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Books and Ghosts: Tomes of Terror

Book Cover Tomes of Terror

Books and ghosts: how could we not feature Mark Leslie's new book, Tomes of Terror: Haunted Bookstores and Libraries, on 49th Shelf during the week leading up to Halloween? It's a collection of true tales about spooky places rife with books and ghosts, and even some less spooky places where you'd least expect a ghostly encounter—like a Smithbooks located in a suburban shopping mall. We're pleased to share that story with you here, as well as another about a library reportedly haunted by a young woman whose face has been glimpsed peering out from the tower window. 


Goosebumps at Smithbooks

Smithbooks, Sherway Gardens

Etobicoke, Ontario

The ghostly residents of many beloved bookstore locations that are now closed continue to haunt the hearts and minds of both patrons and staff members. These spirits are all the more memorable if, like any good customer, they display a penchant for a particular author’s books.

I was intrigued to chat with an old bookseller colleague about an experience that she had when she worked at a bookstore than has been closed now for about 14 years. Even though Shannon left the store back in 1998, she kept with her a fond and deep love for the bookstore, her fellow staff members, and the customers of the Smithbooks at Sherway Gardens.

Book Cover Goosebumps

Shannon described the kids section as being separated from the rest of the store with a little arch, and that on one side of the aisle there was a growing collection of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, with a similar collection of Christopher Pike novels on the other side. Both series fell into huge popularity in the mid 1990s. “At the beginning of the series,” Shannon says, “the Stine and Pike books behaved themselves and we never experienced any oddities.” It wasn’t, as she later described, until the Goosebumps series published the tenth book that things began to go awry.

Shannon and her colleagues would enter the kids section of the bookstore and find the books in small piles on the floor. “At first we believed that it was the customers playing pranks on us, as occasionally through the day the books would pile up on the floor.” Then they noticed that even after the customers had left for the day and the staff had completed their ritualized rounds of tidying the entire store that the Goosebumps books would be in a pile again.

“We thought it odd but did not pay much attention to it until the same thing started happening in the morning. It was around that time, that the Christopher Pike books joined in on the fun,” she claims.

Shannon says that the staff did not have much choice except to joke about there being a ghost in the store, who seemed to enjoy playing practical jokes on them. Given that there was nobody in the store when the books were being piled up, there was no other explanation.

She described how they all examined the shelves, trying to determine if it could be the angle of the shelving that made the books consistently fall onto the floor. But even if that were the case, it wouldn’t explain the strange manner in which the books had been piled up into adjacent piles, as if carefully placed by a pair of unseen hands. It also didn’t explain why it was only books by these two authors and not others from the very same shelves.

When thinking about the events, Shannon just shrugged her shoulders and grinned, saying she had never experienced anything as odd or unexplainable since. Then, her intense brown eyes alight with that bookish thrill she wears so well, she went back to reminiscing about the fond memories she has of that cherished bookstore, the wonderful booksellers she worked with there, her love for slinging books, and sharing that intense personal passion for reading with so many great customers (and the resident ghost).


Millicent the Muse

Millicent Library

Fairhaven, Massachusetts

Could the spirit of a girl depicted in a stained-glass window still walk among her beloved books? Millicent Library staff and patrons seem to believe so.

Construction of the library began shortly after the 1890 death of seventeen-year-old Millicent Gifford Rogers, the daughter of library founder Henry Huddleston Rogers, as a tribute to the young girl’s love of books and learning. In honour of Millicent, the library features a beautiful stained-glass window bearing her likeness in angelic form, under an image of William Shakespeare and encircled by the names of prominent American writers. Depicted as a muse for great writers, it seems that she also inspired much more recent tales whispered about spirits that walk through the library halls.

Witnesses have claimed they heard Millicent’s melodic laughter echoing through the building, or saw her apparition strolling through the library surrounded by a brilliant bright-blue aura.

Doreen Skidmore, a librarian who worked at the library since 1989, and Carolyn Longworth, another long-time librarian and current library director, were interviewed for a 2005 article by Rebecca Aubet. Both of the women shared intriguing tales about the library’s history and legends. Longworth even took Aubet up to the tower where Millicent is said to look out the window. While poking around the dusty room filled with book-packed shelves, Aubet noted that it might have been the shape of the books as they were visible from the street below that could have made people think that they were seeing a woman through the glass.

Rumours also circulated regarding the possibility that Millicent was buried on the very land where the library stands. However, archivist Debbie Carpentier and library director Carolyn Longworth denied such claims in a 2006 article written for the Standard-Times. After that article appeared, Superintendent of Riverside County Peter Reid confirmed that the girl’s remains were in the Rogers family mausoleum. Librarian Doreen Skidmore also quickly dismissed the question with a quick reply, “No, she’s buried in the mausoleum with the rest of her family.”

