Who are the ghosts in Marsh’s Library in Dublin, The National Library of India in Kolkata, and the Peoria Public Library in Peoria, IL? Not only are these libraries very haunted; they’re haunted by ghosts that predate the libraries themselves.

Episode Transcript

BECKY: Libraries can be very haunted places. They’re full of liminal spaces. They’re full of old haunted objects, A.K.A. rare books. And of course, as we all know, ghosts love to read. So it comes as no surprise that many libraries throughout the world are very haunted. We just heard on Monday about the Willard Public Library in Evansville, Indiana, and we spoke to the library assistant, Stacie Dotson, who works there. We learned about her experiences in this very, very haunted library. But this is not the only haunted library. We are going to go around the world and learn of libraries haunted by those who first tread on the land.

So it’s not just libraries that are haunted, it’s libraries that are haunted by the people that like actually lived there before the library was established.

Because think about it. Libraries are built on places, right? But those places were not necessarily always libraries.

Guess where we’re gonna go first, Diana?

DIANA: Dublin

BECKY: Yes.

DIANA: ‘Cause you just visited Dublin

BECKY: I did, and I didn’t know about this and I did not get a chance to visit it. I wish I had stopped by to see Marsh’s Public Library in Dublin, but I did not make it there.

DIANA: That wasn’t at your kids’ top of the list. “Mom, take us to a haunted library, please.” No?

Marsh’s Library, Dublin, Ireland

BECKY: Apparently, the ghosts tend to be seen at night and of course the library closes at night. They are offering some haunted tours through the month of October. We’re talking about Marsh’s Public Library in Dublin, Ireland. It is the first public library in Ireland. In fact, it’s one of the first public libraries in all of Europe. It was formally incorporated in 1707, over 300 years ago, and much of the library is exactly the same as it was since it was built.

They have preserved it. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. It’s right next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Again, a very historic area. It was commissioned by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh. He was the archbishop. He became Archbishop in 1694. And he founded the library on the grounds of his own residence. It was incorporated in 1707. But Marsh died in 1713.

Now here’s the story behind the hauntings—just one of the hauntings. There’s a lot of hauntings here, but the most famous is that of Marsh himself. Now remember, he died just six years after the library first opened its doors. Marsh’s niece, Grace, was under his care. He was her guardian, and when Grace turned 19, she fell in love with a sea captain and she wanted to marry him, but Marsh disapproved.

And so she did what any early 18th century archbishop’s niece would do. She eloped.

DIANA: At sea

BECKY: Yes, at sea. Before she left though, she wrote a little note explaining why she did what she did and begging for forgiveness from her uncle, from Marsh. But she was worried that if she just left it downstairs, when he came downstairs, he’d see the note and he’d chase after her and she’d get caught.

So she wanted to hide it. She placed it somewhere in one of the books in the library. Now there’s thousands of books in this library. Even in 1707, there were thousands of books in this library. Marsh never found the note.

So he’s still there. And at night you might see his figure hunched over looking through the books. Wandering through the stacks, trying to find his niece’s note, still to this day, 300 years later.

So Marsh haunts Marsh’s Library. He’s not the only ghost there. There’s a lot of ghost stories. Marsh’s Library is very haunted. Another creepy thing about this place is—even in the early 1700s they had rare books.

Actually, probably more so because they probably didn’t print as many copies as they do now, and they didn’t want their books running off. And the way they made sure you didn’t steal a book is, when you went in to read the book, they locked you in a cage with the book

DIANA: Wow. Now that’s a restricted section. Are you kind of like on display so everybody who walks by can watch you reading this book? Or is it like deep in a dungeon so they could like forget about you and you could be like, “the lights are out. Oh no, wait, let me out! I’m still here!”

BECKY: You’re in the oubliette of the library! No, no they’re between the stacks

DIANA: Oh, okay.

BECKY: They’re still there. Some of them are still there, so you can go check it out.

DIANA: That’s phenomenal. They lock you in a cage!

BECKY: Some other famous ghosts of the library: Jonathan Swift. We all know Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. He’s kind of like an Irish hero. He and his girlfriend, Stella, are buried next door at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but they made death masks of their faces after they died. Swift’s death mask is still in the cathedral, but Stella’s is in one of those cages in Marsh’s Library.

DIANA: Why?

BECKY: It’s decoration, right? There’s a lot of statues and busts in these libraries. It’s pretty. I’m sure she was very pretty. So they go visit each other at night. So Swift comes to visit her in the library, in the cages, I guess. Would that be considered a conjugal visit if you’re like locked up? I don’t know.

DIANA: Conjugal conjuring.

BECKY: So good for you guys. You’re still, uh, you’re still getting it on.

DIANA: Keep the magic alive. Live next door. Die next door.

