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The Backstory of New York Public Library’s Haunted Reputation

The New York Public Library isn’t just home to an impressive collection of paranormal books – rumor has it: the original location and other branches actually are haunted.

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, which is nestled onto Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, has developed a reputation over the years, with visitors experiencing inexplicable activity.

Whether it’s in the historic Rose Main Reading Room or the ground beneath the library, here is everything you need to know about the New York Public Library’s rich past (and spooky present)!

The History of the New York Public Library

The NYPL has become one of New York’s most iconic buildings, boasting both practicality and rich character. Despite being notorious today, the building had humble roots that contribute to the reputation the building has today.

Founded in the late 19th century, the New York Public Library’s first building came to be thanks to two prevalent already established libraries, the Lenox and Astor libraries joining forces with a grant from Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden donated his fortune upon his death to go toward establishing a free and accessible library for New York.

Though the Lenox and Astor libraries were open prior to the New York Public Library, they would each go on to face financial hardships that led to their closing and the joining of resources to open the New York Public Library we know and love today.

Front facade of The New York Public Library, Dec. 26, 1907, (1907)| Digital Collections, The New York Public Library|The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations

When it came to building the library, a piece of land was chosen that is today known as Bryant Park. From the get-go, the architecture of the library was grand and unlike anything else in the world.

The Haunted Beginnings

Despite this seemingly average, straightforward approach to the library’s conception, nothing in New York is quite what it seems. In the case of the New York Public Library, the history goes much deeper than the polished stories told today.

The Stephan A Schwarzman Building is situated in Bryant Park. Before Bryant Park was Bryant Park, the location played a much grimmer role in New York history: a potter’s field, or burial place for strangers, paupers, criminals, and the poor for over 20 years.

Eventually, the potter’s field would be decommissioned, and the location would become the Croton Reservoir before eventually becoming Bryant Park, which houses the New York Public Library. That means the park and the library itself sit on top of an unknown number of bodies.

Thousands of people lounge on Bryant Park everyday. Little do they know there may be thousands beneath them. Unsplash

If the idea of building a park on top of a former burial place is odd to you, keep in mind this is a mainstay in New York. 

Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, and dozens more locations are said to be haunted due to what lurks below the surface.

Astor Library

When the flagship New York Public Library opened, the resources and entire entity of both the Lenox and Astor libraries were consolidated to form the library we know and love today. Prior to Astor Library merging with NYPL, it had quite the paranormal past itself.

One instance included a ghost sighting by librarian Dr. Cogswell in the library. Published in the newspaper, the general recount of the experience is as follows,

“Three times Dr. Cogswell encounters a recently deceased local physician, who in life did not frequent the library, looking at books on witchcraft, psychics, and horror, but when Dr. Cogswell speaks to the ghost, he disappears. Dr. Cogswell is sent on a vacation, though the author is sure to claim that his story is quite plausible,” according to the newspaper clipping at the time.

Secret Library Apartments

While much of the library’s past is well-documented, a few lesser-known details continue to remain quiet. One of which is that some libraries were outfitted with top-level apartments.

The apartments were intended for practical use when built, like housing custodians who cared for the libraries, especially keeping the buildings heated. However, times changed, and the apartments fizzled out.

What remained, and in some cases still remains, are empty, hollow spaces in an otherwise grand building. One of the branches was described by library employees as a “haunted house.

The Fort Washington Branch was one of the buildings that had both apartments and feelings of haunting! 1914, NYPL, Public Record

Today, the primary library on 5th Avenue’s own secret apartment has been disbanded. The space now serves a more practical function, though it still continues to echo the past.

One of the apartment occupants, John Fedeler Jr., detailed the ins and outs of living in a library, including the story of home birth in the library.

If the secret apartment at the Schwarzman Building were still habitable today, it makes you wonder what supernatural tales are waiting to be told.

The Construction of the Schwarzman Building

Fedeler Jr. also delved into the stories his father would tell when the family lived in the apartment at Schwarzman. 

While he chalked it up to keeping the kids in line, there was also believed to be some truth amongst the children. 

One of the infamous ghost stories told by the original superintendent, Fedeler Sr., to his children included a red-headed ghost in the attic and reading room. 

Fedeler Sr. explained that the red-headed ghost went back to the saying that the library “cost ten lives” to build. That’s right – ten people died during the time it took to construct the library building. 

It’s said that the red-headed ghost that roamed the reading room or attic above was a man who fell from scaffolding during construction. 

This NYPL mainstay stood no chance in avoiding paranormal speculation, with the original occupants passing down folklore rooted in seemingly real history. 


It wouldn’t be a proper paranormal dive without mentioning the role that Ghostbusters played in the New York Public Library’s complicated history.

The Ghostbusters empire has continually referenced the NYPL, but the original Ghostbusters has painted the location as a haunted one, albeit via a bit of Hollywood magic.

A mischievous ghost terrorized a librarian and patrons of the library, and a different variation would occur in the Ghostbusters video game and board game. While not true, this pop culture hit has certainly lent itself to the rumor that the NYPL has a haunted past.

Other Library Branches

The flagship library is not the only one to have its fair share of ghost stories. Other libraries have also earned haunted reputations.

Jefferson Market Library, which is part of the New York Public Library system, has earned quite a reputation as well. Not only does the exterior appear ominous, but there have also been a number of stories to match.

The Jefferson Library in 1963, still standing to this day. From The New York Public Library

Right around the corner from the Saint Germaine building, people have reported seeing figures of women in the building or the nearby Jefferson Market Garden.

Those sightings are chalked up to the fact that the building and gardens used to serve as a prison before becoming a women’s detention center while the library building was a courthouse.

Not Just Ghost Stories

While the idea of New York Public Library’s building being haunted might have risen with the popularity of Ghostbusters, it certainly didn’t start there.

Long before the building opened its doors, the group on which it was built and the forces behind the foundation of the library were all riddled with complicated histories and their own paranormal histories.

Each of these components has come together to create the troubling but charming history of New York’s library mainstay. 

Kylee was born and raised just outside of Sacramento in a small town full of history and charm. She stays up-to-date on the real estate market and hopes to empower hopeful buyers and sellers to make the best decisions for themselves. Kylee is particularly interested in bridging the gap for younger generations, helping them understand the power of owning and investing in real estate.