Is the Duluth Public Library Haunted?

We joined Duluth Paranormal Society’s Investigative Team on a search for spirits

Adobe/Tamara Kulikova

The title sequence for the original Ghostbusters movie follows a mousy librarian into the subterranean stacks of the New York Public Library. When her back is turned, books fly off the shelves and card catalog drawers are yanked open by invisible hands. Re-watching this as an adult, the opening seems ludicrously comical. But as children of the ’80s, this was the stuff of nightmares.

Fast-forward 35 years and you can imagine our reaction when Duluth Paranormal Society, the most established ghost-hunting outfit on the North Shore, invited us to join their investigation at the Duluth Public Library: elation mixed with stone-cold terror.

Founded by husband-and-wife team Andy and Amanda Paszak, Duluth Paranormal Society investigates both public buildings and private homes. Before the group commits to a new project, it conducts a preliminary screening. “You’re trying to profile people,” says Andy, whose day job is as a maintenance director for an assisted-living facility. “Do they need our help, or do they need psychiatric help?”

Paranormal TV shows have become so popular, the couple is very picky about who joins its team. There are 12 of us at the library tonight. How many spirits are present? It remains to be seen.

While it’s a motley crew, everyone plays a role. Andy is Mr. Organization, directing the show. Amanda, who is legally blind but has a heightened sense of hearing, serves as the ears of the group. Joe the Tech Guy’s special equipment earned him the nickname “Geek Squad.” Jackie knows “when things are off.” She can walk through an antiques store, for instance, and be overwhelmed with a heavy, sick feeling, “like something is attached to an object in there.” This gut-punching instinct helps her fellow investigators know where to focus.

And then there’s Ryan, who doesn’t even believe in ghosts. “He’s our True North,” says Amanda. “He’ll say it’s a velociraptor before he’ll say it’s a ghost. Every orb is dust. If our motion detector goes off, it’s a mouse. He always has a logical explanation.”

Courtesy Duluth Public Library

Every investigation begins with a walk-through. At the Duluth Public Library’s back door, we meet Tracy, a former night custodian wielding a jangly set of keys. The three-story library seems utterly ordinary (it’s not even that old—built in 1980). But Tracy, who worked the night shift here for 15 years, says the janitorial staff has reported unusual incidents as long as she can remember.

Nothing really gruesome happened here, Tracy tells us, except for the time in 1991 when a patron committed suicide in the men’s bathroom. That was in the basement, though, and the paranormal activity typically unfolds on the second floor. The North Shore Room, in particular, seems troubled. That’s where the library stores some of its rare archival materials.

Pressed for more details, Tracy recalls taking a snack break in the second-story staff room when she heard rapping on the glass. “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” At first, she thought it was her boss. “Like, haha, very funny,” she remembers thinking. But when she peered out the window at the parking lot below, she saw only one car: her own. “He was never here. But I heard that banging clear as day.”

She also remembers vacuuming the library late at night and noticing a figure standing in the window of Duluth Depot, the historic train station across the street. “I could see him watching me,” she says. “But I never made eye contact. I just figured it was a creeper, some janitor who worked a late shift or whatever.” Tracy was so unnerved by the lurking, however, she stopped vacuuming upstairs after dark. Only years later did she learn that the windows where she’d seen the man standing were in the Great Hall, several stories high. The only way a figure could appear there was on an extension ladder—or by levitating.

Custodians have also reported strange incidents: tidying up desks, only to find a flurry of papers strewn across the floor a short while later; books falling off shelves; sightings of a female specter, cleaved in half; and the sound of sharpened pencils clattering into a pencil cup.

“Huh. That’s pretty distinct,” says Andy, matter-of-factly. He and Amanda have been hanging onto Tracy’s every word. Taking people seriously is a big part of their job.

Ghost hunting is a science, at least the way Duluth Paranormal does it. There are many rules. For safety reasons, everybody brings their own flashlight, voice recorder, and extra batteries. Walkie-talkies are on; cell phones are in airplane mode. If a horn beeps in the street or somebody coughs, you verbally tag it. No whispering is allowed, lest it be misinterpreted as a phantom later. Cameras point at the floor, not the ceiling. “If they didn’t fly in life,” says Amanda, “they’re not gonna fly in death.”

