Deep in the dark shelves of a dusty archive, a purple glow materialises into the flickering image of an elderly librarian. One by one, her spectral hands pull the old books from the shelves. This isn’t the opening of a movie, but a haunting scene reenacted at libraries all over the Heartland. At Mysterious Heartland, we have scoured the pages of books, websites, and newspapers to bring you some of the most compelling stories of dedicated librarians from the beyond. Which Midwestern library will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Chester Public Library
A ghost affectionately known as “Miss Minnie” is said to haunt the Chester Public Library. She is a mischievous spectre who often plays pranks on the staff, including ringing the doorbell after hours, taking books off shelves, and calling out librarians’ names. She has also been known to ride the elevator, which has undergone and passed inspections to make sure there was nothing mechanically wrong with it. No one is sure who “Miss Minnie” was in life, but staff have come to accept her presence.
9. Roy O. West Library
The special collection at Roy O. West Library at DePauw University is famously haunted by the ghost of Governor James Whitcomb, or so the legend goes. Whitcomb served as Governor of Indiana from 1843 until 1849. When he died, he left his collection of rare books to DePauw University, with the stipulation that none of them be allowed to leave the university archive. In a widely reported incident, a student removed a copy of James Macpherson’s The Poems of Ossian, the Son of Fingal from the collection, only to be visited that night by Whitcomb’s ghost. The angry ghost pressed its spectral finger against the young man’s cheek and asked, “Who stole Ossian?” Frightened, he promptly returned it the next day. The books are currently only accessible by library staff, and guarded by one tenacious ghost.
8. Ashtabula County District Library
The Ashtabula County District Library was built in 1903 in grand Greek Revival style. An austere, grandmotherly woman named Ethel McDowell served as its first librarian. She served in that position for over six decades, and her ghost is now believed to haunt the building. Among other strange incidents, librarians have reported finding books and magazines on the floor. According to a librarian interviewed by John B. Kachuba in his book Ghosthunting Ohio, the magazines had to have been physically lifted off the racks for them to fall. In the children’s section, books have flown off the shelves, and in the reference section certain titles will go missing and then turn up again without any explanation. Ethel McDowell, it is said, disapproves of those books.
7. Milner Library
Founded in 1857 and originally a teacher’s college, Illinois State University is currently home to around 23,000 students and faculty, as well as one tenacious ghost. The ghost is said to be that of Angeline V. Milner, or Ange for short, a beloved librarian who remained with her books long after she passed from this world. In 1917, the university moved its library from the Old Main Building to North Hall, where Miss Milner worked until she died. North Hall served as the library until 1940, when a new building was constructed and christened “Milner Library” to honour Normal University’s beloved Aunt Ange. In 1976, the old Milner Library became known as Williams Hall and most of the university’s books were moved into the new Milner Library, located on the north side of campus. Since at least the 1980s, staff members working in the Williams Hall archives have reported encounters with what they believe is the ghost of Ange Milner, still tending to her books. These books have recently been moved again, to a brand new storage facility.
6. Willard Library
Willard Library’s “Grey Lady” is the most famous ghost in Indiana. One of the oldest libraries in the Hoosier State, its imposing Victorian Gothic architecture certainly lends itself to ghost stories. This story, however, appears quite real. The Grey Lady was first spotted in 1937 by a janitor in the basement. Since then, hundreds of visitors claim to have seen her. She most often manifests as a misty, grey figure. Some have smelled her perfume or felt a phantom touch. She is believed to be the ghost of Louise Carpenter, daughter of the library’s founder, Willard Carpenter. The Willard Library’s staff have put up live feed cameras in three rooms so the public could monitor them for anomalous activity. Since then, the cameras have captured dozens of photos of a mysterious, amorphous figure.
