In honor of the spooky season, we read Haunted Heartland by Michael Norman, a compilation of chilling stories from around the Midwest. As a special addition to our monthly post, we are including two creepy tales from our new home, Memorial Library. Our book club consists of Alexis Paperman, Publicity Assistant and grad student studying library information science, and Morgan Reardon, Marketing Assistant studying English literature and American Indian studies.
You may have heard: UW Press moved this summer! Our new offices are now in Memorial Library. It is a fitting place for us—filled with books and great people. As we’ve begun to settle in, we’ve heard a few tales of the spooky quirks in the building. What better time to recount them than October?
Everyone who has been to Memorial Library knows that it is the only campus library that requires you show a student ID (Wiscard) or visitor’s pass to enter, but not everyone may know why. Late one night in May 1979, grad student Susan Oldenburg was packing up her things to head home after studying alone in one of the typing rooms. As she later told the Capital Times, “All of a sudden an arm came around my neck from behind. I screamed and the next thing I remember, whoever it was put their other hand in my mouth.” Oldenburg’s attacker, a man named Eugene Devoe who came to be known as the Library Stalker, then struck her with a fire axe and left her on the floor with a deep gash on her head and other minor injuries. As Devoe tried to escape, he was apprehended by two students who had heard screams. Oldenburg was found and taken to the hospital. She survived, but still deals with lasting effects from the horror of that night. Since this frightening incident, Memorial Library requires all patrons to enter only through the main entrance and to show an ID upon entry, hoping to prevent any more creeps with axes from stalking the stacks. Now you know the reason behind it!
In Memorial Library, it is easy to get lost in the stacks. It feels like an unending maze of books: both a dream and nightmare. A popular spot for students, the library provides study carrels, nicknamed cages, and quiet spaces for studying. It is also allegedly haunted by the ghost of UW–Madison professor of English Helen C. White. Although she has a building named after her, her ghost is said to prefer Memorial’s third floor. since it was a favorite research haunt of White’s when she was living. Besides, the Helen C. White Building wasn’t completed until five years after her death. If you want to feel the chill of her spirit while you study, it does not take much to call her attention to you. Loud noises and littering seem to draw a response from the ghost. Those who are not studying in silence will often hear the nearby cage doors opening and closing. It is as if White is determined to be the only source of loud noise if it must exist.
As someone who has a lifetime of experience traveling to the Twin Cities, Morgan found the chilling story “A House on Summit Avenue” piqued her interest. This story takes place in St. Paul, Minnesota, in a grand stone house on one of the historic avenues in the city. Built in 1883 by wholesale grocery tycoon Chauncey W. Griggs, the house is said to be the most haunted residence in the Twin Cities, and for good reason. The house’s history is teeming with stories of encounters with the supernatural. Among the many accounts of spooky sightings Norman illustrates in this section is that of Jerry Dolan, a patrolman called to investigate a loud howling noise one night. Once inside, he and his partner discovered a man crouching in the basement, hiding from something that wasn’t there and claiming to have “seen death.” They never found the source of the howling. Other people have sensed the presence of other apparitions, including a maid who hanged herself on the fourth floor in 1913, a gardener who visits the library, and a piano-playing teenager named Amy. Though there is little proof, there is no lack of anecdotal evidence: “Footsteps resound on empty staircases. Doors mysteriously open and close. Rasping coughs come from behind closed doors of unoccupied rooms. Light bulbs shatter. Heavy drapes rustle when no one is near them” (190). Visitors have also reported seeing floating heads, ghosts disappearing into the walls, and feeling waves of distress. Norman does a great job of compiling the house’s many hauntings and creating a vivid image of a house so mysterious that readers may have to pay a visit to find out just what is lurking inside its walls for themselves.
Alexis is from the Pacific Northwest, a region that is home to many myths, murders, and hauntings. There was some doubt in her mind about the creepy aspects of cornfields compared with overgrown forests. Reading through Norman’s book helped to overturn that notion. One story that caught her attention is “Return of the Hanged Man.” It is not unusual for ghosts to be mischievous. But for this particular ghost, William Caffee, it seems inevitable. Hours before he was to be hanged for murder, it is said “Caffee sat astride his casket and beat out the rhythm of a funeral march with two empty beer bottles” (306). According to Norman, “No one who witnessed his execution would ever forget him” (306). The hotel in front of which he was hanged is still in operation. Over the years the staff have been subject to Caffee’s playfulness. He is not said to have done anything harmful or threatening in his afterlife. Instead he will play with people’s hair—often holding the ponytails of women up above their heads—or he will lock and unlock doors. Alexis admits, this is not so much a scary tale of a haunting but a humorous one. Then again, who knows how she’d react to having her hair pulled by a mischievous ghost?