Episodes, libraries

20. That Time a Fire Built a Library

 

We here at The Book Owl Podcast do NOT approve of book burning. However, there was a time in recent history when a fire was actually good for books, libraries, and for the book lovers of Chicago.

Links Mentioned in This Episode

Like what you hear?

Transcript (or Roughly So)

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

Introduction, Part One

It’s a Sunday night in early October. The skies are dark, but also dry. In the past four months it’s only rained half the normal amount, and this drought has been going on for the past year.

A fireman rests, barely able to move from exhaustion. There’d been a raging fire the night before that took eighteen hours to put out. In the past week alone, twenty-four other fires have been dealt with. The fireman, his crew, and the horses who pull the steam-powered water engines are out of energy.

And then an alarm sounds. Another fire has ignited. But there’s no information coming of which direction to head. The delay would seal the fate of Chicago.

Introduction, Part Two

Well, that’s quit an ominous start to the podcast, isn’t it. And you’re probably wondering what in the world does the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 have to do with books. Especially since it happened in October. Where’s the books, where’s some sort of January event?

Don’t worry, if I weave this tale just right, it’ll all come around to books and to January. Or at least I hope so.

Before we jump into the episode, another big dose of gratitude goes to Jonny Pongratz for sharing several episodes of the podcast over on the Jaunts & Haunts blog. He’s also been plowing through my historical fantasy series Domna and posting some very favorable reviews for it on his blog. If you want to check out the blog and learn about Jonny’s fiction writing, I’ve dropped the link to his site in the show notes.

And just one quick reminder that this show is supported by you. So, please do check out the very inexpensive ways you can keep the episodes coming by heading to that Support the Owl link in the show notes.

Okay, cue the Billy Joel music, because it’s time to start a fire. No wait, Billy Joel said we didn’t start the fire. Well, that’s why this isn’t The Music Owl Podcast.

Come on, Baby, Light My Fire

So the fire that would become known as the Great Chicago Fire started on the 8th of October, 1871. It was a Sunday night about 8:00, and like I said, fires had been popping up all over the place for the past week in Chicago. But this particular fire got the upper hand.

Part of that was because the fire crews were completely done in. And this is saying a lot because at the time, with over 180 firemen, Chicago had one of the best fire departments in the US. But the firemen weren’t entirely to blame, it was mainly how the fire alarm system worked.

See, there were these fire call boxes scattered around the city. But your average Chicago Joe wasn’t allowed to access them. Instead only “upstanding” men of business or politics or society were given keys to the boxes. And the upstanding citizen in charge of the box nearest ground zero for the fire didn’t think he needed to send up the alarm.

Rather than pull the alarm, he got into a big old Karen-esque bickering session with the people telling him to sound the alarm. See, people don’t change.

Another part of the city’s fire defense system were watchtowers. I don’t know if the watchman was reading a book, dreaming about a special someone, or just taking a nap, but by the time the fires were spotted they had already gotten out of control, which was why they didn’t know what direction to tell the fires crews to head.

And, just as legend tells us, the fire did start at or near the O’Leary barn. The cow was blamed, but really sentiment toward the Irish was so disparaging in Chicago at the time that it became too easy to blame Irish immigrants for the destruction and so Kate O’Leary pretty much ended up living her life in disgrace after the fire.

And as a little side note, no one is really sure how the fire started in that barn, but in 1997, the Chicago City Council officially pardoned Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Better late than never, I guess.

A Rough Couple Days

Anyway, Chicago isn’t known as the Windy City for nothing. And the wind was blowing that night. Combine that with a city made mostly of wood plus a year-long drought and anything a wind-whipped ember touched was bound to go up in flames.

People began trying to flee the city and many took refuge by bodies of water, but even there, the ground became too hot to bear, so rather than by the water, people headed into the water. The fire was so bad, it was described as moving in sheets of flame that reached 1000 feet wide and 100 feet tall. I mean, you couldn’t even roast marshmallows with fire that bad.

