Are You Afraid of the Stacks?

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A spooky library picture with the text "Are you afraid of the stacks? Librarians share their spookiest stories..."

Lauren Walker: [00:00:00] You're listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.

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Lauren Walker: Good evening, or morning or afternoon, whenever you're listening. I'm Lauren Walker, assistant director at the Coventry Public Library. I'll be your host sharing ghost stories from librarians around the state. Now, I don't know if the Coventry Public Library is haunted, but I have noticed a few things happen that I couldn't really explain. For those of you who don't know, the library is in the same building as the town hall. We can see the town council chambers right across the hall from the library through these little windows that look out into the lobby. One day, my coworker was standing by the windows, and she asked me if anything was going on in the council chambers.

I checked the schedule, and there was nothing scheduled to be in there. She said that the automatic door kept opening and closing. I walked over to the window and she was right, the doors to the council chambers have a button that can be pressed to automatically open the doors and they were opening and closing as if the button had been pressed, but no one had pressed it. We thought maybe someone was in the room and had leaned against the button on the inside so I went across the hall, but the room was completely empty and the lights were off. This room is always locked when it's not in use, so we're not even sure how it got unlocked or how the doors were opening and closing on their own.

It hasn't happened again since that day. A few days after that, something else strange happened. I have a stress ball on my desk and all of a sudden without any breeze or me bumping it or anything, it just suddenly rolled slightly to the right. I joked with my coworker that it was a ghost and then a second later at a different coworker's desk, a cardboard box fell right off the top [00:02:00] of the bookshelf where it was sitting undisturbed for several days. We're not really sure what all of that was about. This was the week that the old mortuary here in Coventry was demolished. I remember driving past the site on my way into work and getting the heebie-jeebies. Maybe a spirit followed me to work.

Nothing strange has happened since then, so if there was a ghost it seems to have moved on. Coventry Public Library was only built in 1978, so it doesn't have as much potential for spooky history as some other libraries in the state, like the Cumberland Library, which was originally built in 1900 and is purported to have acquired some ghosts over the past century. Our first librarian story is from Celeste Dyer, library director at the Cumberland Public Library, who tells us about her experience when ghost hunters came to investigate the library.

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Celeste Dyer: I'm Celeste Dyer, the director of the Cumberland Public Library, which according to the book Haunted Rhode Island by Thomas D'Agostino, is haunted. The library is located in a former monastery, and most Cumberland residents agree with D'Agostino. I've worked here for over 20 years and I've not seen anything that could be called paranormal activity. We did invite The Atlantic Paranormal Society group from the popular TV show Ghost Hunters to come and visit and check it out. First, a little background about the property. The Cumberland Library is located in a former Trappist monastery.

The monks moved here from Nova Scotia after the monastery there burned. The monks built several buildings here, raised their own food, and had planned to stay for a long time. The small memorial garden to the left of the library was once their graveyard, so it isn't a stretch to think it might be haunted. In March of 1950, a fire started in the original building, [00:04:00] which was then serving as a guest house. The flames from that fire leaped to the roof of the church. The guest house was completely destroyed, and the interior of the church was gutted. The monks had long planned to build a second monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts.

Instead, they left Cumberland and moved there permanently. The town acquired the 500 acres of the monastery property in the '70s. In 1976, three small libraries were combined to form one Cumberland Public Library in the monastery building. Prior to filming, the ghost hunters asked if local residents had any stories about paranormal activity at the monastery. A few people said they had seen something or had heard that a monk would wander the halls and would sometimes close your book. One woman said she had come early to put some books in the book drop, and she swore a woman wearing 1950s-era clothing was standing in the vestibule. When she looked again, she was gone.

The Ghost Hunter crew filmed over two nights in December of 2013. They laid out their equipment during the day and returned after the library closed, presumably, when the ghosts come up, to record and film. We had given them a tour of the library, especially the former monastery space, before the recording. The third floor of the original building is particularly interesting, as it was the infirmary when the monks lived here. There are still remnants of the former monastery to be seen in the library. You can see the spaces where the infirmary rooms were on the third floor.

