Saturday, March 27, 2004
Library of Sand and Fog
The mysterious branch
The branch where I was stationed yesterday is rumored to be haunted, although the staff is very cagey and evasive if you ask them about it. The branch is in old Carnegie library, and like many Carnegies, is built in the Classical Revival architectural style: beautiful and grand, but a little reminiscent of a mausoleum. The neighborhood that this library is in is near the ocean and so it almost always damp, misty, and fogged in, which adds to the library’s overall eerie and mysterious atmosphere.
The first time I worked there was on Halloween night, appropriately enough. I was the only librarian and the evening was uneventful until right before closing. Most of the lights had been turned off, and the staff had completed their final rounds through the aisles to ensure all of the patrons were out of the building, a procedure known as the 'creep sweep.’ It was a chilly night and the steam radiators had been hissing and clanking industriously all evening, but all of the sudden they started rapidly popping, almost like automatic gunfire, and just as deafening. The clanging was interspersed with an occasional loud thud as if someone was throwing books of the shelves with great force onto the linoleum floor. The thudding sounded like it was coming from the back of one of the dark aisles instead of one of the radiators, which I thought at first must have been an acoustical trick. Although I was sure that no one could possibly be back there, I decided to go investigate, because the last thing I wanted to do was lock a patron in the library over night. I had just heard about a notorious incident where one a homeless woman had hidden in one of the rooms of another branch that didn’t have a motion detector alarm on Christmas Eve and had been locked in. Just before midnight she had decided that she didn’t want to be there and had called the police from the inside line. The manager had to get out of bed to go let her out and deal with the situation and he was understandably put out with his staff. I didn’t want anything like that happening under my watch, so just to make absolutely sure there were no stowaways I headed down the dark aisle from where I thought the noise was emanating. As I started to go back there I noticed that the staff was acting a little strange and one of them told me over all the noise,
"It's nothing. Let's go."
Now it sounded like someone was banging on the radiator pipes furiously with a hammer. I was about halfway through the aisle and could see no one, but I just had the undeniable feeling that someone was there. Then one of the staff said loudly,
"I promise you, it's nothing. Let's go."
Not seeing anyone, or anything, but still detecting some kind of presence, I reluctantly followed the rest of the staff out into the night, who seemed very relieved once we were all out the library door. When we exited the library I noticed that all of the hair was standing up on my neck and arms and I had a bad case of cold chills. I shit you not.
Months went by and I was talking to another librarian who likes to dish and has been in the system forever and that branch happened to come up in conversation and he said,
"You know that branch is haunted."
He told me that he had a supernatural experience there himself. To get to the staff room you have to walk through a basement storage area. He was on his break headed toward the staff room when he had the strange urge to read his book in a chair by a bookshelf in the storage room instead of the break room. As he was reading he had the distinct feeling that someone was looking over his shoulder. He slowly turned his head around and of course, there was no one there. He detected no malevolence in the presence - it was as if someone had been looking over his shoulder in a friendly and curious way to ask,
"Hey, whatcha reading?"
He closed his book and walked right back up the stairs, his neck and arm hair all raised, like mine had been.
Supposedly the staff became reluctant to work in the branch alone before the library opens. One night one saw out of the corner of her eye a woman in a long skirt heading for the children’s room. right before closing. When she went to tell the woman that the library was closing, there was no one there.
Some of the Buddhist staff members started leaving little offerings for the presence, and recently did a cleansing ceremony, and unexplained activity has subsided almost to nothing. I was secretly a little thrilled when I had to go down to the basement to retrieve Frederick out of storage, but felt nothing, much to my disappointment and relief. I'm not sure if I believe in the supernatural anyway, so who knows if there was anything there at all. The libraries are haunted by enough lost souls that are living, though, so it make sense to me that one or two dead ones might become waylaid there. Maybe that poor lost soul has finally found its way and moved on.
I'll leave you with a quote from Ghostbusters.
Dr. Raymond Stantz: Of course you forget, Peter, I was present at an unexplained, unseen mass sponge migration!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Uh, Ray, the sponges migrated about a foot-and-a-half.
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