Meet the Ghosts of the Indiana State Library

In September of 2013, I received an e-mail from Irvingtonian Steve Schmidt of the Indiana State Library. This was not your average, everyday e-mail. The subject line read simply, “Ghost in the State Library.” Okay, that got my attention. Steve suggested that I put together a “Halloween program about our ghosts and about the spectral activity in downtown Indianapolis.” I had to check the Web address it was generated from because in my 20 years of investigating, documenting and speaking about ghosts and folklore, I have never been approached by a government agency about a ghost.
I learned a long time ago that the official policy of state, local and national government is that there are no such things as ghosts. When I attended the very first Gettysburg Ghost Conference back in 1994, I was sternly, but politely, informed that the National Park Service does not believe in ghosts either. I knew immediately that Steve’s invitation was one I could not pass up. I immediately contacted Tim Poynter of Spirit Paranormal and we got to work. Tim quickly assembled an experienced crew of investigators (Steve Hunt, Jill Werner, Cindy Adkins, Monk Collins, Bonnie Darby, Melody Dunn, Joe Wright, Barbara Gentry and Mike and Cheryl Auberry) and off we went.
A year later, we are ready to present our evidence. This Saturday, October 25th we will share our findings at the Indiana State Library (315 W. Ohio St. in Indianapolis) during the 9th annual Indiana Genealogy & Local History Fair. The program lasts all day (9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) with Steve, Tim and I presenting from 1:00 to 3:30. That leaves you all plenty of time to visit the Irvington Halloween Festival in the morning and be back for the parade in the afternoon. Joy Neighbors will also be presenting a program from 9:30 to noon on cemeteries, with the last hour of her discussion devoted to deciphering the symbols and images found on gravestones. All events are offered free of charge.
As it happens, this event marks the debut of Steve Schmidt’s new book The Architectural Treasures of the Indiana State Library detailing the history of the library and surrounding property from the beginning in 1934 to the present day. The book will be available for sale and Steve will be there to sign them throughout the day. Just in case you can’t make it that day, Steve’s book will be offered at the library gift shop from that day on. A portion of the book sales will be donated to the Indiana State Library Foundation and the Indiana German Heritage Society. Steve will also have a book signing hosted by Bookmamas in Irvington on Saturday November 15th at 1:00 p.m.
Steve will kick off our portion of the program by detailing the history of the library. Mr. Schmidt is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the Indiana State Library. For example, did you know that Indiana’s 1816 constitution was the nation’s first to make  constitutional provision for libraries? Or that construction of the $700,000 building took place during the height of the Great Depression?
“This book started as part of a lunch time project. I have always been fascinated by the medallions in the Great Hall floor and I discovered that we really knew very little about them. Actually, few people even knew that this building existed and I thought it was too fascinating a building to let go to waste.” Steve reports. “For me, the most startling discovery was the fact that one of the medallions had been pried out and replaced with a simplified design installed using flat-head screws. That is odd enough, but the real mystery is that we don’t know what was originally there, why it was removed or even when. And we probably never will find out because the man who took the minutes for the governing board at the time, kept his notes in his garage. When he died in the 1940s, nobody thought to save them or to offer them to the library.”
If you are lucky enough to encounter Steve Schmidt at the State Library, he is likely to guide you around the building pointing out the interesting architectural elements that generously adorn it. Many of these elements are obvious: the stained glass panels, the rich, lustrous woodwork and the classic marble accents to name a few, but Steve delights in pointing out the lesser known fixtures. Among his favorites are the understated brass pillar adornments (known as pilasters) found all over the building’s second floor.
“Do you notice anything about them?” he asks. “They are owls.” Wise old owls, a classical reference to literary wisdom that speaks through the ages. Sources on myth and magic explain that birds which could “see” in the dark were thought to have mysterious powers, later identified with prophecy, “nocturnal sciences,” and, in a broader sense, wisdom. Schmidt points out that owls can be found throughout the building in varied forms above interior doors, over the Senate Street entrance and atop the external crown of the building.
Steve loves to point out the chandeliers in the Great Hall and asks the visitor if they recognize the design; a corn motif echoed in the surrounding stained glass and painted murals. From carved stone lunettes that meet the ceiling at each end of the Great Hall to the stunning bronze elevator doors with images depicting learning and knowledge, Steve knows them all like the back of his hand. All of these, and much more, are detailed in Steve Schmidt’s new book and will be discussed in depth during his presentation this Saturday. Did I mention that Steve will also share some of the ghost stories he’s collected as well? In particular, the ghosts of “the stacks,” the mysterious subterranean storage area beneath the library located 2 1/2 stories beneath the city of Indianapolis. The stacks are reportedly haunted and many employees, both past and present, have encountered an ominous presence down there.