The second-floor hallway has the original terrazzo floor, and there are vaulted ceilings and plaster decorations in the second-floor hall and our largest meeting room. The ghost hunters filmed and recorded, hoping to catch some paranormal activities. Part of the program is an interview with the owner of the [00:06:00] property. They had me listen to a recording of a voice they said sounded like a child. I didn't really hear any words, but they were convinced it was a spirit. Also, while they were filming, one of the automatic faucets in a second-floor restroom, the kind that requires you to wave your hand in front of it, started running all by itself.

When the tech opened the door and asked if anyone was in there, it stopped. In another incident, while Aaron, the assistant director, and I were eating in the break room, the automatic faucet in there started all by itself. No one was touching it. I must admit, it was a little creepy. The Ghost Hunter episode aired in February of 2014. One of the best parts of the experience is that we were able to livestream the show at the library. The library closes at eight o'clock, and the show was airing at nine o'clock. Anyone who wanted to attend had to be inside the community room, our largest room, by 8:00 PM. We invited the TAPS crew to come at eight and give a talk and answer questions from the audience.

Then at nine o'clock, we put on the show. Programs about paranormal activity are always very popular at the library, and we filled our biggest meeting room, 225 people. It was great to see everyone so excited and chatting during commercials, and then complete silence when the show came back on. It also brought people to the library who had never been there before. At one point during a commercial, two girls asked where the restrooms were, and I pointed out the haunted one. Since that episode, we get requests from other paranormal groups to come and look for activity, sometimes three or four a month. While I'm still not convinced we are haunted, the whole experience was fun, and we did get a really great program out of it.

Lauren Walker: Our next story is from Natalie Coolen, who works at Warren's George Hail Library. [00:08:00] Her story doesn't take place at the library, but rather at the home of a library patron where she was pet sitting for a weekend.

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Natalie Coolen: Hi, my name is Natalie Coolen. I am from Warren, Rhode Island, and I'm here to tell you my personal ghost story. Here it goes. Hope Village is a rural district in Rhode Island located in the town of Scituate. The Hope Mill on the south side of the village was built in 1844, while the Hope Furnace was built almost a century earlier in 1766. Having both the mill and the furnace brought both commercial and industrial operation. The Rhode Island General Assembly gained a contract in order to produce a cannon for use in the American Revolutionary War with Hope's iron accessibility. We're not here to talk about the history of Hope, even though this is the town where I saw the ghost.

If you're listening, I'm going to tell you my personal and vivid encounter with the ghost, twice in one day. In order to start this ghost story, let's start at the town library. Everything about this job was ideal in the long run. I became a librarian because this job inspired me to do so. I was connected to so much talent within the community. The patrons were and are wonderful people whom I miss dearly. I actually became the go-to person for house-sitting and pet-sitting. I enjoyed this very much. A little money on the side to save. It gave me some freedom from my roommates, and I didn't have a pet and I love animals.

On a certain occasion, I was asked last-minute notice whether or not I could house sit for a long weekend. The house was under renovations and the family created a guest room just for me. This was pleasing to hear. [00:10:00] I packed a small suitcase, and after my work shift, I drove to let the dog and cat inside, get settled in, and relax with the pets. I fell asleep on the couch watching TV. I woke up, took care of the dog, the cat, the chickens, and headed back to work, my library shift, which happened to be on a Saturday during summer. This means it's only a half day. The weather was perfect.

I looked forward to vegging out on my own at the house-sitting property. My plan was to eat berries off the bushes, walk through the acres within the property with the dog, and cook a meal while enjoying a quiet night in. My Saturday work shift was over and I pulled into the driveway greeted by the bark of a lovely dog. The animals were to be outdoors until nighttime, but I did prepare the cat and dog food inside the kitchen. With the dog's dish, I put in his usual two cups of dried dog food, grabbed a soft can of dog food, and went to the sink to add a little bit of water, just the way the dog liked it.

I'm looking out the window, that's when I see him. A shadowy, tall, lanky gentleman walked along the bright green grass opposite the chicken coop. This surprised me. I rolled the window out further with the polite, "Hello, may I help?" He didn't even glance toward my voice. He kept walking through the backyard. Before I could say something again, he was gone, poof. The property being as large as it is, a vast open field with a winding dirt driveway, it's nearly impossible to just vanish. I wasn't frightened at that point, but I found it very odd. The man was wearing clothes out of the colonial days. He looked a bit like Uncle Sam, the tax man.