BECKY: They’re actually both buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But because her death mask, the face, her bust or whatever is in Marsh’s library, that’s where the ghosts are seen. Again, that’s just some of the ghosts. The land that the library stands on was inhabited by plenty of people long before it was built. Long before it was the archbishop’s home, it had been home to like sort of these almost tenement type of homes outside of the city walls. And it was, it was not very good living conditions, so lots of spirits wandering these ancient halls.

We always hear that rumor that ghosts kind of dissipate after a few hundred years, but I don’t think that’s the case here.

DIANA: I imagine that ghosts would dissipate because the times changed so much that the ghosts can’t really fill the space in competition with the new. But in a library of old rare books that’s remained a property unchanged for hundreds of years, you would think that the ghosts wouldn’t know that time was passing and they’d just hang around. They wouldn’t feel like they’d been usurped

BECKY: Well, the next place I’m going to tell you about is also very, very old. Dating back to the 1700s.

DIANA: Okay.

National Library of India

BECKY: Let’s go to another part of the world and venture to Kolkata, India. Here we are going to talk about. The National Library of India in Kolkata. This actual library was established in 1836 while India was still under Imperial Rule. And then after India gained independence, the library became a national library and was officially opened to the public in 1953. Another old building, but the building doesn’t date from 1836. It’s so much older than that. Let’s go back another a hundred years before the building was a library. It was known as the Belvedere House, and was home to Warren Hastings, who was first an administrator in the East India Company and then became the first governor of the area, British Governor. Before it belonged to Hastings, it was the home to Mir Jafar, who actually built it in 1760. But he was forced to abdicate his throne, and he had to gift the property to Hastings. And he actually lived on the property after that. Apparently had a decent relationship with Hastings. I mean, his kind of life depended on him, being nice to this guy.

DIANA: I’d make sure we had a decent relationship.

BECKY: Hastings became Governor General in 1773. And this was the year he challenged his legal officer, Philip Francis, to a dual over a woman. Hastings—Hastings. got around. Man, he was banging the former queen. He was banging this lady. She was a Baroness, Marian von Imhoff, and apparently she was married.

She was a Baroness. She was married to the Baron, who knew, who knew. He was completely aware that Hastings and Marion had this like relationship and he was totally cool with it.

DIANA: Marriage was very different back then.

BECKY: But Hastings was not cool with it when he found out that his legal officer, Phillip Francis, was also sneaking off to have a rendezvous with Marian when Hastings was busy.

DIANA: Okay, so wait. Two dudes that know each other had a dual over some other dude’s wife that they were both having sex with

BECKY: Mm-hmm.

DIANA: Why? What? So sordid.

BECKY: So sordid. Hastings was a better shot and he shot Francis in the neck and Francis bled out to his death.

DIANA: Yikes.

BECKY: There’s stories of, say Hastings tried to save his life, but the Ganges was too full of water and they couldn’t get him over and he bled to death, or he refused medical care. I don’t know. Anyway, he died. And their ghosts are still wandering the halls of this library. 250 years later. The legend has it that Hastings is looking for a black bureau. In this bureau, he believes, were some papers that would clear his name and prove his innocence, ’cause he did just murder this dude.

And he was banging the Baron’s wife, and other people’s wives. And he was just, he got around. I hate to think of what diseases that man had. So he’s wandering around looking for this bureau, this desk, to find these papers. He actually had his name cleared in life, but you know, ghosts, they forget things. So he’s looking around for this, but of course it’s not there because the building’s a library now, so he’s never gonna find it. He’s kinda like Marsh looking for that note in the thousands and thousands of books. Who knows if the note even exists?

DIANA: Right.

BECKY: That’s not the only ghost there. Legend has it that workers who were working on renovations to the building who died during renovations are still seen from time to time throughout the library.

There’s the ghost of a wife of another governor, Lady Metcalfe, who still roams the hall. She is a stickler for things being back their right place. So if you don’t put a book back or you leave it out, or you’re a little sloppy, she’ll breathe on your neck!

DIANA: That’s gotta be creepy, especially if you’re in a reading cage at the time. I know it’s different library, but still I, I’m still picturing everybody reading in a cage from this point on.

BECKY: I imagine Kolkata is pretty hot, so if you get a cool breeze on your neck, and you’re inside, I imagine it’s probably nice.

DIANA: That’s pretty pleasant. I’d be like angry in the ghost all the time, like free air conditioning,

BECKY: Apparently the place is so haunted that the guards who work there are armed with a copy of a very, potent hymn, The Hanuman Chalisa, which is used to shoe away any spirits that are lurking around; any spirits that they encounter.

It’s very well known throughout all of India that if you chant this Chalisa, Hanuman himself will come and help you out, in the case of very dire problems. It’s not just a devotional thing. It’s like you can use it if you’re in a grave danger. And Hanuman will come and be like, “Okay, all right, I got you.” So the guards have a copy of this on hand, just in case you see a ghost. They could be like, “Okay, we’re gonna sing this now.”

