The building has been haunted since at least 1937, when a sighting of the ghost was first reported by the custodian. It was his custom to come into the library very early in the morning, particularly during the winter, to stoke the furnace.
During one of these visits, he encountered a woman. At first, the custodian thought it was a hobo, a transient ... today, we'd call her one of the homeless. The custodian had allowed some local homeless people to stay where it was warm, but only in an area that was removed from the main part of the library. He thought that this unexpected visitor might be one of the homeless wandering away from the assigned area.
But the custodian quickly realized he could see right through her; he could see the furnace behind her.
Although he saw her many times after that first sighting, he never felt good about seeing this specter. In fact, he is the only person to ever leave the library's employment and specifically give the ghost sightings as his reason for quitting.
Of course, nobody believed him. He took to drink because of seeing her, and the townspeople thought he was crazy, or just a drunk. It's a shame, because this custodian was the first person to report seeing the ghost, and he was the first to say that the ghost was a woman.
There have been a large number of unexplained incidents witnessed by Willard’s staff members. Several are recounted here...
Carol Bartlett and David, her co-worker, were straightening up at closing time on a Sunday afternoon. David was arranging the chairs around the tables. Carol had been working in another area, and when she came to where David had been straightening up, she found one of the chairs pushed away from the table. She pushed it back where it belonged. Not more than five minutes later, they found the chair pushed out again.
While Carol had been somewhat dubious about her co-worker’s claimed ghost encounters, she had now experienced something very unusual herself.
Lyn Martin, who is now head of special collections for the library, saw a file box move off its shelf and fall in a lovely arch. She had been behind the counter. Another staff member was standing in front of it. It looked almost as if the file had jumped, rather than having been pushed. The file spilled its contents onto the floor in the perfect shape of a fan. Lyn was surprised, to say the least, by this rather unusual occurrence.
Anne Wills, the Children’s Librarian, was alone in the children’s room. She was wearing long, dangling earrings. She felt someone behind her pull her hair back and touch the earring on one ear. When she turned to see who it was, nobody was there.
Anita Glover has had a couple of experiences with the Lady in Grey. At the time, she was the assistant children’s librarian and Joan Elliot Parker was the special collections librarian. Joan had gone into the old women’s bathroom in the basement and locked the door behind her. The faucet turned on; Joan turned it off. At the same time, Anita noticed her security camera showing someone there, but not quite visible, moving quickly down the hallway.
Greg Hager, Director for the Willard Library, once smelled very strong perfume in the men’s room. He checked to see if any of the women had recently gone in to restock supplies, but nobody had. Many others have reported similar olfactory incidents. And those experienced in these things claim that the strong smell of perfume often accompanies the presence of a ghost.
Greg also reports there have been strange electrical encounters. For example, light bulbs will go off and on by themselves even though the lights are on the same electrical circuit. One evening, the whole building was doing that, with no obvious explanation. And, he says, a lot of people have reported having problems with recording and video equipment.
Margaret was the children’s librarian at the Willard for nearly 50 years. She first saw the Grey Lady in the late 1950s, and told of many encounters during her years working there. Margaret came to see the ghost as a companion, perhaps even a friend.
Margaret told Betty Palmer, another long-time Willard staff member, about an incident that occurred in 1985. Margaret and her sister Ruth were previewing the Easter Egg Tree for a group of women and their children. A little boy wandered towards the stairs, away from the group. His mother tried to get him to return, but he said he was afraid of the ghost.
The little boy was only three years old. We don’t know if he had heard about the ghost before his visit to Willard, but he was certainly aware of her presence by the time he left.
Betty also recounts another incident that Margaret had told her. During the 1980 remodeling of the library’s children’s room, Margaret believed the Grey Lady followed her to the home she shared with her sister Ruth.
One night, Ruth woke Margaret in the middle of the night, and as soon as she awoke, she could smell the musky aroma of the Grey Lady’s perfume. On a different evening, Margaret told of clearly seeing the ghost in her living room wearing a gray pleated, woolen skirt. Ruth also caught a ghostly glimpse that same evening. And a few days later, Margaret’s nephew saw the ghost, but mistook it for his aunt. When he called to ask her why she was dressed wearing gray clothes and old-style button-top boots, his aunt came into the room and he could simultaneously see both the ghost and his aunt. Although her nephew had doubted the existence of the Grey Lady, he was convinced now that she was quite real.
Margaret is the one who insists that Willard’s ghost be known as the Grey Lady, and that grey should be spelled in the British manner with an ‘e’ rather than with an ‘a’ as is generally preferred in America.
Another Spooky Incident
Greg Hager, the director for Willard Library, recalls one incident where he was meeting with a television reporter to talk about an upcoming book sale. During the interview, a couple of staff members who had been working in the children’s room came up to them. One was very upset and visibly shaking.
The assistant librarian had been selecting children’s materials for the book sale and had taken the selected materials to log them into the computer. It took only a few moments to complete the computer work. When they returned to the shelves, they discovered that every fourth book or so had been partially pulled out and was jutting out from its shelf at an angle. Several hundred books, across several bookshelves, had been rearranged in this fashion. Greg estimates it would have taken an experienced librarian 10 to 15 minutes to do something like this, but the library workers had been away from the stacks for only a few moments. There were no other people in the children’s area at that time.
The television reporter interviewed one of the women, but the other wasn’t interested in being interviewed. The camera operator taped the interview, and took video footage of the rearranged books.
The reporter called Greg after returning to the studio. Now she was upset. She told him the video of Greg’s interview about the book sale was intact, but the footage of the interview with the woman who had been working in the children’s room was completely blank, as was the video showing the rearranged bookshelves.
To compound this unfortunate circumstance, all of this activity took place just outside of the view of the existing ghost cam. None of this unusual activity was recorded.