Bygone Days: The ghosts of libraries past

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Bygone Days: The ghosts of libraries past

Old Long Beach Public Main Library and New Billie Jean King Public Library

Old Long Beach Public Main Library and New Billie Jean King Public Library

Old Long Beach Public Main Library and New Billie Jean King Public Library

Old Long Beach Public Main Library and New Billie Jean King Public Library

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October is the month when attention turns to Halloween and spooky stories of ghosts and eerie happenings. Let me open the season with some tales of “supernatural” occurrences at the old Long Beach Main library, and I will leave it up to you to find out if the spirits have followed their beloved literary tomes to the new Billie Jean King Main library. They did before when the 1909 Carnegie library in Lincoln Park was torn down after a fire and its replacement built on the same site in 1977. But the BJK Main library is in a different location in the park. Will that make a difference?

Who are these literary spirits? Many were revealed by my fellow workers when I was gathering tales for my Haunted Long Beach books.

There was the lady in white dressed in a Victorian style dress, who hung around on the upper level of the library. Several people told me of seeing her in the area by Pacific Avenue and Ocean Boulevard.

One new employee sheepishly told me they were clearing books in the genealogy section of the library when she saw someone standing next to her. She considered it strange that the person was in the library before opening hours, but she thought it might be someone on the staff whom she hadn’t yet met. She was about to say something, turned and saw that the person standing next to her was a young, transparent girl dressed in Victorian attire. The apparition, who appeared with a friendly smile, had her blond hair done up in curls. In the blink of an eye she was gone.

Do you remember Y2K, when everything related to computers was supposed to go haywire when we switched from 1999 to 2000? Well, in anticipation of any problems the Long Beach Civic Center was staffed for extra precaution on New Year’s Eve. A security guard was alone in the library around 3:30am on Jan. 1, 2000. He was on the upper level by the Central Reference area and chanced to look towards Pacific and Ocean. There he saw the outline of a young woman dressed in an old fashioned white dress. She was transparent, had her hands through the table, looking down as if she was reading something. The guard noticed she cast no shadow and he was certain her image was not caused by lights or passing cars. As he approached the stairs she disappeared. He claims he saw her several times and sensed a feeling of sadness about her. He also told me he would swear in a court of law about the validity of his sightings.

There was also an apparition which a library security guard and I saw one evening after closing. It wasn’t the woman in white, who seemed to hang out on the upper level, but a male from an undetermined time period.

I was in charge that night, and had given all the other staff the A-OK to leave, when I heard our security guard yell at someone on the lower level. As I rushed to the stairs I saw the guard by the administration offices and a dark shape running across the floor towards the Miller Room, on the opposite side of the library. We both thought it was a homeless person looking for a safe, warm place to spend the night. As she patrolled the lower level I stationed myself at the top of the stairs to see if the person reappeared, trying to hide from her. Suddenly the elevator, which was on the lower level began rise. When the door opened on the upper level I expected to find our mysterious visitor, but when the door opened there was no one there. Roxanne, the guard that night, and I were both stunned, but she continued to search the entire downstairs level while I played lookout up above. No one was found.

Other “ghostly” happenings occurred at the old Main library. Elevators ran by themselves, opening doors to reveal nothing there except a “cold” presence. One staff member working in her office experienced strange rustling sounds coming from the back of the desk area when no one else was there. Once, library employees returned after a weekend of leisure to find the desk unit in the corner office completely collapsed and tossed about the floor.

Another eerie happening was recounted by an employee who was working after the library had closed at 5:30pm. Sometime between 6:30pm and 7pm, the public address system came on. She went and stood directly under one of the speakers to check that she was hearing correctly. There was some sort of faint noise. She hurried to the area of the library where the public address microphone was kept, but there was no one there. A minute later she received a phone call from the security guard asking if she had been using the public address system. He too had heard the same eerie voice over the intercom. Later, another security guard mentioned that the same thing occurred several times late at night when he was on duty and supposedly alone in the building. Later the library’s PA system was tested and no mechanical issues were detected. Eventually it was tied into City Hall’s public address system. After that whenever anything strange came over the intercom everyone dismissed it as another missive from City Hall.

Since 1909 a library has stood on the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pacific Avenue in downtown Long Beach’s Lincoln Park. Though it appeared to many that some of the original staff and patrons from the old Carnegie library continued to browse through the stacks in search of good reading material even after death, will they continue to do so at the new Billie Jean King Main library as they had at old Main? What of the ghosts old Main acquired–– library lovers who thought heaven was spending forever in the library they once loved? Will they relocate? There are a few factors that indicate that they may.

For one, those knowledgeable in ghost detection say that water is a good conductor of energy for spirits to make themselves known. The new BJK Main library is built over the city’s first water source, which is why city founder William Willmore donated land for a public park around it. It wasn’t much, just a boggy watering hole sufficient to supply a few sheep. Later James Rowland Cook, who built the first house in the city in 1882 (at 327 Pine), drilled for water and found a brackish, but drinkable source. Willmore promised buyers in his new city he would bring in a good supply of pure water. He kept his promise but went bankrupt in the process, relinquishing his claim to the city that would be renamed Long Beach.

Another factor that “stirs up” ghostly energy is change–– especially demolition and construction. When the old Main library is torn down, will paranormal phenomena become more observable on the site as construction crews take the building apart? Will the spirits decide to move to a more conducive atmosphere–– the nearby BJK Main library?

Perhaps, the spirits of old Main have already moved with the books they loved–– books that became like friends. They may want to be near books that helped them get a job, delivered lessons on how to overcome difficult times, gave instructions on how to raise their children or just provided entertainment. If you do run across a ghost at the new BJK Main library, let me know. It will make me happy to know that they have found a new home.

If you’d like to learn more about “library ghosts” and other hauntings you’ll find more in my book Haunted Long Beach 2.

Also I’ll be talking about the folks who inhabit our local cemeteries (from my book Died in Long Beach: Cemetery Tales) on Wednesday Oct. 9 at the Belmont Heights United Methodist Church (317 Termino) around 7:20pm. The Belmont Heights Community Association is hosting the program, and my presentation will follow their general meeting which starts at 7pm.

On Oct. 15, I’ll be at the Los Altos Neighborhood Library (5614 E Britton Dr.) to give a 5:30pm presentation on my book Haunted Long Beach 2. Both programs are open to all and books will be available for sale (cash or check only) with proceeds going to support newspaper digitization.

If you can’t make these two programs (they are quite different from each other) please consider taking the Historical Society’s annual cemetery tour on Oct. 26. Enjoy October!