Listen to The Dormitory Demon of Mumbai on Homespun Haints.

DIANA: I love that

BECKY: All right, Diana, are you ready to hear about the library that’s so haunted, it’s believed to be cursed?

DIANA: Should I chant anything

BECKY: I don’t know. Do you know the Hanuman Chalisa?

DIANA: Oh, I think that’s a little extreme for this situation.

BECKY: I don’t know.

DIANA: I should probably just chant, “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.”

Peoria Public Library, Main Branch

BECKY: You will not want to become a director of this library, let’s just put it that way. Let’s go back to the Midwest US, because we’ve been traveling all over the world here. Now, we’re going to go back, not to Indiana, but to the state right next to it, to central Illinois.

Central Illinois’s a very interesting place. It’s a such an interesting place. In fact, earlier this week we appeared on a YouTube channel for Mysteries of the Past and Present, and they are located in central Illinois. And boy does she have plenty of spooky stories that she’s able to garner just from that region.

So definitely check that out. Go to YouTube and check out Mysteries of the Past and Present. And while you’re watching that video, think about. Peoria.

Now Peoria is a very, very haunted town. A lot of people don’t think about Peoria when they think about hauntings, but Peoria is freaking haunted.

DIANA: Hmm. Really?

BECKY: Yeah, I don’t know what it is about central Illinois, but it’s very haunted. And here I’ll be talking about another public library, the Peoria Public Library in Peoria, Illinois. Now, the Peoria Public Library, of course, has multiple branches, I’m talking about the main branch. And a lot of people, when they think about the haunted Peoria Public Library, they think about the Lincoln branch because that’s the branch that looks like it could be haunted. All of these buildings I’m describing, The Willard Public Library, the National Library of India Marsh’s Library in Dublin, they all look like they could be haunted.

And the Lincoln branch of the Peoria Public Library, which was built in the early 20th century—and this is neoclassical architecture—also looks like it could be haunted, but that’s not the one that’s haunted. It’s actually the main branch that looks like a pretty modern building. I suspect they’ve added to it and modified it over time.

This building was built in 1894. Now before the library was built—we’re talking about the land that the library was on—there was a lady by the name of Mrs. Mary Gray, and she lived in a very nice little mansion on this property.

Depending on the accounts you read, she seems like she could have been just a victim of scoundrels or a pretty nasty woman. It just depends.

She was quite wealthy and she became caretaker to her nephew after the death of her brother. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?

But things began to go south for Mrs. Gray. Her nephew was always getting into trouble, always getting into trouble. Some accounts say that she hired a lawyer to make sure he couldn’t get hands on her inheritance. The account that makes most sense says that she hired a lawyer to continually bail her nephew out of jail, get him out of these sticky situations that he kept getting himself into, and she retained the services of a new up and coming lawyer. Mr. David Davis—yeah, that’s his name—to smooth things over with the law whenever the nephew got into a bind. And he was very good at his job, and he was very costly, and he bled Mrs. Gray dry.

Eventually, it got to the point where she couldn’t make her payments and she had to use her house as collateral. Well, guess what? That nephew got into trouble. And Davis came back and she didn’t have money, and so he sued and took her house. Now, she was pretty pissed at her nephew at this point, so next time he came ’round, she kicked him out of the house.

DIANA: What house?

BECKY: It takes a while for ownership to transfer over and all. I think this is why the lawsuit is going on. She kicked him out. She kicked him out and then she lost the house, and then a few days later he was found dead floating in the river there.

DIANA: Uh oh.

BECKY: Yeah. So who knows? Who knows who did that? Well, Gray’s pushed out of her house and she is pissed. So in a fit of rage, what could she do? What do you think she did, Diana?

DIANA: Burned it down.

BECKY: That actually would’ve been really smart.

DIANA: No one can have this house!

BECKY: That is pretty much what she did. She cursed the land. And all of its future occupants. Legend has it that once she did that, all of the gardens on the land just died. And Davis really couldn’t even do anything with the property. It just looked dead and sullen and nothing would grow. It was about then that the ghost of the nephew started showing up. Banging on the door to be let in. Well, apparently Davis got tired of it. Got tired of his tomatoes dying, got tired of the ghost banging on the door. So the city of Peoria got the house in 1894, knocked it down and built a library on top.

But she didn’t curse the house. She cursed the land.

BECKY: The first three directors died in short succession of one another.

DIANA: Oh no!

BECKY: the first guy’s name was Wilcox. He was hit by a streetcar in 1915. The next guy named Prouse died from a heart attack during a board meeting in 1921. [giggle] I know we shouldn’t laugh.

