The Top 5 Most Haunted Libraries In America

Which is spookier, a colonial ghost grieving for her lover or a mysterious Victorian lady in grey? Today, let’s look at America’s most haunted libraries!

Book Culture Bookspot / Libraries
a dark, dingy library. the bookshelves are empty, and the ghost of a hand presses against one of them.

Everyone loves a good ghost story, and what better place to find one than at your local library? These haunted libraries take ghost stories to the next level; the stories behind their ghosts are actually true.

1. Peoria Public Library – Peoria, Illinois

Long before the first of our haunted libraries was built, it’s said that the land beneath Peoria Public Library was cursed.

The story begins in 1830 with Mrs. Andrew Gray, who lived in a house where the library stands today. After the death of her brother, Mrs. Gray got custody of her nephew, who continually found himself on the wrong side of the law. Mrs. Gray hired a lawyer, David Davis, to get her nephew out of trouble. However, when she could not pay him for his services, Davis sued to foreclose Mrs. Gray’s house.

According to local legend, Mrs. Gray then cursed the land and its future occupants in a fit of rage.

A photo of E. S. Wilcox. Next to it is his obituary which reads "Wilcox Dies Of Injury From Car. Public Librarian Succumbs to Injuries Sustained When He Was Knocked Down By Street Car. Father Of Libraries. Erastus , aged 83 years, who might with perfect propriety be termed the father of the public library system of the United States, is dead. The librarian of the Peoria Public Library for almost a quarter of a century, passed away at the Proctor hospital at 4:45 o'clock last evening as the result of a street car accident at Main and Glen Oak.

It seems that this curse was more than just a legend. After the property was turned into a library, it’s said that the curse was responsible for the deaths of its first three directors in the span of nine years. In 1915, E. S. Willcox was hit by a car. In 1921, Samuel Patterson Prowse had a heart attack during a board meeting. In 1924, Dr. Edwin Wiley consumed arsenic.

Despite the land’s unsettling past, many of the library’s patrons and staff claim that the ghosts aren’t malevolent, but just want to be noticed. Some have even claimed to see the ghost of E. S. Willcox lingering all this time later, with many believing that he loved the library so much, not even death could separate him from it.

2. Houston Public Library – Houston, Texas

The outside of the Julia Ideson Building, the second of our haunted libraries. It is an ornate white building with many windows and a stone path leading to it.

Sometimes, late at night, some hear the notes of Johann Strauss’ waltzes echoing in the Houston Public Library’s Julia Ideson Building. The mysterious culprit is said to be the ghost of Jacob Frank Cramer, the library’s former security guard.

Cramer lived in the library’s basement apartment with his dog, Petey, where he frequently practiced the violin. He died in his apartment in 1936, but his dog was never found.

Since his death, patrons have found sheet music scattered across the floor or heard the phantom clicking of a dog’s claws on the floor. However, Cramer’s ghost is most famous for the distant violin music that some patrons claim to hear at night.

3. The Old Bernardsville Public Library – Bernardsville, New Jersey

The Old Bernardsville Public Library is rumored to have ghosts that date back as far as the Revolutionary War, when the library was the Vealtown Tavern.

Phyllis Parker was the daughter of the tavern’s innkeeper. She quickly fell deeply in love with Dr. Byram, a British spy whose real name was Aaron Wilde. Wilde was ultimately found out and hung. His body was taken in a coffin back to the innkeeper, but before the innkeeper could bury Wilde, Phyllis found the body and suffered a nervous breakdown, dying shortly after.

A newspaper reading "Old Vealtown Tavern Will Soon Be Razed." The clipping features an illustration of the tavern with two leafless trees out front.

According to some employees, Phyllis’ ghost can be seen walking around the front rooms of the library. Some also claimed to hear voices. At one point, Phyllis’s ghost was so active that she was given her own library card.

Nowadays, she’s much less active. The last reported sighting of Phyllis occurred in November 1989 when a young boy saw a lady in a long, white dress in the reading room. Although it’s no longer available for purchase, local Eileen Johnston also wrote a booklet titled Phyllis—The Library Ghost? which goes deeper into the Phyllis Parker lore.

4. New Hanover County Public Library – Wilmington, North Carolina

The front entrance of New Hanover County Library. It's made of tan bricks that hang over glass doors. A blue banner reading "library" hangs off the left side.

The anonymous ghost of New Hanover County Public Library is said to have been a patron who frequently researched the Civil War when she was alive. This ghost frequents the local history room and is believed to be the source of strange “researching” noises, like papers flipping when no one’s there.

Additionally, some staff report seeing books or files spread out across the research table when they were absolutely sure they had put everything back into place the night before. Although this researcher is NHCPL’s most famous ghost, it’s also home to two others. One is an elderly man who was killed in a duel nearby, and the rarest of the three is a younger man.

5. The Willard Public Library – Evansville, Indiana

We’ve saved the most infamous haunted library on the list for last. Willard Public Library is the oldest public library in Indiana and home to an unidentified ghost known only as “the Grey Lady.”

The Grey Lady was first spotted in February 1937 when a custodian entered the basement to stoke the coal furnace late at night. He encountered a lady dressed all in gray, from her veil to her shoes to the gauzy material over her face. Upon realizing that the beam of his flashlight passed right through her visage, he fled the premises. This custodian continued to see the ghost of the Grey Lady, and eventually quit because her presence disturbed him so much.

The most recent Grey Lady sighting occurred in 2014, when two employees witnessed a woman in Victorian clothing standing in the children’s section. When she turned to face them, she disappeared bit by bit until nothing was left, leaving both employees uneasy.

A ghostly grey woman in a big Victorian dress walking through aisled of bookshelves.

The Willard Public Library leans into these hauntings. They’ve even set up a website for tracking the Grey Lady where you can view camera footage of her favorite parts of the library. They even host annual ghost-hunting tours each October!

The Willard Public Library has lots of information and history about the ghost on its main website, where they list cold spots and the smell of cheap perfume as some of the most tell-tale signs of the Grey Lady.

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