Then, as if things aren’t bad enough, the fire reaches the gasworks building. Boom! More fire and the power went out. Then at three in the morning, the damn fire is so bad it ignites the waterworks station. The waterworks building, people. That’s some serious fire. This wiped out the pumps and cut off the water supply.

Rainy Relief Arrives

Things are not looking good for Chicago. Just like in forest wildfires, attempts were made to create firebreaks, but not by cutting down trees. They did it by blowing up buildings.

Nice try, but it didn’t work. The fire just kept on coming.

Finally, in the very early hours of Tuesday, rain started pouring. It finally put out the fires but by then an area 4 miles by 1 mile had been burned. 300 people died, over 17000 buildings were destroyed, and 70 miles of streets were left in ruins.

Worse yet for book lovers the Cobb’s Library lost 5000 books in the fire, and the Chicago Library Association lost a whopping 2 to 3 million books. Tragedy. Pure tragedy. I’ll give you a moment to grieve over that.

Okay, moving on…and no, that wasn’t the only book part of the episode.

What This Has to Do with Books

So obviously we know that Chicago rebuilt, and they rebuilt the city, not on rock and roll, but by using innovative designs and building materials — namely fireproof materials. But you don’t care about that. You’re probably still wondering what in the fiery bowels of Hades this has to do with books.

Well, we need to head over to London for a minute. See, across the pond word came in about the destruction, and a man named A.H. Burgess wanted to help out because he not only was a nice guy, but he also happened to like the city of Chicago. With the support of a member of Parliament and author by the name of Thomas Hughes, Burgess began a project called the English Book Donation. Yes, this is the book part!

They ended up gathering over 8000 books from people including some pretty high-ranking folks such as Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Queen Victoria herself. When Burgess sent the books over he included a statement that went,

“I propose that England should present a Free Library to Chicago, to remain there as a mark of sympathy now, and a keepsake and a token of true brotherly kindness forever…”

Books with No Home

The problem with this brotherly kindness was Chicago had no actual library system.
Now I hear you saying, “But wait a minute, you just mentioned two libraries that lost millions of books.” You’re right, I did.

But those libraries were not free and open to the public. They were subscription, or members-only libraries and that really was the only type of library available in Chicago at the time.

But Burgess’s donation sparked a fire under the people of Chicago. Wait, there’s probably a better way to phrase that. It gave them the gumption to petition for a free library system that would be open to the public.

This petitioning eventually worked its way up the system to become the Illinois Library Act of 1872 that authorized tax-supported libraries throughout the state.

Unfortunately, this is government and it would take until 1873 for the first public library to actually open in Chicago.

A Library Opens!

And that library opened on the 1st of January 1873. I told you this episode had a January element to it. But the best part of this library was that it was started with about half the books donated because of the fire and was housed in an old water tank. And if you’re on the Book Owl Podcast mailing list, you’ll get a photo of that water tank library in the email that will go out with this episode. It really is a remarkable looking place.

But although clever and good looking, the tank wasn’t all that big and it wasn’t convenient for everyone in the growing city to get to. The trouble was, the city wasn’t building new libraries hadn’t over fist.

Instead, book depositories were created in existing businesses such as candy stores and drug stores, which I think is absolutely appropriate because books are definitely as addictive as candy and drugs. Anyway, how this worked was you’d put in a request to the main library and your stuff would be delivered by horse-drawn cart to the outpost nearest your home and then you’d go pick up your book. And people must have loved this system because over two-thirds of the Chicago Library’s circulation chem through these little outposts.

And just to wrap up, the city did eventually get a purpose-built library and let me just say, this was when they knew how to build a library. This thing had a domed ceiling, a grand staircase, and glass lamps designed by Tiffany’s. Swanky!

Books, Not Bells

So all this got me thinking about donations and what other libraries might have been started with donations. Of course, my own local library was started with the donations of both books and an entire house from Florence Ledding, but then I discovered the first public library in the US was started with book donations. And the story is kind of funny because that’s not what was asked for.