DIANA: That’s, that’s an intense board meeting. “No, I do not approve this proposal!”

BECKY: Director number three, Wiley, ingested arsenic in 1924.

DIANA: Intentionally? Was it suicide?

BECKY: They say it was suicide.

DIANA: Hmm.

BECKY: Well, Wilcox, the first director loved the library so much that not even a Streetcar Named Desire could keep him away from his love. Oh wait. Wrong library. Anyway. Wilcox still haunts the halls of the Peoria Public Library.

It’s considered to be incredibly haunted. Everybody who works there has seen something. They see his face materialize in the doorways and then disappear. They feel cool spots on their skin. He sometimes will knock books off the shelf. He’ll sometimes move things around, chairs, scooching across the floor on their own. You know, typical Poltergeist activity. Is it just Wilcox? I don’t know. Is it the nephew? I don’t know. Is it the curse itself, bringing souls to the land to pay attention to what’s going on and to maybe be like voyeurs, like, “uh, who’s coming next?” don’t know.

DIANA: Does anything still happen at this library that’s completely creepy? Not the haunting part, but like the three directors that died. are there more like unexplained deaths or tragedies or strange things that occur to people who work or work with this library?

BECKY: Not anymore. I mean, curses do have an expiration date, right?

DIANA: The curse wears off. The ghosts stay on.

BECKY: Yes.

DIANA: I like that. That’s a theory.

BECKY: That’s, that’s where we’re gonna go with this. Yeah. The curse war off in, uh, let’s see, what’s 50 years after 1894? It would be 1944. Yeah.

DIANA: Yeah. Statute of limitations ran out.

BECKY: Well, she would’ve been somebody who knows a lot about legal procedures if she got bled dry by a lawyer.

DIANA: right? I wanna write a curse in legalese.

BECKY: Isn’t that what every contract with a demon kind of is?

DIANA: Ooh. Legally cursed contract with a demon. Okay. Okay. I like it.

BECKY: You’re basically exchanging your soul in exchange for something else. I mean, You’re cursed, you’re cursed to give your soul up at the end, there’s no getting out of it.

DIANA: Or is there?

BECKY: Well, I don’t know, we are not lawyers.

We are certainly not demonologists or demonologist lawyers or lawyer demonologists, but we can offer our non-legal advice. Never get into a binding agreement with a demon.

DIANA: Right.

BECKY: Yeah, just don’t do it. don’t do it,

DIANA: And if you got into a binding agreement with a demon, when you were a minor, have it nullified. That should be possible.

BECKY: And if your guardians sold your soul to a demon without your consent, you can get out of that.

DIANA: That’s what we learned from Maddie and Amber and the show Reaper

BECKY: Yes, I loved Reaper! Yeah. We are not experts. We just play ones on this podcast.

DIANA: True. Legal disclaimer, we are full of shit.

BECKY: Don’t hold us liable , or we will curse the land.

Anyways. Diana, which of these libraries do you want to visit next?

DIANA: Oh, I’m going for the one with the cages. Dude, nothing you said after they make you reading cages could have possibly topped that. I’m gonna go read in a cage with a ghost death mask in it and maybe get locked in late at night and they’ll forget that I’m in the cage reading a book.

BECKY: Ooh

DIANA: I’ll get to watch ghost banging while I’m locked up in, The library in Dublin.

That sounds like a really spooky night. I, can’t wait.

BECKY: You know who was a frequent visitor to that library?

DIANA: Ooh. Ooh.

BECKY: Bram Stoker.

DIANA: Oh!

BECKY: I don’t think he’s still wandering those halls, but you know, you might get lucky.

DIANA: I’m excited. I wanna definitely see that library, but I really wanna see all the libraries that you described. And I thought it was interesting when you texted me while you were researching the haunted library angle and said, “Well, God damnit, there’s too many haunted libraries to do them all. So I’m gonna do a specific segment of haunted libraries that are libraries haunted by the original owners of the land?”

I was like, Yeah, that okay, that’s a good sub of haunted libraries to focus on.

BECKY: Diana, thank you so much for coming with me around the world.

A very literary journey through Ghost Land

DIANA: Thank you for schooling me about all these haunted libraries. You’ve been an excellent, sexy librarian for the day.

BECKY: Well, Hainted Loves, we hope that you enjoyed this spooky literary session. I guess spooky story time In the cage of Desire, Stella! Sorry, I’m getting my literary references confused here.

DIANA: This is going in a tight clockwise circle down the drain. Reel it in! Hainted Loves, which of these libraries are you most excited to go haunt yourself? And have you ever been haunted in a library that you wanna tell us about? Enter in the comments below your own haunted library stories.

And of course, if you find yourself in a cage reading a book while ghosts bang next to you, you’re probably going to have a sexy, spooky day.

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