The first hour of our library inquest is devoted to equipment setup. Infrared cameras and audio recorders are scattered about. A laser grid is cast to pick up shadows. There’s a DVR monitor, which two people watch live. Another team of three, armed with K-II EMF meters used to detect electromagnetic fields, is sent upstairs to interact with the spirits. Everyone else clusters into a conference room in the basement—one of many actions to avoid interference. Before placing a camera near a window, say, they must ask if it will pick up an otherworldly glare from the headlights outside.

After stewing in the basement control room for what feels like centuries, we finally head up to the top floor to talk to some ghosts. Sitting in near-darkness, the investigators take turns volleying questions into the ether.

“My name is Bob,” says Bob the Mechanic. “Can you give us your name?”

(Silence.)

“There are hundreds of books in here,” says Amanda. “Feel free to throw one on the floor.”

(Silence.)

“Are you a man or a woman or a little boy or a little girl?” asks Bob.

(Silence.)

“We’re just people like you, here to interact,” says Amanda. “Can you knock on something? Turn something over?”

(Silence.)

Then, a click.

“What was that?” Amanda asks, with urgency in her voice. “Did you hear that clicking? It sounded like a pen.”

“I brushed my head,” Bob offers. Amanda tells him to do it again. Bob runs his fingers through his hair but it doesn’t make a clicking sound. If Zak Bagans were here, he might blame demons. But Bob and Amanda are more level-headed, eventually tracing the clicking sound to an investigator’s bracelet.

“Are you angry that we’re here?” Bob asks the spirits.

(Silence.)

Then, a-choo!

“WHAT was that?!” Amanda hisses. The sound came from the opposite end of the library. We all heard it. Eyes are wide as saucers and goosebumps ripple across skin. Amanda hops on her walkie-talkie, demanding to know if any of the investigators just sneezed.

“Negative,” they radio back.

That was cool,” she says, head shaking. “Makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up!”

Later that night, two investigators noticed suspicious movement on the infrared camera in the basement. Joe the Tech Guy theorizes that it might have been a cockroach skittering across the floor, so he tries to recreate it. Tracy fetches him a dead roach from the library’s sub-basement, which Joe then ties to a string and bounces around like a leashed dog. This is how far Duluth Paranormal goes to show that the movement most likely wasn’t paranormal.

Our investigation wraps up by 1:30 a.m.

Though we’re exhausted, the real work hasn’t even begun. That comes later, when Duluth Paranormal is tasked with twice-reviewing dozens of hours of footage. Since everyone on the team has full-time jobs, the process takes months. Still, Amanda says this is her favorite part: “You’re listening, you’re listening, and then suddenly—what was that?!

North Shore Room

Courtesy Duluth Public Library

After four months, Andy has the results of our library audit. The most compelling piece of evidence came from the North Shore Room: It’s the sound of a chair creaking, followed by a distinct thud—“like somebody pounding their fist on the table.” This is especially odd because no investigators were in the room at the time; they were in another part of the library, their voices muffled in the distance.

The other finding came from a recorder stationed near the U-shaped alcove on the library’s second floor. It’s the voice of a small, male child whispering what sounds like the number nine.

Nine?

“No idea,” says Andy. “And nobody was upstairs then, either. The tape was dead silent on either side of that [whisper].”

We ask if the number nine has any significance to Tracy or the other night custodians. It doesn’t. “They’re just glad we got something,” says Andy. “It proves they aren’t nuts.”

Eat and Stay in Duluth

EAT

Investigators may snack on cheese curds in the control room, but you’d be mad to dip into Duluth without grabbing a hot pastrami Reuben from Corktown Deli & Brews or dialing up a plate of burnt-ends brisket from OMC Smokehouse, both from Duluth restaurateur Tom Hanson. Bent Paddle Brewing Company is always good for a flight, and we love the seasonal cocktails at Vikre Distillery.

STAY

Lock in one of three airy suites at Hotel Pikku in the Lincoln Park Craft District. The boutique inn is kitted out with thoughtful touches like fancy coffee and fresh flower arrangements from Flora North. If that’s booked, head to the year-old Tru by Hilton off Highway 194. With a pool table and board games in the lobby, it’s a chain hotel’s idea of a millennial crashpad.

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