Carnegie staff feels presence of spirit

Carnegie staff feels presence of spirit
Lance Cranmer

Elizabeth Johnson dedicated part of five decades of her life to the Carnegie Public Library in Washington C.H.

Today her memory, and maybe even her spirit, are still very present in the 107-year old structure.

"When I first got here, sometimes I'd hear things or see things and people would say, 'That's just Elizabeth,'" said a longtime library employee at Carnegie, who preferred not to use her name for this story. "I think she's kind of keeping an eye on the library."

This particular librarian has heard stories about Elizabeth since she started her job back in the 1970s.

Over the years, she's had her own share of experiences.

"In the genealogy room there used to be a big register that showed where people were from. There were no vents on anywhere in the room at the time. Suddenly the pages just started flipping," she said. "You could also smell rose perfume. I don't know if she wore that, but you could smell it."

Mary Elizabeth Johnson, known now simply as Elizabeth, was born in Washington C.H. around 1890.

After graduating from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., she returned to Fayette County in 1911 to accept the position of librarian at Carnegie Library. For the next 45 years, that was her life.

Elizabeth held the librarian position until 1956, when she was removed from it by library officials.

"It was with reluctance the Board felt compelled to ask for Miss Johnson's resignation effective Feb. 1 due to her continued illness," reads a document in the library archives dated Jan. 17, 1956.

Elizabeth, it is believed, had no desire to give up her position. Many believe that in a way, she never did.

On Nov. 3, 10 months after stepping down as librarian, Elizabeth passed away at age 66.

Ever since, patrons frequently feel a presence in the building.

"I've been here with nobody else in the building," said Sarah Nichols, the library's Head of Adult Services, who acknowledges hearing occasional unexplained sounds in the building at night. "It has always felt warm and welcoming. I've never been afraid to be here by myself."

It's rare that anyone who has had an unusual experience in the library has been afraid, but it has happened.

"There's an old set of stairs that are closed," Nichols said, referring to the building's original staircase, which still exists under the floorboards in an area of the building that now contains bookshelves. "The painters who were here working over night heard footsteps on those stairs (directly below them). They got so scared they had to leave and they refused to work any more at night."

Other strange occurrences are common as well.

The elevator is known to operate at random with no known explanation, computer speakers go up and down in volume and the rose perfume smell comes and goes.

"If you are up here by yourself, you can hear a bang, then just say something and it stops," said the library employee. "Downstairs ... I was (checking out) a DVD. I rang it in the system and set it down and it went like this (motioning that the DVD box began to turn on the table). I wasn't anywhere near it."

Over the years the library has undergone several renovations - the most recent being the painting in 2008 and an exterior preservation project in 2000.

Each time renovations get underway, the occurrences attributed to Elizabeth become more frequent. In the world of paranormal research, it is commonplace for activity to increase during times of renovation.

In order to further investigate the claims about Elizabeth, Chillicothe paranormal investigator Neal Parks, founder of Parks Paranormal Research and Investigation recently spent a night in Carnegie Library.

Joining Parks' team that night was Yolanda Harris, anchor of ABC 6 and Fox 28's newscasts in Columbus.

The results from the investigation will be aired May 4 during Fox28's 10 p.m. broadcast.

"It's a beautiful library with a very interesting story," said Harris via e-mail. "I've heard the accounts of people hearing and seeing unexplained things ... I wished we would have found some concrete evidence of paranormal activity. But we had a great experience looking for it."

As for Elizabeth, though she may not have made her presence known the night of the investigation, many believe that she does in fact keep a watch over the Carnegie Library.

According to her obituary that ran in the Record-Herald, "A daughter of the late Frank and Melissa Johnson, her nearest survivors are cousins."
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