That is the only way I could describe him. [00:12:00] The house was set up on a hill surrounded by a stone wall. I researched later that the vivid figure of a man I saw in the backyard was, in fact, exactly an attire for that era. However, I initially dismissed it as a cosplay individual cutting through the yard. I finished preparing the dog and cat's food and water outside, and head up the stairs to my guest room. I lay out the items from my suitcase to settle in for another relaxing evening. The next day being Sunday, a day to sleep in, enjoy the solitude, I reached for a few books on shelves along the wall, grabbed a blanket and laid outside with the animals to soak in the late afternoon sun.

By sunset, I had surprisingly forgotten all about the Uncle Sam character. It's dark now, and I close up the huge barn where the cat resides and I bring the dog inside with a leash leading her upstairs to the television room, just outside of my guestroom. I go into my guestroom and I'm drifting off to sleep between near and far noises around me, when I physically was pressed into the cushion of the mattress, my feet, my shins, and knees pinned down with such weight I was unable to turn, get up, or think because it was pitch-black and all that was on my mind was that I have to get out of there. I knew it was him. Something told me, I just knew it was him.

I finally feel the weight release and I run barefoot without my belongings, dash straight down the step toward the wooden stairway, slipping on the last step, stubbing my toe before I reach for my jacket on the coat rack. Feeling my keys in the pocket and slam out the door, sprinting toward my car, heading straight to my parents' house the next town over. I didn't tell my folks why I showed up to stay over for the night, and they didn't ask. I went to the room [00:14:00] I grew up in, untouched since I had left, and surprisingly slept through the night. I woke the next morning very aware of what happened the day before. I panicked because I absolutely could not go back to that house. I shivered at the thought.

I was worried for the animals. My fear was evident enough to where my parents reassured me that they will take care of the animals, to just let them know what needs to be done and they'll collect my things left behind. "Don't worry about it," they said. I ensured myself that the family will be home within 24 hours, and I didn't tell anyone except my folks about my encounter. On Monday, when I went to work with my coworkers, I dismissed any details that they asked about my weekend and I showed abrupt interest in theirs. A few weeks go by without talking to or seeing the family with the haunted house.

I again forget about it momentarily, but the wife eventually picks up her books at the library that she has on hold and our paths cross again. She seemed to know something was up. She looked suspiciously at me because I barely could look her in the eye. I was so nervous. That was very obvious to her because my demeanor wasn't normally like that pre-ghost encounter. Without getting too far into dialogue, she whispers that she knows and that she has seen him too. It was just an understanding and we said goodbye. I haven't been back to the beautifully renovated property circa 1793, and every now and then I'm reminded of my experience. I feel confident in sharing with you this personal story. I'm here to tell you that I do, without a doubt, believe in ghosts.

Lauren Walker: Next, we'll hear from Mary Anne Quinn, who Works at the Warwick Public [00:16:00] Library, but her story is actually from the Pawtucket Public Library.

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Mary Anne Quinn: Hi, this is Mary Anne Quinn, a librarian from the Warwick Public Library. Many years ago, when I was in high school and college, I worked as a page at the Pawtucket Public Library. This was before the library expanded, so the library was housed in the original large building. The library had been built by Frederick Clark Sayles, the first mayor of Pawtucket, and dedicated to the memory of his late wife, Deborah Cook Sayles in 1902. The building, if you're not familiar with it, is Greek revival architecture, with many steps and columns and built with granite. Deborah's large portrait hung over the grand staircase, and she was pictured in a long flowing gown.

One night that summer, it was time to close. There were just three of us left at closing. Sue, a reference librarian, and my friend, Gloria, and myself, both pages. On this particular night, we had made sure everyone was gone from the library and the doors were locked. Our usual route to close the building was down the grand staircase, then down the lower level corridor past the children's library, and out the rear door to the parking lot. We started down the staircase in a silent building, turning lights off as we went. All of a sudden, when we got to the bottom of the staircase, we heard the elevator start up.

An eerie sound in a silent building. We thought somebody must have stayed behind and was on the elevator. Sue, who was in charge, told us to run quickly to the children's library. We did, but we had to run past the corridor the elevator opened onto. As we ran down the corridor, we heard the elevator open. We ran into the children's library and Sue locked the door. She went to the phone and called the police. The police came quickly and thoroughly searched the building. They found no one [00:18:00] on the elevator or anywhere else in the building. The only thing amiss was a small group of rather shaken up library employees.

