A Grand Opening: The Dawn of Willard Library in 1885
Nestled within the vibrant city of Evansville, Indiana, the Willard Library has been a distinguished symbol of learning and civic participation since it opened its doors to the public on March 28, 1885.
Construction began in 1876, but an economic downturn in 1877 led to a halt in progress. Unfinished for five years, the foundation lay dormant, mirroring the economic depression of the era.
The project was resurrected in 1882, and from then on, the library’s founder, Willard Carpenter, dedicated his life to the library’s completion. His meticulous supervision ensured using only the finest materials, setting a high standard for the library’s architectural and historical significance.
The Grey Lady Haunting
The Willard Library is not just known for its books and genealogy resources; it also has a reputation for being haunted by the “Grey Lady.” This specter is considered Louise Carpenter, the daughter of the library’s founder, Willard Carpenter.
Following her father’s death, who bequeathed his entire wealth to his business ventures and the library, Louise took legal action against the library board, asserting her claim to the inheritance. However, she was ultimately unsuccessful in her lawsuit. Since then, she is said to haunt the library, seeking what she believes is owed to her.
The first reported sighting of the Grey Lady was in 1937 by a library custodian in the basement. This experience was so unsettling that the custodian is known to be the only library employee to quit because of the Grey Lady.
Legend has it that the Grey Lady frequents certain areas within the library, notably the local history section on the upper floor and the children’s section on the lower floor, the latter being the most paranormally active location in the entire building.
Encounters with the Grey Lady often involve unexplained occurrences such as a sudden smell of perfume, cold noises, and the feeling of touch on hair or earrings, among others.
The Grey Lady’s haunting is not just a story whispered among the library’s staff and patrons; it has also become a significant part of its reputation and community engagement. The haunting has drawn visitors who are not only interested in the library’s extensive collections but also curious about its paranormal resident.
This interest in the Grey Lady has, in a way, increased the library’s visibility and made it a unique landmark in Evansville, attracting both residents and tourists alike.
A Treasure Trove of History: Genealogy and Local History Collections
The Willard Library is renowned for its expansive genealogy and local history special collections. Established in August 1976, these collections occupy the library’s second floor, providing a wealth of resources for researchers and history enthusiasts. Highlights of these special collections include:
- Fifty state references
- Family histories in book, microform, manuscript, and loose-paper formats
- Vanderburgh County newspapers from 1821 to the present
- Vanderburgh County records (on microfilm)
- Church records in several formats
- Records of local and area cemeteries and funeral homes
- Catholic Diocese records (on microfilm)
The wealth of resources available underscores the library’s commitment to preserving local history and providing a foundation for genealogical research.
Architectural Marvels: Terra Cotta Decoration and The Grand Staircase
The library is a testament to the Victorian Gothic architectural style, featuring steeply pitched roofs with ornamental gables, a striking tower, and color contrasts from white stone and brick. The window arcades, with their Gothic arches, add to the grandeur of the building.
The extensive use of terra cotta is a significant element of the library’s exterior decoration. In addition, the library’s side gables also feature terra cotta rosettes and owls, symbolizing wisdom. These elements add a layer of symbolism and sophistication to the architectural design.
The interior of the library showcases fine quarter-grain oak woodwork. One of the most striking features is the grand staircase, which creates an imposing entrance.
This design element encapsulates the Victorian Gothic style and serves as a fitting introduction to the library’s grandeur.
The annual “Midnight Madness” event is notable at the library. For one week every year, the library stays open until midnight from Monday through Friday, offering increased accessibility to its resources.
This event attracts people from all over the country, from seasoned researchers to those just beginning to trace their family lines. In addition, the library offers weekly classes to teach people how to conduct their research, and staff is available every day until midnight to assist.
The Midnight Madness event highlights the library’s extensive collections and demonstrates its commitment to community engagement and accessibility.
The Willard Library’s rich history, architectural grandeur, extensive collections, and the legend of the Grey Lady all contribute to its standing as an institution of knowledge and mystery. From the grand staircase that greets visitors at the entrance to the intriguing tales of a specter wandering its halls, the library continues to be a beacon of culture, history, and intrigue in the heart of Indiana.