So this town in Pennsylvania named itself Franklin in a sort of, shall we say, butt kissing attempt to attract Ben Franklin’s attention. It did and he asked what he could do for the city. The city says, “Well we would just love a church bell to ding dong people into Sunday service.”

Ben Franklin, a possible atheist or at least agnostic, said, “Great, here’s a pile of books instead.” The town council decided not to complain and voted to lend the books to its citizens free of charge. And so, in 1790, what would become known as the Franklin Public Library opened.

And then, stupid me, I complete forgot about all the Carnegie libraries. Say what you will about him, but Andrew Carnegie loved books and he had a ton of money. The money he donated founded over 2500 libraries that were built between 1883 and 1929. And these things are everywhere. Most are in the US, but you’ll also find them in the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, and more.

Got Extra Books??

And if your New Year’s Resolution is to clean up some of your bookshelves, there’s plenty of places you can donate them beside Goodwill. You may not have enough to found your own library, but if you want to check out a few places that would love your books and will put them to good use, you can find a link to a post on the blog about that very thing.

Okay that is it for fires, for Ben Franklin, and for book donations. And that means it’s update time

Update – It’s Release Day!!!

The big update is that this past Tuesday, 12 January, was release day for the second box set of my historical fantasy series The Osteria Chronicles. This set includes books four through six plus a ton of bonus material to really bring you into this world where the myths of Ancient Greece come to life as you’ve never seen them before.

The series has just gotten all new covers that I think really show off the stories and the tone perfectly. And as a little promo push to lure you guys into the books, I’ve priced the first box set, that’s books one through three, to 99c for the month of January. The normal price is $5.99, so this is a pretty stellar deal if you want to give the series a try.

Plus, if you purchase that box set from my Payhip Bookstore, you’ll get a 15% discount on the second boxset. So go pop over to that link in the show notes and venture into a world where myths come to life as you’ve never seen them before. No, really, go to the link now. Show’s over. What are you waiting for?

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that really is it for this episode. If you enjoyed the show, I’d love it if you shared it with just one other person. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.

Credits

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.

Having Fun

They Want Your Books!

Hello Book Nerds,

Ooh, I hope I didn’t scare you with that post title. Don’t worry, there aren’t monsters lurking behind your bookshelves waiting for you to fall asleep so they can steal your collection.

That would be scarier than 2020!

No, what the post refers to are places that would love to have your book donations. Since the next episode of The Book Owl Podcast (coming to you 14 January) has a book-donation theme going on, I thought a post about where you can donate your own books would be fitting.

Plus, who knows, maybe your New Year’s Resolutions includes tidying up a few bookshelves that may have gotten overpopulated. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has that problem. Am I? Um…anyway…

Where to Donate Books (Besides Goodwill)

  • Your Local Library – Most libraries appreciate getting book donations. Even if they don’t add your books to the stacks, they might included your books in a book sale that will help support your library…which is a great way to earn karma brownie points!

Note: During these ‘rona times, some libraries have limited their intake of used books, check with yours to see before you start lugging boxes of books around.

  • A Little Free Library – You’re book nerds. You probably know what these are. But just in case you don’t, LFLs are homemade book houses that people put up along their front yard. The idea is for passersby to take a book and then maybe drop off a different book later on.

I am very guilty of making heavy use of these glorious little things over the past year as I’ve tried to whittle down my own book stash. Of course, I usually end up bringing home just as many books as I drop off. Oops…

  • Better World Books – This secondhand bookstore has drop boxes in several locations, saving you the trouble of packing up and shipping your donations (as a few of the others above require). Your books are then sold and the money is used to help fund kids’ reading programs, put toward libraries, or to fund adult literacy groups. You can learn more at BetterWorldBooks.com (and you can do some shopping there while you’re at it!)
  • Books for Soldiers – With the motto, “Care packages for the mind,” this terrific idea pairs up your reading tastes with a service member. Soldiers put in requests for books or genres they like. You then look over the requests and send in whatever you have that fits the bill. You can learn more at BooksforSoldiers.com
  • Operation Paperback – Similar to Books for Soldiers, this allows you to search for service members who want books. You can learn more at OperationPaperback.org
  • Books for Africa – This group has sent over 2 million books to 21 countries in Africa to help alleviate the continent’s “book famine.” I just love the idea of hungry readers gobbling up my old books. Learn more at BooksforAfrica.org
  • Books Through Bars – No, not drinking bars…prison bars. This organization delivers something like 3000 books a month to prisons in several states. Reading builds better people, so this is a great way to help society as a whole. Learn more at BooksThroughBars.org