We never learned what happened that night or what started the elevator. Our only explanation was that it was the ghost of Deborah Cook Sayles exploring the library while she had the building to herself. If you ever visit the Swan Point Cemetery, pay your respects to the Sayles family. The family plot is hard to miss. It is along the left side of the cemetery, and the road splits to go around a large, oval, grassy area. In the oval are all the Sayles, including Deborah and Frederick. Centered on the plot, is a large monument. A model of a classical building with columns and scrolls looking suspiciously like a smaller version of the Pawtucket Public Library. I always thought Deborah would feel right at home there.

Lauren Walker: Our final story is from Stefanie Blankenship. Director of the North Providence Union Free Library, where there seemed to be two regular patrons who visit from the beyond.

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Stefanie Blankenship: I'm Stef Blankenship. I'm the director of the North Providence Union Free Library. I worked there 20 years ago in college and I returned as their director last summer, in July of 2020. When I worked at the North Providence Library in college, we'd be sitting at the reference desk upstairs. Occasionally, the staff and I would see what appeared to be an older man walking up to the desk, ready to ask for help. Of course, we'd look up and there'd be no one there. On some instances, the staff would also hear their name being called out when we were sitting upstairs alone at the reference desk, [00:20:00] and we'd also have instances where we saw a shadow walking through the stacks upstairs, appearing as if they were walking up to us to ask a question.

We'd turn around to say, "Can I help you," and there'd be no one there. That would often happen to me when I was at the copy machine upstairs as well. It just always seemed like someone was walking up to us. We could decipher that it was potentially an older man, and when we went to address them, they were no longer in front of us. That was about 20 years ago, in 2000 and 2004. When I returned last summer in July of 2020, similar things started to happen, including what happened previously 20 years ago. The elevator will go up by itself when the library's closed.

There's no way to make the elevator go up by itself. I've asked the elevator company 100 times to make sure that I wasn't going crazy, and there was no way that an elevator could push a button by itself and come up to the second floor. The first time it happened when I returned as director was when we had a staff meeting upstairs when we were closed and we were all gathered around and we heard, ding, and up came the elevator. We all ran over to it because we were so excited that the ghostly elevator was happening, and some people have never witnessed it in all the time they were there.

The doors opened and no one was there. We had one reference librarian who had been there for about 36 years who said, "I've heard this story so many times. I've never experienced it. Wow." We were having another staff meeting a few weeks later again, when we were closed to the public and our reference librarian at the time was speaking. As he was speaking, I heard, along with one of my circulation associates, another man's voice speaking over [00:22:00] the reference librarian's voice on top of the staircase at the staircase landing. We feel as if there's a male presence in the library who uses the elevator and likes to give their two cents occasionally.

It does maybe go back to the fact that our first Mayor of North Providence, when he passed away, his wake was held in the library on the first floor, in the magazine area for three days. There's currently a bust of this former mayor in our history room, so he's still there in a sense, and everyone who sees the bust gets a little creeped out sometimes. There's also a story revolving around my office. Now that I'm upstairs in an administrative office, I feel as another presence in there that's not a man- more like a secretary. My phone will hang up on its own when I'm on phone calls.

I hear the copy machine go off in the other room. I hear typing when I'm alone in the office and no one else is there coming from my current secretary's desk. I also witnessed what appeared to be a misty shadow figure crossing the threshold of my doorway out into the library, through the windows, which would lead it to the reference department. My assistant director also saw at the same time I did, her eyes were wide open when I saw it, and I said, "What happened?" She said, "I just saw something cross your office. I don't know what it was, but it was there."

We're still trying to figure out who it could be, but does not seem like the same spirit who's out on the second floor of reference department. We've all had similar experiences, including in the children's department. One of the associates has heard her name said out loud. Other staff seems to have experienced the same thing as well. We feel that whoever's there knows who we are and wants our attention, and we hope that we can help them [00:24:00] out someday.

Lauren Walker: Leave it to a librarian, always looking to help even with a ghost. We hope you enjoyed these spooky stories from libraries around the state. It sounds like the next time you're browsing your local library stacks, or riding in the elevator, you might not be alone. Thank you for listening and happy haunting.

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Lauren Walker: Rhody Radio is a project of the Office of Library and Information Services and is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.

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