Other witnesses claim to have seen a different book loving woman, dressed entirely in black, walking through the library and running her fingers along the spines of the books. One patron reported an odd occurrence while browsing history books. As he was walking past a row of books, he heard an audible thump from a few feet behind him. He turned and saw one of the books he had just walked past lying on the floor in front of the shelves. He picked the book up and slid it back into its spot on the shelves, and, on his way out, mentioned the odd event to one of the staff at the circulation desk. She shrugged it off, telling him that things like that happened all the time and the staff had simply learned to ignore it.

Still others have reported seeing a man in a tweed jacket with a purple bow tie and tiny, round glasses perched on his nose mopping the basement floors in spectral form. This same ghost’s footfalls have also been heard echoing off the spiral staircase that extends all the way from the library tower down to the basement. Legend says that he is the ghost of a custodian who died, most likely from a heart attack.

Librarian Doreen Skidmore explained to Rebecca Aubet that in the year after the custodian died, there was a palpable feeling of a presence throughout the building, even by children, who would run screaming from the downstairs bathroom claiming to have seen a little man there. A gentleman attending a meeting in the basement asked, quite out of the blue, if someone had recently died in that location.

The Rogers Room of the library, which houses a significant history of the Rogers family, also includes a series of extremely lifelike portraits of H. H. Rogers, his mother, and his grandmother. Cold spots are often reported in this room, and the story goes that if a person is to speak directly to the portraits, the expressions will subtly change in reaction to the words being spoken.

Author Tim Weisberg, who has conducted multiple investigations of the library, and has written about it in his book Ghosts of the SouthCoast(2010) and in various articles for a local newspaper, was standing in the Rogers Room attempting an interview with the portrait of Henry Huttleston Rogers during an investigation. At that moment, his colleague and fellow investigator Matt Costa burst into the room, declaring that he had not only witnessed one of the basement hallway lights going off and on by itself, but he had gotten the whole thing on video.

Though the light switch turned on a pair of different lights in the hallway, the video Matt had recorded showed only a single light flickering on and off, something that neither Weisberg nor Costa could properly explain.

The two men had also taken several photographs during that visit and noticed an orb floating in one of them. These spherical, transparent balls of light are often considered by paranormal investigators to be either remnants of pure energy being drawn by a nearby spirit, or evidence of a spirit attempting to manifest itself. Weisberg swore, when zooming in on this particular orb, that he could see the face of an elderly woman inside it. Another orb from a photo he took on another date appeared to have a clearly defined skull sitting in the centre of the image.

Regardless of whether or not you believe there are deceased spirits wandering around this beautiful old library building, there is something timeless, precious, powerful, and inspiring about being able to stand near the stained-glass window and reflect on the image of Millicent. 

From the book Tomes of Terror, by Mark Leslie, 2014. Published by Dundurn. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. 

Mark Leslie is the author of Haunted Hamilton and I, Death, coauthor of Spooky Sudbury, and editor of Campus Chills and Tesseracts Sixteen. He lives in Hamilton.

October 27, 2014

Books mentioned in this post


Tomes of Terror

Haunted Bookstores and Libraries

by Mark Leslie
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: unexplained phenomena, public, commercial & industrial, supernatural

A supernatural tour of bookstores and libraries around the world, focusing on the ghost stories from haunted locations.

Throughout history, books have inspired, informed, entertained, and enriched us. They have also kept us up through the night, thrilled us, and lured into their endless depths. Tomes of Terror is a celebration and an eerie look at …


Haunted Hamilton

The Ghosts of Dundurn Castle and Other Steeltown Shivers

by Mark Leslie
edition: eBook
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged: unexplained phenomena, supernatural

From the Hermitage ruins to Dundurn Castle, from the Customs House to Stoney Creek Battlefield Park, the city of Hamilton, Ontario, is steeped in a rich history and culture. But beneath the surface of the Steel City there dwells a darker heart — from the shadows of yesteryear arise unexplainable, bizarre, and chilling encounters with the paranorm …


Spooky Sudbury

True Tales of the Eerie & Unexplained

by Mark Leslie & Jenny Jelen
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: unexplained phenomena, supernatural

The magnetic aura surrounding Sudbury, for both the living as well as the once-alive, is the backdrop for tales of mystery, wonder, and outright horror.

"I tried to leave" is a common theme for those from the Sudbury region. People often vow to move away, but something about the Nickel City keeps luring them back. Whether it’s the taste of fresh …


Tesseracts Sixteen

Parnassus Unbound

by Mark Leslie
edition: Paperback
tagged: anthologies (multiple authors), short stories

The first Tesseracts anthology was edited by Judith Merril. Since its publication in 1985, 264 authors/editors/translators and guests have written 443 pieces of Canadian speculative fiction, fantasy and horror for this series. Some of Canada's best known speculative fiction writers have been published within the pages of these volumes - including M …

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