There’s gobs more places to donate books, but I hope this gives you an idea of just a few of the many organizations who would love to take your books off your hands…you know, if you’re ready and willing to give them up. That’s a big “if” for us book nerds!

If you have other places to suggest, be sure to drop them in the comment box below.

Hoot at ya later!

***

Looking for new books that won’t take up shelf space?

It’s a great time to stock up on new stories. From 99c deals to box set binging, you’re sure to find something (or several somethings) you can’t resist!

Book Bargains, Having Fun

Treats for Birds and Book Nerds

Hello Book Nerds!

Now, you know the Book Owl loves books and libraries, but did you know there’s a library just for the birds? Crazy right? And here I thought the Book Owl was the only feathered friend who liked spending time amongst the stacks.

But it turns out a school librarian from Virginia, Rebecca Flowers (so appropriate), has set up a bird feeder in her garden that looks just like the check-out desk at your local library…

If you’d like to read the article about the feeder and about Rebecca’s other amazing efforts to get books into everyone’s hands, just head over to the full article over on the American Library Association’s website. Or, if you’d like to “check out” what the birds have been up to lately be sure to pop over to The Bird Library’s feed on Instagram.

*Note: The Bird Library used to have a livestream feed on YouTube, but it seems like it’s no longer working. :((

Reading Treats for You

Since bird seed probably isn’t your idea of a treat, I’ve collaborated with a couple authors to bring you bundles of book-filled joy!

Below you’ll find loads of fantastic fiction to treat yourself throughout December, as well as stockpiling a few tomes to cosy up with in a comfy reading chair over the next few wintry weeks (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere…then you can enjoy your books while basking in the summer sunshine).

The bundles below feature a wide range of genres, so there’s sure to be something that appeals to your book-loving heart.

Happy Book Hunting!!

This first bundle is hosted by author Randall Krzak who chose several of my short stories (including Testing the Waters, The Ghost of Arlen Hall, and Mrs. Morris Meets Death) as part of his fabulous bundle. Note: The books in this promo are not necessarily Xmas-themed, but all books are (or should be) only 99c. What a deal!!!

This fabulous little bundle is hosted by the talented Stephanie Mirro. Among loads of other goodies, this box set promo contains both The Osteria Chronicles Box Set (Books 1 – 3) for only $3.99 ($3 off normal list price) and Domna: The Complete Set for a mere $4.99 (a 50% discount compared to buying the books individually)

A Quick Reminder About These Bundles

These promotions are all run by indie authors via BookFunnel. They’re by far one of the best ways to get out the word about my books without breaking my tiny marketing bank.

However, to participate in these group promos, I have to maintain a good BookFunnel reputation…and you can help with that.

Every time you come back to this post and explore what’s on offer in these bundles, you help boost my reputation. It costs you nothing to browse the bundles below, but provides a big boost that allows me to continue to promote my work in a beneficial and affordable way.

Thank you for your support!!!

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Book Bargains, libraries

Book Clean Up on Aisle Four

Hey Book Nerds!

This is just a quick between-episodes post because I couldn’t resist sharing a book-related tidbit with you.

It’s a library. In a grocery store.

Wait, no, that’s not quite right. It’s a grocery store that is now a library.

I haven’t succumbed to any panic buying during the pandemic, but I could see myself raiding the shelves at this grocery store!

