There have been countless documentations of strange manifestations occurring at Willard Library — faucets mysteriously turning on and off, guests experiencing chills, and elevator encounters with a specter. Ghost stories grow in abundance as Halloween nears; so do the number of tours captivating those looking for The Grey Lady in the Victorian Gothic masterpiece located at 21 First Ave., which opened in 1885.
A night janitor first spotted the apparition in 1937. He saw the veiled spirit dissolving into the shadows. Soon after, he quit his job, and she has been seen recurrently since.
“No one really knows who Willard’s Grey Lady is,” says Library Director Greg Hager. “Some say she is the ghost of Louise Carpenter, daughter of library founder Willard Carpenter. (Tales describe Louise becoming upset when her father left the majority of his estate to the library.) Other ghost hunters have suggested that it is not Louise at all, and others maintain there are multiple ghosts haunting Willard Library. Regardless of who she is or why she haunts Willard Library, The Grey Lady has become the world’s most famous library ghost.”
Few people recognize the library’s spiritual connection to Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California, just across the bay from San Diego. Renowned architect James W. Reid designed Willard Library, and, along with his brother Merritt as the Reid Brothers architectural firm, designed the hotel, a spectacular seaside resort. Similar to Willard, Hotel del Coronado, which opened in 1888, also is known for its own presence haunting its corridors.
Kate Morgan was not well known when she checked into the hotel in 1892, but after she committed suicide, public intrigue surrounded the mystery, and Morgan began to be referred to as the “Beautiful Stranger.” Interesting tales still are told about Morgan haunting the aura of the Queen Anne-style hotel (some contemporary theorists believe the young woman might have been murdered).
“I think that it speaks highly of the talent of the Reid Brothers that not only are Willard Library and the Hotel del Coronado still in use today as the vibrant places they were intended to be, but that in both cities, the buildings are iconic and architecturally significant,” says Hager.
Is Reid’s ghost-crossed connection a simple coincidence? Christine Donovan, director of heritage programs at Hotel del Coronado, has written seven books about the resort, including one about the reported ghost entitled “Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado.” Donovan finds the “ghostly” connection between The Del and Willard Library to be expected.
“The Reid Brothers designed very artful, inviting, and comfortable buildings, so it’s not surprising that generations of residents, travelers, … and even ghosts are drawn to them,” says Donovan. “In that the Reids tended to specialize in structures that accommodated the public (libraries, hotels, churches, office buildings, etc.), it makes sense that these buildings have been well used, with many potential ‘return visitors.’”