Bernardsville Library used to be located on 2 Morristown Road in Bernardsville, NJ. The house was built in 1710 and started out as a tavern, then became a farmhouse. Eventually it became the library for this little hamlet and was known and loved as such for many years.
The story involving the purported ghost, Miss Phyllis Parker, begins in early 1777. The story, according to Randolph Liebeck in his article for Fate Magazine (Oct. 1996), goes like this:
“… it is popularly believed that the origins of the haunting can be traced to early 1777, when the building was the Vealtown Tavern (Vealtown was Bernardsville’s original name). Troops from General Washington’s Continental Army frequented the tavern on the campaign from Princeton to Morristown. The innkeeper, Captain Parker, ran the tavern with the help of his daughter Phyllis, who was reportedly in love with the local physician, Dr. Byram.
In January 1777, General Anthony Wayne (portrait right) and his staff stopped at the inn for a night of relaxation. While there, the General’s courier pouch containing vital secret documents was stolen. Everyone in the tavern at the time of the theft was accounted for with the exception of Dr. Byram. When Captain Parker described the doctor to Wayne, the general immediately recognized him as the notorious Tory spy, Aaron Wilde. Byram/Wilde was kept under surveillance and soon arrested by Continental forces with the stolen documents on his person. He was tried, convicted, and hanged on the spot. Captain Parker retrieved Byram’s body and, determined to provide a proper burial for the man his daughter loved, secured the body in a wooden crate and returned it to the inn to await burial the next day. Parker told his daughter the crate contained the body of an executed spy, but he could not bring himself to tell her it was her beloved Dr. Byram.
Late that night soldiers heard the sounds of chopping and tearing wood. It is not known why Phyllis frantically tore open the crate with a hatchet, or why she may have suspected Byram was inside. Perhaps she overheard Wayne’s troops talking about it earlier that evening. The next sound heard was the horrendous, night-shattering scream of a young woman whose mind snapped upon the sight of her lover’s dead body. Local history maintains that the event left Phyllis hopelessly insane.
There is no record of her life after this point, or of her death, but it is believed that the ghost of Phyllis Parker returns to the site of this tragic occurrence on cold winter nights to replay the drama for new and unsuspecting audiences.”
According to Liebeck, the reports of a haunting didn’t begin until 1875. At that time, the building was being used as a farmhouse. The residents reported hearing footsteps, clothes rustling, and windows opening and closing. One night, the woman at home had a terrible experience. Please note that her report predates the knowledge of the Phyllis Parker story. That was uncovered by historians later on.
According to Liebeck, “On a cold January night in 1877, the lady of the house was home alone with her infant child. While sewing she was startled by the sounds of slow, heavy footsteps on the kitchen porch and what sounded like several men carrying a heavy object. Frightened, the woman listened to the sound of the kitchen door opening, footsteps crossing the wooden floor, and a heavy crate or box hitting the floor. The footsteps then traveled out the back door. Silence followed and the woman sat in her room, afraid to look in the kitchen.
Soon the noises started again with the sounds of wooden panels being ripped, pounded, and torn apart. The baby, in an upstairs bedroom, screamed in fright. The mother bolted from the sewing room and ran upstairs. She grabbed her child and latched the bedroom door as the terrible cry of a woman’s incomprehensible grief erupted from the kitchen, echoing into the night. The scream gave way to a series of mournful sobs that slowly faded away into silence. A later search revealed that the house was locked, empty, and undisturbed.”
Do I have to tell you that the site of this woman’s kitchen was previously used as a dining room back in Captain Parker’s day?
Reports continued on and off over the next century, but it wasn’t until 1974 that the next “solid” account surfaced.
“By this time the public library was in operation at the site. A staff volunteer walking from her car to the library entrance saw, through the front window, an apparition of a man dressed in eighteenth century clothing. A search revealed that the building was empty.”
Later in the 1980s, library employee Martha Hamill was staying late at the library finishing some work. She heard strange voices murmuring somewhere in the building and thought maybe some people had gotten in. She searched all the rooms and found she was alone and that the doors were all locked. Returning to her desk, she again heard the murmuring voices and contemplated checking the basement. But she was too frightened, so she packed up her things and left for the night.
Soon after, another staff member, Maria Mandala, was working late at night by herself when she heard a woman’s voice humming or singing. It didn’t actually upset her, but she searched the premises and confirmed she was alone. Another time she noticed that all the lines of the library’s phones were “in use”, and when she picked up the phone, no one was on the line(s).
The last known apparition is supposed to have occurred in November 1989. A small boy wandered to the entrance of the reading room (yes, formerly the dining room in Captain Parker’s era). He called his mother to come see the lady standing inside. He said she had dark hair and a dress that went down to the floor. The mother, nor the librarian, could see the apparition.
Leibeck also reports that the local police were aware of the apparitions at the library. One former Police Chief was walking his beat in 1950 which included looking around the library each night. One night he noticed a movement within the building and followed it around, window to window. He said he had seen a “female figure wearing a long white dress that trailed on the floor.”
He reported the sighting to his sergeant who told him it was just the ghost which he himself had seen several times. Another officer told Liebeck that “a regular routine for officers on the night shift is to park across from the library, hoping to catch a glimpse of Phyllis while having their sandwiches and coffee.”
Some notable ghost hunters visited the building over the years including Ed and Lorraine Warren and Norm Gauthier. Liebeck and his team of researchers were also allowed to conduct an investigation of the building. Interestingly, it turns out that Liebeck refers to his team as “fellow police officers and paranormal investigators”. That adds a new twist to their credibility, at least in my opinion. They also brought a civilian psychic with them who had previously worked with New Jersey law enforcement. Again, interesting.
Liebeck detailed their investigation on the night of April 7, 1995, in his article. In a nutshell, they didn’t catch any significant evidence. There was one major camera failure but they had to put it down as an “untimely coincidence” lacking any corroborating evidence to go along with it.
It may be. I think the most interesting “evidence” is the reports by the police of having seen the apparition of Phyllis Parker. Policemen generally aren’t fanciful people, they are busy looking for humans who are up to no good, solving problems, and helping people in distress.
Nowadays the building is privately owned and as far as anyone can tell, there haven’t been any recent hauntings.
Til the next time!