So this particular library is the Carmel Clay Public Library in Carmel, Indiana, and they’ve turned a former grocery store into a library. Instead of canned food, they have Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, instead of dried beans they have Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Tree. Looking for the candy aisle, you’ll find Laura Esquival’s Like Water for Chocolate.

And while I think stocking the shelves of a store with books instead of junk food, is a brilliant idea, unfortunately, this is only temporary while the Carmel Clay Library waits for a the construction of brand new building.

Seriously, though, you can’t beat finding books like Winter’s Bone, The Winter’s Tale, The Snowman, and The Ice House in the freezer department.

Image from the ALA

If you want to see the full article about the library from the American Library Association, you can find it at Books Fill the Aisles at This Supermarket.

But before you go…I also want to share a couple new book promotions you might be interested in. The first features books with a historical setting where the ladies take the lead. And the other is full of free tomes ranging from horror to sci-fi to fantasy. Just scroll down tad bit to see the deals.

Have fun browsing, and as a bit of fun, let me know a title of a book and where you’d shelve it in your grocery library!

 ***

The Latest Book Deals – Historical Ladies & Free Fantasy

(Be sure to also check out more November book bargains and freebies in the sidebar of this blog) 

Authors, Episodes

15. Ten Spooky and Kooky Libraries

 

It’s a listener-inspired episode in which, just like in the movie Ghostbusters, the Book Owl discovers ghosts love spending their time browsing, and sometimes wreaking havoc, in the stacks of their local libraries.

Links Mentioned in this Episode….

Like what you hear?

 

Ten Spooky & Kooky Libraries (Rough Transcript)

Note: I’ve made the transcript a little easier to read by providing section breaks with headers. Let me know if this works better for you who’d rather read than listen.

Introduction:

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

Well my little ghosts and goblins, this episode is coming out only a couple days before the haunting holiday of Halloween, which means I’m required by podcast law to feature something spooky. As if we Americans aren’t already fearful enough over the upcoming election, right? 

Behind the Scenes:

Anyway….I already had an idea for this episode floating around in my brain, but then Helen Crawford listener and lead monster maker over at Crawcrafts Beasties stepped in and said, “What about an episode on haunted bookstores?” 

I thought it was brilliant. Unfortunately, it turned out that there really aren’t many interesting tales of haunted bookshops. I mean, there were a few haunted bookstores, but it was more just quips about cold spots in the building or the occasional book falling off a shelf. There were no real stories behind the stories. 

But the lack of bookstore ghosts didn’t stop my search. Because it turns out that just like in the movie Ghostbusters, ghosts would rather spend their time browsing, and sometimes wreaking havoc, in the stacks of their local libraries. And let me tell you there turned out to be an overwhelming number of library hauntings, but I’ve picked a few of my favorite, funniest, and creepiest ones to share with you. 

Cheap Ploy to Get You to Join My Newsletter:

And if you’re on The Book Owl Podcast newsletter, as your bonus trick or treat this time around, you’ll get links to all the ones I had to skip over. And that also means this is the perfect time to mention that if you aren’t already signed up to the newsletter, there’s a link in the show notes. You’ll not only get bonus content with each episode, but you’ll also get a little owl-themed gift for joining the flock.

Alright, onto the episode and ten spooky libraries!

So since Helen is from Ireland, I thought it would only be appropriate if we start with a haunted library from the Emerald Isle.

Ghost in the Library #1

And that would be Marsh’s Library which the more I read about it, might just deserve its own full episode. This gorgeous book palace was founded in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh – which makes him sound like a Harry potter character — and this was the first public library in Ireland. 

Well, Marsh had a niece who he had raised and adored and whose relationship with a salty sea captain he vehemently opposed. The niece couldn’t help it, she was in love and eloped with her captain, leaving behind a note for her uncle telling him what she’d done. 

Of course, she didn’t want to be stopped before the two got properly hitched so she hid the note in a book. In a library. Marsh never did find the note. I’m not quite sure how he was seen supposed to know it existed, but after his death in 1713, something was seen wandering through the gallery, rummaging through book after book in search of the letter. And supposedly if you move between one gallery of the library to another, you can feel a spectral chill….