5. Cedar Rapids Public Library
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Today, this building on Third Avenue is home to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, but prior to 1985, it served as the Cedar Rapids Public Library. That building was the scene of a famous crisis apparition. According to Jason Kristufek of HooplaNow, “Legend says there is an elderly woman named Helen Stein who visited the library on a regular basis. One day the woman came to the library wearing a nicer dress than staff had typically seen her in. But later that day the staff was informed of her death. They soon found out she was buried in the dress they had seen her in the library hours after her death had been recorded.” The incident allegedly occurred in the 1960s, the morning after Stein died in a fire in her home. After the library moved to its new location on First Street, librarian experienced strange noises, disappearing items, and books that fall off shelves. On August 24, 2013, the Cedar Rapids Public Library opened a brand new location at 450 Fifth Avenue.
4. St. Joseph Public Library
St. Joseph, Missouri
Built in 1902, this Italian Renaissance-style library, with its balconies, old wooden bookshelves, and tall ceilings, already looks like could be haunted. It is the unusual activity on the second floor, however, that makes it so. This activity has been attributed to a ghost named “Rosie.” She is believed to have been a librarian at the original library. Among other incidents, the door to the director’s office mysteriously locked on its own, only to unlock later. The click of high heels has been heard on the floors and lights flicker without explanation. In another incident, when a crew came to remove the old card catalogs, they found the heavy wooden shelves would not budge. The next morning, however, the catalogs had fallen over. “You guys done it now, you’ve peeved the ghost off,” Frank Harris, the maintenance supervisor for the library, remarked. Rosie has become a beloved figure at the library, and her presence has added an extra layer of spookiness to St. Joseph’s annual haunted house.
3. Peoria Public Library
According to legend, the Peoria Public Library is built on cursed ground and is occupied by as many as a dozen different ghosts. Back in 1830, Mrs. Andrew Gray, a prominent Peoria citizen, lived in a house on Monroe Avenue. After her brother died, she gained custody of her nephew, who was always getting into trouble with the law. In time, he required the services of a lawyer named David Davis, who took out a mortgage on Mrs. Gray’s home as security. When the bill came due, Davis sued to foreclose on the home and collect his money. Mrs. Gray was enraged. She evicted her worthless nephew, and shortly thereafter his lifeless body was found floating in the river. She then cursed the property and all its future owners.
In 1894, Peoria purchased the property and built a library. Contrary to some reports, the library was built next to Mrs. Gray’s home, not over it. Never-the-less, the first three library directors all died under unusual circumstances. In 1966, the original library was torn down and a new one built in its place, but the ghosts remained. Employees have reportedly heard their names being called while alone in the stacks, felt cold drafts, and even claimed to have seen the face of a former library director in the basement doorway.
2. Hutchinson Public Library
The Hutchinson Public Library was established in 1901 and is allegedly haunted by a former librarian named Ida Day. In life, Ida Day was famous for her seriousness and stoic demeanour, qualities that followed her beyond the grave. She is mainly spotted in the basement, particularly in the southwest corner, where phantom footsteps, cold spots, and whispers are experienced. In one disturbing encounter described by author Lisa Hefner Heitz, a stern old woman confronted a new librarian from the shadows below the stairs. When the librarian replied, the ghost dissolved into the darkness. Not every sighting is as frightening. According to one local resident, “They say that if you are in that library alone you can sometimes see her walking around, or looking and/or sorting books. They say that she is not harmful and she won’t bother you.”
1. Memorial Library
Memorial Library, at the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, is home to the ghost of former professor and novelist Helen Constance White. She died in 1967, and since then her apparition has been seen wearing a purple dress. Another ghost, dubbed “Sally Brown” because that name was whispered in the ear of a spooked employee, has been spotted floating through the bookshelves. According to other reports, a shy spectre lurks in the basement archives. This shadowy entity disappears when confronted. Memorial Library has been the scene of real life horrors as well. In 1979, Eugene De Voe, aka the “Library Stalker,” attacked a young coed with a fire axe in the library stacks. She recovered after a short stay in the hospital and De Voe was sentenced to five years in prison.