Cool Bookish Places

The Ghost of the Grey Lady in the Willard Library

Kristen Twardowski

Staff Writer

Kristen Twardowski stumbled her way through working with wolves and libraries and found her professional home doing marketing and data analysis in the publishing industry. Though there will always be a place in her heart for numbers and graphs, the rest of her love is given to words. She recently published her debut novel, a psychological thriller called When We Go Missing, and blogs about books and writing on her website A Writer's Workshop.

Hauntings and libraries fit together. After all, many libraries are old buildings filled with even older books. It’s only natural that spirits feel some draw towards these places. One library, Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana, has been dealing with one such apparition for 80 years.

She is known as the Grey Lady.

Willard Library of Evansville Indiana

Our list of 13 Bits of Bookish Trivia mentions the haunting Willard Library in passing, but the story, and the spirit, deserve a little more exploration. It all began in 1876 when real estate and railroad mogul Willard Carpenter began to bring his dream of building a library into fruition. As a fervent abolitionist, it was his desire that the library  “be maintained for the free use of all persons who may desire to consult it.”

Tragically, Willard died before his library was completed, and his death jeopardized the funding for it. Rather than leave his fortune to his surviving children, Willard left his estate to his grand project, the library, and they hated him for it. Furious, his estranged daughter Louise Carpenter sued to have access to the inheritance. She lost, and the library continued to grow.

Then decades later, long after Louise had died and her father had begun to fade from memory, something strange happened in the library.

In the early hours of morning in 1937, a janitor was making his rounds at the library. The library was calm at night, so he typically worked alone. It had never been a problem before. He didn’t see why he needed to work with anyone now. At around 3:00am, as usual, he strolled down the basement stairs, down a small corridor, and began to head towards the furnace. Then a veiled woman wearing grey appeared before him.

Startled, he dropped his light. When he went to retrieve it, the woman disappeared. The janitor fled, and shortly thereafter he quit his position at the library. No one could promise him that the phantom wouldn’t appear again.

Soon other staff and patrons began to see the ghostly Grey Lady. Sometimes she wandered halls with books, other times she perched on stairways, and in the most terrifying cases, she appeared in the elevator where the living had no escape and could only wait until they reached the appropriate floor. Her presence was often preceded by a heavy perfume. She occasionally played tricks on library visitors by turning faucets on and off, making lights flicker, and, most egregiously, by misshelving books.

But who could the Grey Lady be? Is she a remnant of Louise Carpenter, still enraged at her lack of inheritance? Is she the soul of a local woman who drowned? Or is she simply someone who loved books enough that she couldn’t leave them, even in death?

We may never know the Grey Lady’s true identity, but the people at Willard Library encourage patrons to keep an eye out for her nonetheless. They even have GhostCams set up so that people on the internet can see when she passes through spaces. So the sightings continue. And maybe if you are very lucky, you can catch a glimpse of her yourself.

If possible though, you may want to avoid the elevator.