Ghost in the Library #2 

Hopping over to Norfolk, England, well this ghost story really drives home the stereotype of the British stiff upper lip, Keep Calm Carry on mentality. 

So we’re heading to the library of Felbrigg Hall. In the 1970s, the estate was acquired by the National Trust and it was up to David Muffon to put the place in order. So one evening (okay it could have been daytime, but evening makes it spookier), David’s at a desk in the library and happens to notice someone in a chair by the fireplace reading some books….then the someone finished his reading and faded away. 

Okay, at this point, even as a skeptic, I’d be letting out a horror movie scream and dashing the hell out of there. But not David. He just shrugs his shoulders and continues about his work, then later asks the butler if the house has any ghosts. 

To which the butler says, “Oh sure, we’ve got William Windham III who likes to raed by the fireplace.” The butler found this so normal he even set out books for the ghost to read…turns out Ghost William favored works by his old friend Samuel Johnson. Talk about a life long fan. Or is that an afterlife long fan?

Okay so let’s jump the pond because it turns out, American ghosts really love their libraries.

Now as some you know, Mr. Husband works at a library and there’s an ongoing joke that once you get a job at the library, you don’t leave. Turns out, that might be very true because I think at least a third of the stories I read were about the ghosts of former library workers. Most of whom liked to push books to the floor…which I’m sure after a lifetime of having to keep the shelves tidy means they are having a very satisfying afterlife.

Ghost in the Library #3

Mr. Husband also tells stories of a few, rare troublesome patrons, but in most cases, these folks leave the library premises when asked. Not so much in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at Lehigh University’s Linderman Library. See they used to have an old man who came to the library and was a real nuisance. Not one to let a little death stop his crabby ways, he is now haunting the library and continues to pester students and staff.

Ghost in the Library #4

Speaking of naughty ghosts, over in Tarrytown, New York, not long after his death, Washington Irving — who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow — began haunting the library of his home. Trouble is, unlike William Windham, Irving isn’t there for the books…he’s there because it’s a tourist attraction and he likes to pinch the bottoms of female visitors. 

Ghost in the Library #5

So let’s get into the creepy side of the stacks…over at the Sweetwater County Library in Wyoming, ever since the library opened in 1980, lights have been seen flipping on and off, and strange sounds reverberate through the building at night. In rooms with no windows, glowing dots are seen to flicker across the walls. 

See, it turns out the city planners didn’t pay attention to their horror film tropes and built the library over a freakin’ graveyard that had been the burial place mainly for Asian railroad workers. The graves had supposedly all been moved in the 1920s. Supposedly. 

Because in 1985, they found one remaining coffin. Yeah, I’m out of there already, but for those of you sticking around…it gets even more eerie. See, kids, there used to be these things call typewriters and the library had them for typing up forms and documents. But on occasion, the typewriters would type on their own. 

The library staff tried inserting paper to see if the ghosts had a message to convey, but the specters refused to commit anything to paper. Pretty smart that. But wait, there’s more because the creepy crawlies aren’t done yet! 

So once the library got computers, there was one that was a closed system, meaning it had no external inputs, and because of what it was used for it had no wordprocessor on it either. The librarian using it one day turned her back and when she turned back around her name was typed in large letters across the screen. Again, no external input. No word processing program. I’m scaring myself here.

Ghost in the Library #6

Speaking of typewriters over at the Old Palace Theater branch of Arkansas’s Saline County Library, employees have heard phantom footsteps, slamming doors, books falling from shelves, and paperback carousels rotating on their own. And, working late one night, Director Julie Hart heard the distinctive sound of a manual typewriter. Trouble is… the library had gotten rid of all their typewriters years ago. Damn typewriters are scary!

Ghost in the Library #7

This one isn’t super creepy, but it does prove that if you name your kid Millicent, you’re just asking her to eventually become a ghost. So the founder of Fairhaven’s Millicent Library was Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers. His daughter Millicent died of heart failure in 1890 when she was only 17, and he named the library after her. 

