Building home to unsolved mysteries, 2004
Building home to unsolved mysteries
CUMBERLAND — If buildings could live a life, the Washington Street Library has lived a few in 155 years.
Its foundations are part of the tunnel system that was used to shelter the soldiers from Fort Cumberland as they moved around and hide slaves running toward freedom. The building on the foundation became the first public school in Allegany County. During the Civil War, the building served as a hospital for wounded soldiers. The most recent life is that of a public library.
All of those lives and experiences have left behind traces of their passing such as the box full of centennial celebration artifacts found beneath the children's library.
There are other such traces to be found. In the attic, the rafters have been signed by people who have ventured into the darkness. Another item found buried in the basement is a painting of an unnamed woman.
And then there is ... the ghost.
From the second floor, climb the metal rungs up past the drop ceiling and push aside the attic panel. You might cough as you disturb the dust, but pull yourself up into the darkness that is broken only by the single window on the wall over your head.
During the day, it is enough to light up the finely crafted trusses. Rather than joined by metal plates, these pieces of wood are fitted together. They are made of 2-by-8 inch beams when beams actually measured 2 inches by 8 inches.
On the truss that is farthest from the window, yet still clearly visible, are five signatures: Joe Myers, H.L.D., A.H.G., E.O., M.P Each name is also dated when it was written: 1894,1911,1994.
"I don't know who any of these people are," said Library Director John Taube. "They could have worked on the roof at different times or they might just have been students who climbed up here to have a smoke where they wouldn't be seen."
This summer when the librarians needed book stops, Carl Emerick, who takes care of the maintenance for the building, ventured into the basement. The boiler room and the storage room yielded no finds.
He turned his attention to another unused room. It was under the children's section of the library. It was windowless and half-filled with dirt. Most of the area was filled with odds and ends.
Among the junk and dirt, Emerick found a painting, a hand-stretched canvas over a wooden frame. It was covered with a layer of dirt and had a tear in it, but when he brushed the dirt away, he found a face staring back at him.
The middle-age woman was white-haired. She had been painted from the rear with her head turned toward the artist.
"Her dress is almost classic with its natural tapestry look and V neck," said Taube.
The canvas is unsigned and there are no markings to indicate a clue as to the subject or the painter. No one who has seen the painting knows who the mysterious woman was.
"It's possible that when someone donated a collection to the library that it came in at that time," suggested Taube.
For now, the painting sits unidentified. It is clean and waits for its next home, which will hopefully be better than the backfill pile in the library basement.
"It's one of those oddities that we're not sure what we're going to do with at this time," said Taube.
Yet one more piece, albeit unidentified, of the library's history.
Emerick was walking up to the second floor early one morning before the library opened. He had only walked up a few steps when he heard a door slam loudly.
He turned and ran back to where he thought he had heard the noise but he found nothing.
"There are only two doors without automatic closers," said Emerick. "One is wooden and wouldn't have made a noise like I heard. The second is metal and was locked."
That started Emerick wondering. Could there be? He knew there was no such thing, but how else could some of the odd things that had happened in the library be explained?
Did the library have a ghost?
The slamming door wasn't the only instance that has left Emerick wondering about the supernatural. Twice he has set his tool box on a chair in the library boiler room. When he returned both times, his toolbox was upended about 3 feet from the chair and the chair appeared not to have been disturbed.
"Its a romantic idea having a ghost. Everybody wants one, but getting rid of it is another problem," said Emerick.
More people than Emerick feel unsettled at times in the old section of the library.
"The staff seems to have a general rule of don't come up alone in the dark. You come up in pairs," said Taube.
Even patrons seem sensitive to the library and its 155 years of history.
"There is a patron who doesn't like to come up (to the Maryland Room) in the late afternoon. She gets a bad feeling," said Taube.
At times, there have been odd smells upstairs that no one could identify.
"Only on this side of the building will you notice anything. It's never on the new side," said Emerick.
Whether it's a ghost of a dead soldier or simply the weight of history you can almost feel in the building, the Washington Street Library continues its service to the community and continues to collect traces of all those who walk within its walls.
James Rada, Cumberland Times-News
Public libraries, Maryland, Allegany County; Allegany County Library System (Md.), Anniversaries.
Allegany County (Md,), 1924-2010