Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Illinois: Cairo Public Library


Cairo, Illinois known as the City Between Two Rivers lies at the junction where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet. This town first rose to prominence in the early 1800s as a bustling steamboat port. Later during the Civil War it was used as a site to train Union troops.

With the decline of the river traffic in the early 1900s both Cairo’s economy and population were drastically impacted. Today the town represents stark contrasts. On one side is the many elegant Victorian mansions that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the other side is a town that is struggling to survive.

One shining bright spot is the Cairo Public Library. The building that houses this library is the Safford Memorial Building. A widow, Mrs. Alfred Safford presented this building to the town in 1884 in fond remembrance of her late husband.

The Cairo Women’s Club and the Library Association contributed 1500 books in exchange for the use of a room for their meetings. Today the library has over 41,000 books in its collection.

This old red brick Queen Ann building still retains most of its original charm. It is adorned with original stain-glass windows and it displays a rare Tiffany clock on one stair landing. A chandelier that hangs in the library once hung in the Cairo Opera House. 

Many of the original ornate bookshelves remain. The adult reading room contains a large round table that once was a gaming table on a steamboat.

In 1962 and 1984 improvements were made to the library with an addition of a stack room and special collections room.

Another item that has always remained the same about this library is its resident ghost.

For years, the employees of the library have seen and heard very unusual things, which cannot be easily explained.

Louise Ogg, a librarian nicknamed this ghost, Toby. Ogg actually encountered Toby on the first day she worked in the library. She was on her lunch break when she heard the sound of a rocking chair in the reading room. When she went to investigate the sound stopped but as she returned to her desk she heard the rocking chair once more. Many others have heard similar noises in this room.

Just weeks later Ogg and a colleague again on lunch break spotted a strange white light that appeared from behind the front desk. These two ladies watched as this bright light ascended from the desk and slowly passed the office. It then disappeared among the stacks.

Several librarians over the years have taken ownership of this ghost to feel more at ease around it. They often state Toby was a former patron of the library who just can’t bear to leave the place--for they are sure he has fond memories of the pleasant hours he spent reading in the building.

One library director, Monica Smith also encountered the ghost. It seems Toby likes to play games for Smith often after turning the lights off would find that they were back on in various rooms. She also on several occasions heard footsteps upstairs when she knew she was the only one in the building.

Children's Reading Room
Back in the days when the library still used card catalogs the librarians would often find these cards mixed up directly after they had been checked.

One interior door at the back of one room often opens and closes when no one is around. This phenomenon has been reported many times over the years.

When Toby hasn’t made an appearance in awhile one running joke among the staff is that he just like many a book is “overdue.”

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