In 1984, three parapsychologists from Columbia University were called to the basement of the New York Public Library to investigate a supernatural entity that stacked books, left ectoplasm all over the card catalog cabinet, and thumbed through treasured tomes. The book-loving apparition shushed them when they tried to speak to her. When they tried to attack her, she turned into a horrifying vision that made them run screaming from the library. This, of course, is the opening scene of the movie Ghostbusters, and an important reminder not to bother people (or ghosts) when they’re reading.
Since libraries and bookstores are essentially storage units for creative history, it makes sense that people would find vapory spirits from the past floating around in them. Here are five bookstores thought to be haunted.
1. Haslam’s Bookstore // St. Petersburg, Florida
Beat pioneer Jack Kerouac hung out at Haslam’s in the 1960s, hosting conversations and occasionally irritating the owners by shifting around their displays to give his own books more prominent placement. Now that he’s a ghost, he doesn’t seem as disruptive. “I was here late one night,” co-owner Ray Hinst explained to the local news. “I was doing some straightening over here and all of the sudden, boom boom.” Hinst turned around to find several of Kerouac’s books in a pile on the ground.
Opened in 1933 (but currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic), Haslam’s has a storied history as well as its fair share of unexplained phenomena like sudden drops in temperature and books popping off shelves as though pushed by invisible hands. In addition to their famed literary spirit, a local ghost club called SPIRITS claims to have detected a ghostly couple who sit quietly reading together, a little boy who tosses books off the shelves, and a forlorn girl who possibly died in a car crash nearby. Kerouac has reportedly been less active since they ordered more of his books and brought them from the bottom shelf up to eye level.
2. The Moravian Book Shop // Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Founded in 1745, this sprawling store is the oldest in America and possibly the oldest continually running bookstore in the entire world. And reportedly, it’s got its own ghostly resident. Longtime employee Jane Clugston told The Guardian that she and a colleague spotted “a dark figure” walking down the hall toward the kitchen one night while they were closing up. No one was in the kitchen, but the stove and fan were on. “I don’t know why this person, ghost, spirit drew us back there, but I guess to turn off those appliances,” Clugston said. “I’d never thought of it until I told someone else and they said a ghost led you back there. But in that back hallway a lot of people have said that they’ve felt things and they’ve seen things.” At least it’s a helpful spirit.
3. Paranormal Books & Curiosities // Asbury Park, New Jersey
“People have been known to have physical and emotional responses to our artifacts,” warns the website of Paranormal Books & Curiosities, a combination bookstore and museum. Beyond perusing the beautiful bookcases lining the shop, you can enjoy a private tour of their inner sanctum, which houses bizarre artifacts including creepy dolls, a skull said to be that of the Jersey Devil, and a candelabra supposedly made from a human hand. Owner Kathy Kelly claims that the bookstore sees a ton of ghostly activity; she offers séances and private ghost hunting experiences where you can spend several hours in the building in order to call on those from beyond yourself.
4. Browse Awhile Books // Tipp City, Ohio
Featured on Haunted Collector and My Ghost Story, this well-stocked shop boasts over 150,000 books and an overwhelming number of spooky sightings from its 19 ghosts. That includes reported incidents of books jumping off shelves (a classic!), but what’s more concerning is the claims of people being poked, scratched, and even hit in the face by unseen forces. People have also seen shadows “playing peek-a-boo” and toys moving inexplicably, leading some to believe that at least one child haunts the place. If being accosted by a tiny ghost isn’t your thing, you can still spend hours and hours perusing the shop’s special collection for rare and older books.
5. Wicked Good Books // Salem, Massachusetts
This shop-on-the-corner in America’s most infamous occult town sits atop an old, secret tunnel system (uncovered during renovations) that may have been used for bootlegging, discrete brothel visits, privateer smuggling, and/or as part of the Underground Railroad. Evidence of human remains was discovered in the tunnel, and patrons at Wicked Good Books have supposedly experienced poltergeist-esque activity among the stacks. Calming presences, books flopping untouched from the shelves, and, one paranormal investigator claims, the sensation of human hands around his neck. Sam Baltrusis, author of Ghosts of Salem, even says he saw a shadow figure when he looked through the window one day.
Wicked Good Books is close to a wharf where your cell phone battery is likely to plummet from 100 percent to 0 percent—which paranormal investigators say is a sign of ghostly activity—and where people have spotted “full-bodied apparitions” strolling around to take in the sea air. Apparently, Salem has more spooky history than just its wrongfully accused witches.