The State Library investigation presented itself in the form of an alluring puzzle, partially assembled, but lacking the key pieces necessary to form a more complete picture. My job on this project was to objectively gather the “encounter” stories of past and present employees and, together with the findings of Tim and his group of intuitives, try and determine who, or what, may be responsible for them. As a devotee of Indiana history, ghost stories and folklore, I often find myself in this position whenever I investigate the reports of “things that go bump in the night.” On this particular occasion, sparks flew on our very first visit.
I spent my time pouring over documents, letters and photographs detailing the earliest days of the library housed in the Rare Books and Manuscripts room on the second floor. Room Supervisor Bethany Fiechter went above and beyond the scope of her official duties by digging up everything she could find about the library and placing it neatly at my disposal for research. My intuitive powers pale in comparison to those of Tim and his crew, but through deductive reasoning and sound research techniques, it is sometimes easier than not to discover who may be the source of a haunting. Two men from the library’s past immediately jumped out at me. Although I continued to peel back layers of history searching for more people, events and clues, I kept coming back to these two men. They quickly became the center of my investigation.
While I researched, Tim spent his time walking around the library alongside his team of psychic intuitives gathering their thoughts and feelings about the old Library. Filming was done, audio recordings were made and ghost hunting equipment was used, but in the end, it came down to their individual impressions that revealed the most about their subjects. The process was exhausting and required several follow-up visits to complete.
The research proved fruitful and the investigation came together like a hand in a glove. Tim eventually came to me and revealed his findings along with those of his team. He explained that his intuitives were picking up on two distinct personalities above all others. The first was a smallish sized man dressed in a lab coat and the other a man in uniform. Stunned, but not surprised, I carefully donned a pair of white gloves and removed a couple photos from the archive files of the state library. These photos were of the men I had previously deduced to be the best suspects for the paranormal sightings associated with the library over the years.
Tim was stunned. These were the men he had personally encountered while touring the library and he was pretty sure his team would agree. Revealing nothing, Tim sent his intuitives into the research room one at a time to view the pictures. They all agreed that this was our man in the lab coat and the man in uniform. Team member Jill Werner explained to me that when she encountered the man, she couldn’t identify the uniform as one that would have been worn by an employee of the library. It looked more like a military uniform to her, which didn’t make sense. As I produced the image of my second “suspect,” Jill looked hard at the image and began to squirm in her seat. This was the spirit she had encountered in the lower stacks of the library.
On that first day of researching, I left earlier than Tim’s team. I had spent the day veritably glued to one chair and table in the center of the research room illuminated by a massive fluorescent light. After I left, Tim returned to the rare books and manuscripts room to find Bethany circling the area I had most recently vacated with a puzzled look on her face. It seems the lights above that particular table had suddenly, and dramatically, gone out. Bethany explained to Tim that the lights in the room were newly installed and updated quite recently and she couldn’t figure out what had caused the outage. Eventually that single outage caused the entire bank of lights in the research room to go out.
Tim just smiled and said, “That’s the ghost.” He continues, “This event struck me as being very synchronistic. Our research had just uncovered the people that are very likely the spirits that inhabit the ISL. This would be a classic example of a spirit manifestation right out of the movie Ghostbusters. This was to me a very dramatic demonstration how a spirit can effect an electrical system in a building.”
Although our investigation began over a year ago, we were asked to keep the project “hush-hush” until late this past summer. After all, we were all unsure of what the reaction might be and didn’t want to squash it before it began. I asked Steve Schmidt how the reception of having a “ghost” program at the library was going. He responded, “I’m getting some shifty looks from some folks. There are a couple longtime employees who won’t discuss it at all, but I suspect that is because they’ve had an experience but don’t want to admit it. There are a couple 20-25 year employees who are actually mad about it. Not at the thought of the program, but rather at the thought that they have never had an encounter…and want to.”
The project will be taped for inclusion in the State Library archives, so all those in attendance have a special opportunity to leave their mark on state history by being a part of the program. The idea that the program will finally let the cat out of the bag about the ghosts of the State Library intrigues Steve. “We have 4,000 school aged kids (so far) scheduled to visit the library in 2015. Although the stacks are off limits to the general public, we take the kids down to the first level so they can get an understanding of just how many books are down there. (It’s designed to hold 500,000 volumes).” Steve can’t wait to integrate the story of the “ghost of the stacks” into his tour and see the kid’s reaction. Stop in and catch the program this Saturday and you can meet them yourself and become a part of the haunted history of the “Ghosts of the Indiana State Library.”

Al Hunter is the author of the “Haunted Indianapolis”  and co-author of the “Haunted Irvington” and “Indiana National Road” book series. His newest book is “Bumps in the Night. Stories from the Weekly View.” published in 2014. Contact Al directly at or become a friend on Facebook.