July 31/365 What Was Down There?

A woman walks by the New York City Library’s card catalog, which begins to explode, cards flying everywhere. In terror, she runs through the library stacks until she stops in the glow of a ghost. Everyone around me laughed, as the Ghostbusters theme started. I didn’t.

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The view from Shuman Hall down to the Hudson.

I worked in Shuman Hall, a lovely Tudor-style mansion repurposed by Nyack College as administration offices and a college library. Mansions don’t really make good libraries – the rooms are often too small, too unusual, and randomly arranged – but the college worked with the odd building as best as it could. The first floor contained reading rooms (one octagonal, with beautiful tile work), the reference area, the circulation desk and card catalog. The second floor was entirely office space. And the bulk of the books were in the stacks, down a narrow staircase leading from the circulation desk into the catacomb-like basement. There was only one staircase down. I sat at the circulation desk, often reading assignments for classes, while pretending to work. I remember once making a theology student trip down the stairs when I loudly informed a co-worker that “shit” was the clearest word to read in Chaucer. (I should add that Nyack College is a terribly conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical college – Liberty University on a smaller endowment.)

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Shuman Hall

The back story for certain of the buildings on the campus, especially the Tudor ones, sounds like a script for a B horror movie. Creepy millionaire with a penchant for eastern mysticism and kinky, perhaps deadly sex, and a fascination about (I’m not kidding) elephants, buys property in a country club up the Hudson. And then, well, he dies, everyone dies, and some crazy Christians purchase his home and property to use as a library and a men’s dormitory. Oh, and the elephants might be buried under the playing fields. That’s the legend.

This was in 1978. Whoever worked the closing shift for the library was responsible for making sure that everyone was out of the building, that lights were shut off, and that the door was locked. The old mansion had ancient wiring. You could not simply turn off one switch on a floor. You had to go room by room on all three floors. One person took care of the second floor, which was the easiest. Another went down into the stacks. You had to walk all the way to the room furthest from the stairs. Flip one switch, and the room went to black. Walk back out one room, flip switch, blackness grew behind you. And through each of the basement rooms, darkness growing, and a coldness, and you began to move quicker, until you hit the bottom stair at a full out run. Every night I tumbled out of the stairwell, heart racing and totally afraid. The closing crew would turn the first floor lights out, nervously waiting for security to arrive to lock the doors and deposit us back at our dorms.

Then the next day, a supervisor would ask why we had left the lights on.

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The back of Shuman Hall. Reflections in windows probably caused by nothing whatsoever ominous. Probably.

NOTE: I found this treasure online as I was trying to verify my memory of Nyack’s history. You simply have to check The Paranormal Pastor out. I didn’t know that there were non-Catholic exorcists practicing, and as a long-time Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan, I’m not sure that their practicing knowledge of Latin is up to snuff. Also, if he was any sort of kick-ass exorcist, shouldn’t the shades and ghouls be gone from the campus by now? Strange reading, but it does in some ways validate my memories. 

6 thoughts on “July 31/365 What Was Down There?

  1. My last job was at the Penn State library in Scranton. My “work” was similar to yours, and I worked the closing shift too. Except I worked alone. I’m glad I didn’t read this post while I was still working there.

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  2. Creepy indeed. I am not following that link until I return home. I am currently renting a very old home in Olympia with a really creepy basement.

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