Friday, October 25, 2013

Getting spooked in Connellsville

It was a dark and stormy night ...

I never thought I would begin a post about library history in this manner. But then again, I didn't anticipate that I would be at the Carnegie Free Library of Connellsville just before Halloween.

When snow started to fall at Seven Springs, I decided to quit the PaLA conference, pack my bags, and check out, hoping to beat the exodus of librarians after the closing luncheon. Thus I had arrived at Connellsville around 11:00 a.m., a few hours earlier than planned. Judy Takoch, the Children's Librarian, knew I was visiting that day, but was just about to begin a story hour. So she led me to some file cabinets in the board room that would keep me busy for a while. I yanked open a drawer and soon found a transcription of the deed to the library's grounds. Since the document was quite long, I pulled out a pen and started to take notes:

" ... a parcel of land ... beginning at a post on the west side of Mountain Alley ... being the same land for many years known as the Connell Grave Yard ..."

My eyes widened. Wait a minute. Say what?

I read it again.

"... the same land for many years known as the Connell Grave Yard ..."

A little while later, Casey Sirochman, the library's director, checked in on me. Indeed, she confirmed that her workplace was built upon a cemetery. No eternal rest for people who died in the 1810s to 1860s, apparently. According to local genealogists, nearly 200 bodies were disinterred and reburied in Chestnut Hill and Laurel Hill so that the Carnegie Free Library could be built. Furthermore, Ms. Sirochman informed me that the library's location was only one of several controversies in its long history. In 1905, a dead newborn was found on its grounds, and a nearby priest was accused of rape and murder. Searching Google Books on my iPhone, I quickly authenticated this story in a history of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church which is hosted on the web site of the surviving Catholic congregation and includes copies of contemporary news articles.

Just before leaving, Ms. Sirochman told me that she and many locals believe that the library is haunted. Once, when she and volunteers were throwing out old books, she told them that the library's ghosts wouldn't be pleased by what they were doing. Just at that moment, an item flew off a shelf. Staff have heard unexplainable footsteps and noises around the building, too The Pittsburgh Paranormal Society has investigated and the library has been the subject of an episode of Raw Fear. If I wanted, could purchase a copy of the DVD at the circulation desk, she said. Since I was spooked enough already, I replied, "No, I think I'll pass."

On that note, I continued slogging through the library's records as rain and sleet rapped against its windows. Outside, the sky eventually grew dark and I was reminded that I hadn't yet arranged lodging for the evening. So, after completing my search through a box of records, I decided to call it a day.

I'd spent hours reading thousands of pages of meeting minutes, so my vision was rather blurry. And in the rush of trying to get a week's worth of research accomplished in just 2 days, I'd missed lunch and dinner, so I was a little light-headed. Thus, when I exited the front door of the library at about 7:30 p.m., I found myself in utter darkness and very disoriented. There were no lamps along the walkway. I had forgotten about steps until I stumbled down the first two.

Or was a soul from Connell's Grave Yard reaching up through the pavement and grabbing my ankle?

My pulse quickened.

Blindly brushing wet leaves off my pants, I tightly gripped the handrail and felt around with wet toes for my footing. Suddenly, I heard what was probably a squirrel scampering across the grass.

Father Monta's baby is coming to get me!

If you're my age, you've probably seen -- and can't unsee -- Chucky from the Child's Play horror movies. My heart started to pound.

Finally, I had completed my cautious descent to Pittsburgh Street, only to recall that in the afternoon I'd moved my car from the 1-hour parking zone to Carnegie Street, back uphill behind the library. At that moment, cackling from a group of teenagers burst from an alley nearby and I nearly peed myself.

Long-departed Boltons, Frasers, Seatons, and Vances are gathering for a chase!

I calmed myself by squeezing my keys tightly and unlocking my pepper spray. Picking my way around the block, I tripped again, this time on a crumbling bit of sidewalk. The noise of my palms hitting the pavement and my expletives hitting the ether apparently triggered animatronic mummies on a porch across the street to screech "HAPPY HALLOWEEEEEEEN!"

That's it -- I'm losing it! 

I hit the panic button on my key fob and my Ford's highlights flooded the street with welcomed illumination. At that point, I didn't give a damn whether my bleating car horn pissed off the neighbors as long as it kept dead babies, disinterred bodies, and all the other ghouls at bay. Finally inside my car, I locked all the doors twice, heaved a sigh of relief, and sped away.

Although the Carnegie Free Library is beautiful in daylight and its staff were very kind to me, I don't think I can stomach another visit on a rainy autumn night. Yikes!

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