Director of Library Services
Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN
Abraham Lincoln’s ghost wants his jawbone back.
In October, at the height of the ghost hunting craze, a noted paranormal investigator visited Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., to investigate claims that Lincoln’s ghost wanders the balcony of Duke Hall of Citizenship searching for his missing jawbone. The story is that Lincoln’s jawbone is on campus, but it’s down the hill from Duke Hall in the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum. However, the jawbone did supposedly reside in Duke Hall a long time ago.
At least, that’s the story. But leave it to a librarian to quash one mystery while revealing another. I asked the university archivist about Lincoln’s jawbone and this was her reply: “What we have is a jawbone that was mailed to the museum with a note that explained in 1912 a group of young men [translation: fraternity] had found [translation: stolen] the jawbone and wanted to give it to the museum where it could live with the rest of Lincoln’s stuff. It is, of course, not Lincoln’s jawbone.” So whose jawbone is it? (Note to Cold Case producers: my research consulting fee is very reasonable.)
Paranormal investigation is hot right now. A student group, the LMU Paranormal Society, formed in the fall of 2010 and has been investigating some of the many claims of ghostly activity at the 113-year old university. On December 4, a group of about a dozen members of the LMU Paranormal Society planned a late night stake out of the Carnegie-Vincent Library. Since the library closes at 5 p.m. on Saturdays, I agreed to come unlock the doors later that night and stay with them while they investigated. The students wanted to investigate claims of mysterious voices and reports of dancing apparitions on the second floor. (I wanted to ensure it wasn’t a ruse to get into the library after hours to shoot questionable Internet videos.)
The LMU library is an original Carnegie building that was constructed in 1905 and opened in 1906. The building was expanded in 1974 with the creation of the Bert Vincent wing. Further renovations occurred in 1987 and again in 1989. While there is nothing especially creepy about the library building, it is old, and the university archivist insists there are Pod People growing on the walls in the basement. (Note: what is it about archivists?)
The library is also relatively close to the oldest building on campus, Grant-Lee Hall, which is a former 19th Century sanitarium and hospital that burned to the ground twice. Both times witnesses reported seeing a woman in a red dress with an infant on the fourth floor crying for help.
We gathered in the library at 10 p.m. It was a cold, blustery night. The campus was deserted. About a dozen students showed up and milled around the circulation desk waiting to get started. John Ward, a local business owner and documentary filmmaker, arrived at the library with his technical assistant Keith Sweat. (Not Keith Sweat the R & B singer; although that would not have seemed out of the ordinary considering the circumstances.) Ward is an amateur ghost hunter who has been documenting paranormal activity throughout eastern Tennessee and uploading the results to YouTube.
His company, Haunted Homes and Places, has been working with college groups to explore the “other side” in the Appalachian region. Several LMU students are interns and work for Ward tracking down leads, editing video and learning about paranormal investigation. Built into all his sessions is an educational component wherein he describes all of his ghost hunting equipment, the documentary filmmaking process, and the proper methodology for attempting to contact the spirit world. He defines the paranormal as anything that is scientifically unexplainable. For all its seeming kookiness, Ward’s session was instructive and informative.
The students were transfixed as Ward spoke, not only about the technical aspects of paranormal investigation, but also his own experiences, including a chilling story (http://www.youtube.com/user/HHP37766#p/a/f/0/XnQkY2CTD5s) about an encounter with a ghost at Red Ash, near Caryville, TN. Not one of the kids said a word. None looked at their phones. No one sent a single text message. They were rapt for more than an hour. (Note to professors: try embedding stories of the paranormal into your lectures to get students’ attention and increase class participation.)
On the night of the Carnegie-Vincent library ghost hunt, Ward set up his camera and interviewed all the participants individually to get a sense of what sort of paranormal activity had been reported on the campus. Incidents included doors slamming for no reason, mysterious sounds, hard to decipher voices in empty corridors, and Lincoln’s ghost. One girl reported that during a previous paranormal investigation in the attic of Avery Hall she felt someone run their fingers through her hair. Another girl noted that people outside on the quad late at night reported seeing a man and woman ballroom dancing on the second floor of the library, apparently visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
When the interviews were done a plan was made for the remainder of the night. Ward explained the utility of an assortment of equipment he brought with him, along with the intricate methodologies of paranormal investigation. He demonstrated the Electronic Voice Phenomenon devices (EVPs) and the K-II EMF (electromagnetic field) meters, informing the group that spirit energies produce an electromagnetic field that can be detected by the K-II meter, indicated by a little light escalator that increases in intensity with the level of paranormal activity.
For documentary purposes, Ward brought two digital cameras, a bunch of flashlights, sensitive microphones, and a professional movie camera with infrared capabilities. He also had a ghost box, which was intriguing. Essentially, the ghost box is an AM radio that rapidly scans frequencies listening for paranormal interference. Supposedly, the ghosts can manipulate the radio’s white noise into words, which can then be recorded. (Note to techie librarians: try to develop a ghost box for the reference desk that will interpret bizarre, mumbled reference questions.)
Eventually, it was time to hunt ghosts. The main group split into smaller groups and spread out around the quad to investigate other buildings where reports of paranormal activity were more numerous. Two separate groups opted to monitor the library. One group thought the criminal justice section (HV6001-9960) might be a logical place to find ghosts, reasoning that books about serial killers might present some level of paranormal transference. Another group checked the basement. Despite my concern, the Pod People did not swarm.
After several hours, the night was coming to a close. Ultimately, none of the amateur ghost hunters found any evidence of paranormal activity at the library, or anywhere else on campus that night. There were no spooky recordings, and no inexplicable blurry images on the video. Though one girl did tell me her motion-activated flashlight flickered off and on several times while she was sitting on the floor in the stacks. But, neither Ward nor the students were discouraged by the lack of paranormal evidence. Ward said he was eager to return to campus to do more exploring in the caves under the quad, and the LMU Paranormal Society has already asked to investigate the library again. This time I think I’ll steer them toward the occult sciences (BF1404-2055). You never know.