Hidden Library Tour Reveals Little-Known, Possibly Haunted Areas

J.D. Williams Library is more than just books, librarians say

Librarian Alex Watson (right) shows a Hidden Library Tour group a micro-book, a tiny bound copy of hymns and prayers that once was used in church services. The book is part of the collection in the Harrison Room of the J.D. Williams Library. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The Well of Souls; a cold, dark mezzanine lined with cages; a haunted bathroom – these are just some of the secrets of the J.D. Williams Library.

A crowd of more than a dozen students, professors and university staff members crowded in the front entrance of the library on a recent Wednesday afternoon to see Alex Watson, librarian and conductor of The Hidden Library Tour.

Watson, who has worked for the University of Mississippi Libraries for nearly 15 years, said he has been on campus almost long enough to know all the secrets the mammoth campus building has to offer. 

Watson led the troupe of library explorers up six flights of stairs to Mezzanine C. When the library was first constructed, it had six floors, Watson said. Later, renovations condensed it into three primary floors and three mezzanines, which have fewer modern amenities and are probably not haunted, though you can’t be too sure, he said.

Mezzanine C, perched atop the roof, is a quiet space with views of the surrounding campus and is home to student carrels, small study rooms where graduate students can study in “monk-like” silence, Watson said. It also may be the home of a ghost.

A tiny, 1950s-era bathroom – complete with a pastel paint job to match – has been the subject of much chatter on that quiet floor, he said. Many students – the most recent only two weeks before the tour – have reported people going into the bathroom but never coming out.

“People have complained about someone being in the bathroom too long, but when a librarian goes to check, there is no on there, and the door is locked from the inside,” Watson said. “The question is, ‘Who is locking themselves in the bathroom, and why?'”

Although there is a secret trick to the doorknob that allows someone on the outside to unlock the door, Watson said many students are convinced it is a library ghost.

Librarian Alex Watson (left) explains to attendees of the Hidden Library Tour on Oct. 26 that the ‘coldest and darkest’ floor on the library is actually a light- and temperature-controlled area that helps to maintain delicate items in the university’s archive. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Down the winding staircase, Watson led the group to Mezzanine B, the coldest and darkest floor of the library. Metal cages line the silent hallway, and only a few yellow lights dot the corridors.

The dungeonesque nature of the floor is actually on purpose, Watson said.

“That’s a feature, not a bug,” he said, noting that library archivists store collections of printed works there, where cooler temperatures and lack of light help preserve the materials. “I think it’s the spookiest place in the building.”

Alas, no ghosts have been reported on Mezzanine B, he said, at least not yet.

The final stop for the library tour was a place Watson has dubbed the “Well of Souls.” Mezzanine A, which comprises many shelves of books and single-person study rooms, is where students report hearing bangs, loud noises and rumbles in the walls near the Well of Souls.

Watson gestured to a small, nearly invisible hatch in the beige plaster. The door, painted the color of the surrounding wall, was barely noticeable at first, but in slow, dramatic fashion, opened onto a dark space filled with boxes and shadows.

“This is the Well of Souls,” Watson said. “I started calling it that a while ago, and it’s caught on. It’s really just the gap between the exterior brick wall and the interior wall of the library.” 

The Well of Souls is used mostly for storage, he said.

And the rumbling on Mezzanine A? Watson pointed to the blood-red pipes crisscrossing the ceiling, noting that Mezzanine A happens to be at the heart of the library’s plumbing system.

“These probably lead to the very strange sounds – and occasional floods – on this floor,” he said.

Although the building may not be haunted, Watson said tours such as this are intended to show some of the features the library has to offer. Not the Well of Souls and haunted bathroom, but the study areas and wealth of resources available to students.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is reach out with workshops and programs to students we wouldn’t reach by other means,” he said. “This is one of those programs.” 

This was the first hidden library tour in almost five years, though Watson said he hopes it’s not the last. Check the library website for upcoming events and resources.