Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.
Librarians have a reputation for being quiet and well-behaved. But not Washington State University librarian Lara Cummings during her Haunted Library Tours. She howls. She shrieks. She leaps from behind walls to spook tour members.
“She’s hilarious. Who’d have guessed it could be so fun to learn their way around a library?” said Brie Brenner, an RA at McEachern Residence Hall, during a recent night tour.
Cummings organized the tours as a way to bring new or apprehensive students (and now, members of the public) inside the Holland and Terrell Libraries, two interconnected buildings that can appear daunting at first, she said. Also, many students think the Internet will provide everything they need for research, which isn’t true.
“And even if it is on the Internet, getting the right information can be like trying to get a sip of water from a fire hydrant. We want students to know there are people here to help them,” said Cummings.
Let the scary times roll
“Hi. I’m Lara the Librarian. It’s time to get started with our Haunted Library Tour. All stories have been researched by me.”
With that, Cummings spent the next hour herding two dozen McEachern Hall students down stairwells, up elevators, between wide columns of bookshelves and some narrow. She marched them down dark hallways that glowed red from EXIT signs and led them through large bright rooms filled with students studying at wooden tables.
Throughout, she told tales of strange goings-on inside or nearby the library: Ghosts floating on the grounds of Old College Hall back in 1921; a love-sick teen from western Washington who, in 1979, blew himself up with a bomb over the breakup with his girlfriend in Perham Hall where she lived, killing himself and injuring two police officers; a library worker who died of breast cancer but who continues to write answers to students’ questions on cards dropped inside a box near her old office.
Lurking in the rafters
Cummings’ most eyebrow raising tale involved a book thief named Steve Blumberg, who crisscrossed the country for years, stealing rare and valuable books from more than 300 libraries. In 1989 – while Cummings was an English major at WSU – Blumberg’s escapades brought him here, where he stole 500 volumes from Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections.
After the FBI arrested him a year later, it was determined that he had hidden in rafters and an elevator shaft until the library closed, she said.
“Doesn’t it make you think of Tom Cruise in ‘Mission Impossible?’” said Cummings, referring to the 1996 action-thriller movie where Cruise performs high-tech stunts hanging from rafters.
Getting to know the library
In addition to scary stories, Cummings shared snippets of history about the library and its nooks and crannies. She pointed out the maps and atlases, the microfilm room, the rows of elegant solid oak card catalog drawers (no longer used to classify books, replaced largely by an automated computer system), and clusters of computers and copiers.At one point, she convinced a group of students to hide with her as other tour members were about to enter a room. Ironically, while waiting to leap out and scare them, two male students crouched behind a bookshelf crammed with volumes of Psychiatric Quarterly.
“BOO!” yelled Cummings and her co-conspirators, as a befuddled-looking student looked up from her studies at a small table nearby.Kariri Kiambuthi, another RA from McEachern Hall, said he found Cummings’ technique of weaving scary stories and colorful explorations enticing.”One of the guys who came had never been inside this library before. I bet he’ll be back, even without the ghost stories.”
Student group tours are full through the first week in November. Members of the public can reserve group tours that will start in early November by going here to fill out a form.