theological books. Still pondering cosmic questions after death …?
Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, England: The late William Windham III, an 18th-century scholar who was a close friend of lexicographer Samuel Johnson, is said to visit the library at this old estate. Back in November 1972, David Muffon was putting the estate in order after it was acquired by the National Trust. One evening, he was working at a desk in the library when he noticed a “gentleman sitting in the armchair by the fireplace reading books. It was so natural I thought nothing about it. … [but] after about 15 seconds, he put the book down beside him on the table and faded away.” Upon further inquiry about apparitions, Muffon was informed by the family butler that “Oh, yes – there’s the ghost of William Windham, who sits in the armchair on the far side of the fireplace.” It seems that for many years, the butler had put books given to Windham by Samuel Johnson on the table for the ghost to read. Even more interesting, Muffon said, was that the following year, they found a trunk in the manor house’s attic with period clothes in it from the 1780s, which were strikingly similar to those the ghost had worn during Muffon’s sighting. At least he dressed appropriately.
Mannington Hall, near Cromer, Norfolk, England: The late antiquarian Augustus Jessop saw the ghost of a large man in priestly robes late on the night of October 10, 1879, as Jessop himself was consulting books in the manor’s library. The spectral figure was examining some of the volumes Jessop had piled on the table; the figure disappeared at the sound of a slight noise, then reappeared briefly five minutes later. It seems some scholars just can’t stop their pursuit of knowledge, even in the next life …
Marsh’s Library, Dublin, Ireland: This was the first public library in Ireland, founded in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh. During the early 20th century, the inner gallery was supposedly haunted by Archbishop Marsh himself, who wandered among the shelves rummaging through volumes and looking for a lost letter from his niece. Every morning following a sighting, however, things were always found to be back in order. Apparently, the archbishop’s shade tidied up after himself. Very decent of him.
And that’s it for our roundup of library ghosts. You can celebrate Will Shakespeare’s natals today by visiting your local public library or book store and taking home a volume of The Bard’s work to read this evening. Ensconce yourself in a comfy chair with a glass of wine or your favorite brew, relax, and reacquaint yourself with some of the works that have thrilled millions over the years. Perhaps even the Scottish play. Who knows? Before you nod off to sleep, you may even have a vision of Shakespeare yourself.
Got a ghostly tale to tell? Seen a spooky thing or two yourself? Do let us know – we’d be thrilled to hear from you!
Until next time,
Marie and Michael