Ghosts of the Bryant Room
From time to time, our Local History Collection staff likes to poll the library community about what they would like to see from our archives and give them the opportunity to ask questions.
Earlier this month on October 7th, we participated in #AskAnArchivistDay as part of the larger SAA Archives Month celebration. Among the many thoughtful questions, we received a request for ghost stories-- a popular inquiry that we have never quite been able to fulfill.
While Roslyn does have a storied history with lots of information about its former residents and the spaces they occupied, there has been little talk in our archives about any supernatural occurrences. Though others have put forth tales about the library-adjacent Valentine House experiencing hauntings, these claims remain unsubstantiated.
That’s not to say that something paranormal doesn’t lurk around the 100-year-old War Memorial Building. As a Halloween treat, Archives Assistant Ariel Morabito has reluctantly agreed to report on an interesting experience she had in The Bryant Room. While the following is meant to be taken with a large grain of salt, we ask you to keep an open mind:
"Walking into The Bryant Room can feel like a time warp, that is, if you ignore the computers and other modern-looking equipment. With its wood-paneled walls and built-in bookshelves, the room looks and feels like a study in a grand home.
One of the first projects I worked on after joining the library’s staff was our Everyday Voices Oral History project. This extraordinary collection consists of recorded interviews with members of prominent Roslyn families that lived here during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a new recruit to The Local History Collection, I loved listening to these stories of Old Roslyn and learning more about the history of the area. It was the perfect way to learn about the LHC because of the context it provided for the other types of media we house in our archives such as photographs, scrapbooks, maps, and documents.
Until I listened to one of the interviews where former librarian Helen Glannon began by identifying their location as The Bryant Room, I had not realized that I was sitting in the exact room where these tapes were recorded. This meant that the words of these voices were now being played in the same space where they had first been spoken, 40 years prior. It was awesome, in that it added another dimension to my listening experience. It was eerie, because I began to imagine they were really there with me, although everyone speaking was long gone.
One day I was opening the room, a job which entails turning all the lights on in an otherwise dark space. Bounding up the stairs from the main floor of the library, I felt a slight chill that I attributed to our icy-cold room (heat affects the longevity of preservation). Now, despite my thirty-something age, I am completely afraid of the dark and that morning’s grey, rainy weather did nothing for the room’s natural light. Therefore, when I entered it was nearly pitch black. After hurriedly switching on the breaker lights, flipping each switch in a frantic zigzagging pattern, I caught that old familiar scent of vintage books. Though usually comforting, today the scent had a different twinge. Despite the bitter climate, the air in the room seemed heavy and thick, as if it carried an element not typically found in its molecular cocktail.
Sitting down at my desk and settling into the day’s work, I opened the digital file containing the oral histories and began to listen to Eda Seaman’s aristocratic lockjaw. Eda was born into the well-known Hicks family and worked at the Gristmill Teahouse with Alice Titus. She was describing the times when Katherine Mackay would drive through the town in her carriage,
complete with a footman and tinkling bells to signify her arrival, as Eda put it, 'much like Cinderella.' Just as I was creating this segment’s metadata, attaching various Library of Congress Subject Headings, I felt another chill shoot up my back to the nape of my neck like frostbitten fingers. This one was way more difficult to shrug off than the first, and gave me the sense that I was not alone. Looking around the room where I was the only living soul present, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary or a reason to be afraid of my surroundings.
That’s when I heard it.
Like the slow lilt of the Long Island Sound as it flows in quiet waves towards the shore or a fading echo on its fourth repetition, the sound I heard was barely audible but unmistakably present. I looked down to see if my headphones were playing the recording even though I had paused it. They were as silent as the computer’s speakers, and any other possible source of sound.
'Okay, that was weird,' I spoke out loud to no one in particular. Suddenly, something flashed in the peripheral of my left eye and as I turned my head to look, another chill went through me. Shivering and stiff from the already freezing environment, I spun in my desk chair 360 degrees to quickly survey the room. I saw nothing. I then told myself to get a grip and get back to work.
But just as I was about to put on my headphones and press play on the tape, the strange, faint sound of voices returned. It was then that I heard the words 'much like Cinderella' repeating and repeating and repeating. I looked over to the longcase clock that once stood
in William Cullen Bryant's Manhattan offices and saw that its normally-still pendulum had begun to slightly swing. Too freaked out to stay upstairs alone, I went down to the main floor of the library to loiter by the ref desk under the pretense of warming my stiff, cold hands. I didn’t tell a soul about what I’d just experienced.
Having worked in The Bryant Room for exactly two years as of Friday, October 30th, I cannot report any other strange events or feelings of being watched when alone in the room. Though I remain a skeptic, I do believe in the idea that traces of the past reside within the physical locations where events have occurred. My mind may have been playing tricks on me that day, or maybe it was Eda simply saying hello. Perhaps her words were just stuck in my mind. Either way, I will never forget what I heard or stop telling the tale of this creepy experience...even if it doesn’t make all that much of a ghost story." 👻
From The Bryant Library Local History Collection!