Haunted Libraries: Peoria Public Library

Peoria Public Library

Peoria Public Library

My apologies for falling behind with this series.

6. Peoria Public Library, Peoria, IL

Unlike the libraries so far in our list, the Peoria Public Library’s fate was doomed from the start. The land on which the library is built was cursed by a previous tenant.

It all started in 1830 with Mrs Andrew Gray and the death of her brother, after which she gained custody of her nephew. The nephew refused to get a job and generally trod on the wrong side of the law too often and Mrs Gray was forced to hire a lawyer to smoothe things over. David Davis was a newly made lawyer come to town and was hired by the Grays. He deftly got Mrs Gray’s nephew out of any jam, but at an increasing debt to the Grays. Concerned over payment, Davis forced the Grays to use their home as collateral for his services and when the bill came due, Davis sued to collect the mortgage as his fees and the nephew was given the boot. Soon after, the nephew’s lifeless body was discovered floating in the Illinois River. Mrs Gray then cursed the property and all future occupants. The curse seemed to work, for after Davis assumed the property, nothing would grow on the very land where Mrs Gray had cultivated beautiful gardens. It was then that the first ghostly appearances were reported: that of Mrs Gray’s nephew banging on the door, begging to be let in.

In 1894, the city of Peoria purchased the property on Monroe Street where Mrs Andrew Gray once lived. A library was built on the property – though there is some debate over whether it was built exactly where Mrs Gray’s house once stood or on another part of the property. Considering that at the time of the land purchase there were three different lots which made up the purchase, it’s entirely feasible to believe the library is not built directly on the same footprint as the house. At any rate, the first three directors of the new library died under unusual circumstances, a sure sign that the curse was working even beyond the existence of the house. The first director, E. S. Willcox, was killed in a streetcar accident in 1915; the second, Samuel Patterson Prowse, died from a heart attack suffered at a library board meeting in 1921; and the third, Dr. Edwin Wiley, committed suicide by swallowing arsenic in 1924. One might surely think that these were all coincidences and that Dr Wiley had previously established depressive episodes, but at the time of the events, Mrs Gray’s curse was foremost in everyone’s minds.

Though the directors are long gone, Mr Willcox seems to have a fondness for the library even after his tenure and life came to an end. Patrons have reported seeing a man wandering the halls dressed in early 20th Century attire. Employees have seen his face in a basement doorway, among other things such as hearing their names called when no one else is around and feeling cold drafts where there ought not to be any.

Hauntings are not the only strange things about the library…

In 1907, school superintendent Newton Dougherty blew up a safe inside the library to hide evidence of embezzlement of school funds.

The library was also part of a blackmail plot following the death of George P. McNear, Jr. McNear’s widow received two different letters informing her that she would be given the name of her husband’s murderer if she left $1,000 in a special drawer in the third floor education room of the Peoria Public Library. William A. Gibson and his son Billy Gibson were arrested for blackmail when they showed up to retrieve the cash.

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Whatever happened in this library’s past, it seems to have no affect on patrons today. People still use the library on a daily basis and no one seems adverse to having to stay there a little later in the evenings.

Sources:

Top 10 Creepiest Places in Illinois
Library Ghosts: Midwestern U.S.
Haunted Peoria by Stephanie E. McCarthy (book)
Peoria Public Library Is Haunted!

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One thought on “Haunted Libraries: Peoria Public Library

  1. Pingback: Specters in the Stacks: Thirteen Haunted Libraries | The Year of Halloween

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