The Ghost of Angie Milner
On a shadowy late afternoon in 2002, Joan Winters, a library employee, felt a sudden chill as she was searching for a book on the third floor of Williams Hall. Just as she began to pull the book off the shelf, she glanced up and saw a vague figure in a floor length flowery dress disappearing around the corner of the biology section. Her heart pounding, Joan crept over to the biology books. Would she at last be able to get a good look at Angeline Milner, the first paid librarian at Illinois State Normal University, who had died in 1928? But when Joan turned the same corner, the figure had disappeared.
Does the ghost of Ange Milner haunt Williams Hall? In the past, there have been at least two dozen sightings of this shadowy figure, Ms. Winters told a campus reporter. Sometimes, the shape itself is not there, but things have been moved in Ms. Milner’s favorite area. A student worker, who refused to believe any such tomfoolery as ghosts, removed five books from the biology section, and put them on a table. She went in search of another book, and returned only a couple of minutes later to find that the books on the table had been reshelved, even though there was no one else near. Other times, books began falling off the shelf for no reason whatsoever, furniture was moved, and lights have been seen burning in the middle of the night even though library staff members swore they had turned off all the lights before they left the library.
Dee Damkoehler, the librarian at Metcalf School, had an altogether different Williams Hall library experience. She says that when she was a student at ISU in the late 1960’s, she spent a LOT of time in the library. She studied in a small reading room off the grand hall, where most research was conducted. This reading room had couches and comfortable chairs. Dee spent most of her study time sitting on one particular couch that faced the quad, so every now and then, she could look out at the peaceful scene that featured trees and meandering students. The staff got so used to seeing her there, that no one paid much attention to her.
One night, Dee was studying for finals. She had been concentrating for such a long time that she grew tired. Her head slipped lower and lower, and before she knew it, she was sound asleep. She’s not sure how long she slept but finally, she was awakened by a soft feminine voice telling her, “Wake up, child. Wake up, child.”
Dee opened her eyes. At first, she was disoriented. She couldn’t figure out where she was. Then she realized that dawn was breaking, and that she had spent the entire night in the library! Had the voice been a dream? There was certainly no one else in the room, and neither was there a perception of fear or tension. A feeling of peace settled over Dee. She knew she’d be in trouble, if the staff realized she’d been in the library all night, so she waited calmly until she could hear others moving about, and then she walked out…sensing that she had been safe through the night because someone had been watching over her.
Mike Lockett, another storyteller in our storytelling organization, says that when he was a student at ISU at about the same time as Ms. Damkoehler, he used to visit the library in Williams Hall late in the evening, especially when he needed materials to help him finish last-minute assignments. In order to even reach the third floor stacks, he had to climb a circular metal staircase. The floors were also made of metal, so he could easily hear other people who were trying to find materials.
Every once in a while, he’d pull one book partway out, only to see another one that looked better down the way a bit. He’d move over to investigate the second book, and by the time he went back to check out the first book, it would be back in its place, even with all the other books on the shelf.
“Maybe,” he thinks, “Someone on the other side of the shelving unit had reached through and pulled that book back, giggling to himself or herself about how startled I would be. But in that case, I would certainly be aware that there was another person in the area, wouldn’t I?”
Mike says that he often felt a chilling breeze on the back of his neck while he was searching for a specific book. The breeze would be enough to create goose bumps and make his hair stand on end.
“Maybe,” he says, “Someone opened the back door of the library at the same time someone else opened the front door, and a cross draft was created…but up on the third floor?”
If you accept the fact that there is a ghost, and that’s a big IF, why would
Ms. Milner want to wander about Williams Hall? That building wasn’t even built when she was alive. Some of the staff at the current library on the ISU campus think it’s because she was cataloging books in the biology section when she died, and that she loves books so much she returns to see if she can finish what she started.
Ange loved books even when she was very little. She learned the alphabet before she was two and could read by the time she was four. Ange was home schooled, so her mother made sure their home contained lots of good books. One of Ange’s jobs was to care for and arrange those books.
When Ange was in her mid-twenties, she got a job helping an Illinois State Normal University science professor catalog his books. While on campus, she became friends with Jesse Fell and his family who recommended that she become the university’s first full-time librarian. They had seen how hard she worked while studying library science on her own. In 1890, when Ms. Milner began her job as a librarian, she discovered about four thousand books scattered in several different campus locations. Ange moved all the books into one place and organized them, so students and professors could find them easily. Ange worked so hard that by the time she died, the library had ten times the amount of books that were there when she arrived. She was an outspoken, tiny lady, who had an uncanny ability to sense when students were asking questions because they were too lazy to do the work. But she also loved helping those students who in her opinion “deserved it.” Among these students, she was known as “Aunt Ange.”
About a month ago, I decided to visit Williams Hall to see if Ms. Milner’s favorite section of old books is still there. In case you’re wondering, Williams Hall is only a couple of blocks away from the Normal Public Library on the east side of the quad. Maybe I’d be lucky enough to catch sight of Ms. Milner.
I entered the building that used to be ISNU’s library when I was a student in the early 1960’s, before Mr. Lockett and Ms. Damkoehler were here. It was always bustling with people then, but now there wasn’t a soul in sight. Talk about a spooky building! I wandered around shadow-filled hallways for ten or fifteen minutes, peeking into empty classrooms, and deserted offices. Finally, I discovered a few old books and accordion files. But these were in a room that was flooded with sunlight. There was not a shadowy figure in sight.
Disappointed, I came home to e-mail Bruce Stoeffel, a Milner Library staff member who helps me do research about local history. He told me that most of the books that used to be stored there have been moved to an off-campus warehouse. The materials I saw were some books about ISU history. Those will most likely be moved to the warehouse soon. He says the Milner staff hopes that Williams Hall will be renovated soon, so Ms. Milner’s favorite books can again be returned to the site where the her vague figure has been seen so often.
There’s another theory that it’s not Williams Hall that’s haunted, it’s the books themselves. Especially when some of the books were moved to the current library, named after Ms. Milner, and strange things started to happen there, too.
Does Ange Milner haunt campus libraries to work on the books she loved so much? Why not visit the library and find out. Most of the biology books are on the fifth floor. While you’re there, ask one of the librarians about Ms. Milner. Everyone has his or her own stories and ideas about ISU’s famous ghost.
THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS by Barbara L. Dallinger, “Illinois State” Volume 3, Number 2
“The Ghost of Angie Milner” prairieghosts.com/milner.html, Stoeffel, Bruce. E-Mail. February 12, 2007.
Lockett, Mike. Program at Metcalf Laboratory School, February, 2007
Damkoehler, Dee. Program at Metcalf Laboratory School, February, 2007.