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Willard Library, Victorian Gothic Architecture

Willard Library, Victorian Gothic Architecture

Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana

My First Love

I was always encouraged to read, especially by my Daddy who read to me as a little girl and encouraged me to find the words he read. I began reading simple books when I was three-years-old, the usual Dick, Jane and Spot kind of books. I loved the feeling of the paper on my fingers, loved the smell of books, and began to love where books could take me. Then when I was around six-years-old, someone told my Mom that the library in Willard Park had a children’s room, where a child could just sit and read as long as they wanted. It was in the basement of the adult Willard Library, and had a separate entrance so you didn’t have to worry about being trampled by the “big people.” I was enchanted that this room was especially for children like me, and spent many happy hours there, reading everything I could get my hands on. Willard Library was my first love.

The Children’s Room – Scene of Frequent Hauntings

The Children's Room - 1940s

The Children’s Room – 1940s

Source: Courtesy Willard Library Archives

 The Children’s Room

A special atmosphere

Bookshelves in the Children’s Room were built to scale for children to reach the books. You could browse the bookshelves, always being careful to return the books to the exact spot you found them if you didn’t take them to a table to read. The floor in some areas was uneven brick flooring, but walls and bookshelves were painted in a cheery yellow and white. There was always a helpful librarian there if you couldn’t reach or couldn’t find a particular book. Children in those days of the 1940s were very polite and considerate of those around them. We had been taught to be “seen, but not heard,” so the library was quiet. There was no air conditioning needed in the Children’s Room, because its basement location kept it always cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Little did I know then that there was another phenomenon that kept the Children’s Room cool. I didn’t know until I grew up that there was a spirit there known as the Grey Lady Ghost.

How Willard Library Began… – …And How Was It Named?

Founder of Willard Library

A businessman named Willard Carpenter founded the library, but because he was a philanthropist, inspired by The Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, he wanted the name “Willard” for the project, not his family name of Carpenter. He wanted to do something for the community he loved and to leave a lasting legacy for himself. He began plans to build a college, however when the plans were drawn and the trustees selected, reverses in his business affairs made funding a college out of reach. Some of his business associates advised him he could still do something educational and lasting for the community by putting a smaller amount of money toward building a library. He agreed and ground breaking began at 21 First Avenue in Evansville, Indiana in 1876. When the building was completed it had a classic, Victorian Gothic look that both fascinated and scared a little kid like me, but not so much that I wouldn’t go there. I whiled away many pleasant childhood hours in the Children’s Room, letting my imagination take me all over the world as I read.

The Gray Lady of Willard Library

Still can be seen to this day, if you’re lucky.

Willard Library has a ghost known as The Gray Lady or the Lady in Gray. A library employee first reported seeing this apparition sixty years ago. Since then, numerous other employees have reported sightings of her, each of them giving similar descriptions. It is said that she appears in various locations in the building, but seems to particularly favor The Children’s Room. The Library has been investigated for this phenomenon by various paranormal organizations, and a ghost cam has been installed to film at all times on the chance of proving or disproving the ghost.

Some say the Lady in Gray is Louise, the daughter of Willard Carpenter, the founder of the library, who had sued the library in the 1890s over money that had been given to the library, as she felt it rightfully belonged to her. She lost the case on both local and appeals levels, and became angry and bitter over her defeat.

But the presence of the Gray Lady felt and seen by so many, has not been a vindictive one. So chances are, it is not Louise. In 1985 a well known parapsychologist, Lucille Warren, paid a visit to the library to find out more about the Lady in Gray. She saw the ghost in the Children’s Room, and gave a detailed description of her, including her hair style, her clothing, and that in her opinion the clothing was from the early 19th Century. Warren felt the lady was actually haunting the field on which the library was built, and that she was staring into a pool of water. Warren also had the psychic feeling that the Lady in Gray had drowned in the water canal that was located near the library, possibly a suicide. “She seemed to be confused as to why a building is on that site,” Warren said.

For myself, I only know that I felt welcomed and comforted as a child, whenever I entered The Children’s Room. I felt the coldness a few times, but it didn’t seem to stay with me, and it wasn’t always present. Most of the time, I never noticed anything unusual, because it was the place I loved. I always anticipated going there, and still have fond memories today, although I’m all the way across country from it.

Comment sent to this author from Greg Hager, Willard Library Director

“Thank you for your kind words about Willard Library. You’ll be happy to know that the Willard Library Children’s Dept is thriving, still has a separate way for little people to not be trampled by big people, has plenty of places for kids to sit and read. 10,000 children come to library programs each year, but most come with their families to just be at the library and to checkout books.

We’d love to have you visit, if you are able to.”

— Greg Hager, Director, Willard Library

Willard Library – Home of the Lady in Grey

If you’d like to monitor Willard Library in real time, to try to see the Grey Lady, here’s the place to go, which gives you access to all the places in the library where she’s been seen before, The Children’s Room, The Reference Room, The Basement Hallway.  See if you can spot her here Willard Library Ghost Cam

If you’d like to know more about the Lady in Gray or Willard Library – Check out these links

Other books you might like – Libraries Are Wondrous Places

You can go anyplace in the world, in the confines of a library. You can be anyone, live anywhere, have adventures and fun, and never leave your chair. A library is a wonderland, an amusement park that costs nothing to enter. You might even find it fascinating to read ABOUT libraries. Here are a few I recommend.