Libraries: the hauntingly beautiful and the beautifully haunted

The World’s Most Beautiful Library Is In Prague, Czech Republic


The Klementinum library

The Klementinum library

The Klementinum library, a beautiful example of Baroque architecture, was first opened in 1722 as part of the Jesuit university, and houses over 20,000 books. It was voted as one of the most beautiful and majestic libraries in the world by our readers!

The ceiling frescoes were painted by Jan Hiebl. In 1781, director Karel Rafael Ungar established Biblioteca Nationalis, a collection of Czech language literature. Some of the rare historical books from this collection have been sent to Google for scanning and will eventually be available on Google Books.

Just as the library is a rare and little-known treasure, so is it associated with several little-known facts: the Klementinum used to be the third largest Jesuit college in the world; recording of local weather began there in 1775 and has continued ever since; it is featured in a novel by famous Spanish-language writer Jorge Luis Borges.

Photos of the library can be seen here:


Phantoms among the Folios: A Guide to Haunted Libraries


In the fall, a journalist’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ghosts. Newspapers and magazines that haughtily refrain from printing news of the paranormal for 11 months of the year eagerly jump on the Halloween coach in October to regale their audiences with dubious tales of the preternatural.

American Libraries is no exception. However, unlike less reputable media, we go to original sources whenever possible to ascertain whether or not our spooks are spurious. And in so doing we have uncovered a hauntful of genuinely eerie events hiding amid the folktales.

Libraries are haunted?

Bleak mansions and somber castles usually spring to mind when we think of haunted places. But ghostly phenomena—whatever the cause—can manifest in well-lit, modern offices as well as crumbling Carnegies. Of course, it helps if you inadvertently build your library on top of a graveyard.

Haunted libraries fall into two types. First, there is the “building with a reputation,” where a convenient murder, curse, or other tragedy has occurred. Library staff can then blame the odd noise, the occasional book falling off the shelf, or glitches in the air conditioning on the resident “scapeghost.” No one reports anything too spooky, and the children’s librarians have a good time with it at story hour.

Second, there are libraries where credible, responsible people observe enigmatic human shapes, hear disembodied voices, and witness other classic parapsychological events. Glib explanations about how the building must be settling ring about as hollow as those mysterious footsteps late at night on the upper floorboards. The library staff learns to live with its wraith, usually by accepting the paranormal as a normal working condition.

Both categories of haunted libraries are described here. Like a good journalist I will begin with Type One, forcing you to read through to the end to get the good stuff. Just make sure you don’t finish this article alone in bed, late at night, during a violent thunderstorm.

’Tis the curse of service

As if library directors didn’t have enough to worry about, a curse would be sufficient to send stress levels over the line. Fortunately, the curse on Peoria (Ill.) Public Library directors seem to have lifted long ago. Uttered in 1847 by the lawyer-plagued woman who owned the land where the library now stands, the curse is said to have been responsible for the untimely deaths of three directors: The first was killed in a streetcar accident in 1915, the second died from a heart attack suffered after a heated debate at a library board meeting in 1921, and the third committed suicide in 1924 by swallowing arsenic. Since then, Peoria directors have lived long, fruitful lives.

Trisha Noack, ‎manager of Public Relations at Peoria Public Library, said their Main Library was remodeled and reopened in December 2010.

“Most of these reports came from the stacks area, now known as LL1 and the home of our Art Gallery and Local History and Genealogy Room,” Noack said. “Since the stacks were eliminated (and) the entire library building (was) stripped down to the bare walls, there has been no further activity.”

Ruth did it

On October 11, 1947, Ruth Cochran, assistant librarian at the Umatilla County Public Library in Pendleton and president of the Eastern Oregon Library Association, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage as she was closing the building. She went to the basement to rest, but soon became too weak to move or summon help. The next day the custodian’s wife found her, still conscious, and she was taken to the hospital where she died, according to the Pendleton East Oregonian. Ever since, spooky events in the library have been blamed on Ruth’s ghost.

Harvey Thompson, a library patron who took an interest in Ruth, said there is “something in the building that makes people nervous.” Once a custodian was alone in the building painting the children’s room when the intercom system buzzed repeatedly. “The folklore was that Ruth was suffering in the basement trying to summon someone,” Thompson said.

The library, now called the Pendleton Public Library, moved to into a vacant remodeled junior high school building in November 1996, according to library director Mary Finney. Ruth’s old building has been converted into the Pendleton Center for the Arts. Former executive director Tom Hilliard said that he never saw or heard anything he couldn’t explain: “It was an old building [a Carnegie built in 1916]. Noises turned out to be pipes expanding or a bird in the attic.”

Rockin’ wraith

The Cairo (Ill.) Public Library boasts of a ghost that one young library patron has dubbed Toby. Director Monica Smith noted that Toby usually hangs out in the special collections room on the second floor of this 1884 building. “I’m here a lot of times by myself at night, and I do hear many different sounds like someone walking around upstairs,” Smith said. “Many times I come back and find the lights on that we turned off in that room. I definitely think there is a presence here.”

Former librarian Louise Ogg once saw a ghostly light rise up from behind a desk, pass slowly by her office, and disappear into the book stacks. Another staff member was with her and saw the same thing. There used to be a rocking chair in the library that made creaking noises by itself, as if someone were rocking in it. “You kind of get used to it,” Smith said.

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