And of course she began haunting it. Patrons have seen her glowing blue form walking the halls. And at night, after the library’s closed, people have reported seeing a girl standing in the window of the turret that makes up part of the front of the building. 

But Millicent isn’t lonely in her afterlife. She’s also hanging out with a woman in black who runs her fingers along the shelved books, and a man dressed in a tweed jacket, purple bow tie, and small circular glasses who mops the basement floor. 

Ghost in the Library #8

Okay, want another creepy one? How about another horror movie classic: the evil curse! And you’ll find that over at the Peoria Public Library. 

See, the land the library was built on was once owned by Mary Stevenson Grey. And I don’t know if she hated libraries or just had a bad experience with a librarian, but in 1847 she pronounced a curse on anyone who occupied her land after she died. 

And if you don’t believe curses are real, well, three library directors have already met untimely ends. There’s E. S. Willcox, who in 1915 was run over by a streetcar; there’s Samuel Patterson Prowse, who was doing nothing more exciting than attending a library board meeting in 1921 when he suffered a fatal heart attack. And in 1924, Director Dr. Edwin Wiley committed suicide by taking arsenic. 

Now, I don’t know if the Peoria Library is covering something up, but since those deaths, supposedly no other library directors have died under mysterious circumstances. Still, employees do report seeing the ghost of Prowse hanging around the basement.

Ghost in the Library #9

Enough with creepy, let’s get to my second favorite, which is funny and kind of sad too. So the front portion of the Old Bernardsville Public Library in New Jersey was once the Vealtown Tavern during the Revolutionary War. 

The innkeeper’s daughter was Phyllis Parker who was in love with a British spy. The spy was hanged in 1777, and to make sure Phyllis didn’t forget her transgression, the body was delivered in a coffin to the tavern. 

Phyllis suffered a nervous breakdown and was never the same again. Then, starting in 1974, Ghost Phyllis began showing up in the rooms of the library where the tavern once was. But she was a good ghost who never caused any trouble and seemed to be a welcome addition. So much so that they issued her her own library card.

Despite this, Phyllis slowly stopped making appearances and one of the last times she was seen was in November 1989, when a 3-year-old boy saw a lady in a long, white dress in the reading room. Not put off one bit, he stopped and said hello to her. Maybe Phyllis knew her time was up because only a couple years after this final appearance, the library moved to a new location.

Ghost in the Library #10

And I’ve saved my favorite ghostly tale for last. And this tale really does have a tail because its about a ghost cat. Unless he’s Manx. 

Anyway, this is at the Doris and Harry Vise Library at Tennesee’s Cumberland University. So in March 2001, the director of the library, John Boniol, said a cat came floating across his office floor. He said it wasn’t walking, it was gliding and none of the feet touched the ground. It then vanished into the boxes that were under his desk. Which sounds like your typical cat. 

But that’s not the only ghosts in the Vise Library. John reported eerie sensations in certain rooms and a former librarian used to play peek-a-boo with the ghost of a little girl. I’m not sure if that’s creepy, or just says a lot about what it takes to get through a slow day in library land.

So, what about your area, any haunted libraries you know of? Have you felt any icy fingers tickling your spine while you roamed the stacks? Let me know!

Update Time:

So, now it’s update time – As for writing, as I record this I’m about halfway through the first draft of the third book of my Cassie Black trilogy, and by the time this comes to, I am hoping I’ll be almost done with that draft. I’m pushing to get the book, and the trilogy completely revised and edited by the end of the year, and I think I’m going to be cutting it pretty close, but it will be nice to have them all put together and ready to publish in the first part of 2021.

And as for the podcast, well, not much to report here. Thanks to everyone who’s been commenting on the episodes and as ever, if there’s a strange bookstore, quirky author, or other book related topic you want covered, don’t be shy about letting me know!

Signing Off:

Okay everyone, that is it for this episode. If no ghosts and goblins snatch you up at your local library, I will hoot at you next time.

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

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