There’s something strange about the Willard Public Library in downtown Evansville, Indiana. The building is stately and striking, the information contained within is vital, and the library is welcoming to all peoples who wish to learn. The strangeness comes with an explanation for employees quitting in the middle of the night, and another reason that cameras were installed all over the library; there’s a ghost living in the stacks of books. Let’s look today at the history of the library and the Grey Lady who is said to still appear, reshelving books and playing pranks on patrons.
The Willard Public Library was a passion project of a railroad owner, Willard Carpenter in 1876. Carpenter was a staunch abolitionist during the civil war and he took that belief with him during the construction of his dream library, stating the knowledge within would be available to all who wished to access it, regardless of race or economic state. Unfortunately, Carpenter would pass in 1883, just two years before his library would open to the public. Upon his death, he left his vast fortune to the library, an act that angered his living children who were denied an inheritance. Legend says that his daughter was the most distraught and tried to sue the estate for her own cut of the fortune. She would not be successful, and the library would continue to use the generous gift to expand and cultivate the building of learning.
Having the distinction of being the oldest library in Indiana, the Willard Public Library is listed as a National historic landmark. Its gothic revival architecture is striking, and the patrons of the library still enjoy free access to the plethora of books and historic documents. One of the biggest draws, however, is the legend of the Grey Lady, a spirit who roams around the library and occasionally appears to guests and employees.
In the late 1930s, a janitor working for the library was given the scare of his life when around 3:00 am, a veiled woman in gray appeared to him in a narrow hallway. He dropped his light in fright and when he bent down to pick it up, the mysterious lady was nowhere to be seen. The janitor was used to working alone in the dark library, often working the night shift, but this experience was the one that would lead him to never return to the library, tendering his resignation shortly after the experience. The janitor may have been the first to tell his story of the gray lady, but he certainly would not be the last.
The lady is believed by some to be the spurned ghost of Louisa Carpenter, Willard’s daughter who tried and failed to obtain her inheritance that instead went to the library. Others say she might have been a patron that loved books so much, she chose to live her afterlife among the stacks. Either way, those running the library are proud of their resident ghost. In the 21st century, the old library was fitted with webcams so those at home could watch for paranormal activity. So far, nothing of note has been captured, but enthralled patrons still hunger for more stories of the mysterious ghost.
The full-bodied apparition of the lady has appeared all over the library, appearing between bookshelves, perched on the balcony or stairs, and, most terrifyingly, in the elevator. One patron described seeing the woman standing next to him as he ascended in the elevator, frightened and without a means of escape until the doors opened. The lady promptly disappeared when he turned back to look in the now-empty elevator car. Still more reports are of lights flickering on and off, faucets turning on by themselves in the restrooms, and even the improper shelving of books. (It appears the ghost is not very familiar with the Dewey Decimal System.)
The Gray Lady may be one of the most famous ghosts in Indiana, as the proprietors of the public library have webcams available for view here. You can watch and see if the lady appears for you on the cameras, a popular practice of the paranormal enthusiasts in Evansville, IN. Make a visit to the haunted library yourself, check out a book or two and maybe, just maybe, you’ll leave with a haunting and frightening experience with the ghost of the library stacks.
Keep an eye out for books flying off the shelves and an extra passenger on your elevator ride. The Gray Lady is certainly not shy.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.