The lady vanishes

Former worker said to haunt Snohomish Library, at least in spirit


Herald Writer

SNOHOMISH — She’s described as a loving woman who liked to dress in blue.

Nobody knows much about her, except that she was a dedicated librarian in Snohomish in the 1920s and ’30s. So dedicated that some think she’s still there.

As the story goes, it’s Miss Catharine McMurchy who haunts the 1910 Carnegie building.

The haunting came to light in 1991 when children’s service librarian Debbie Young was taking a break in the staff room.

"I was sitting in a little cove area, eating my lunch and reading a book, when I heard something come clumping down the stairs," Young said.

She was referring to stairs that led to a loft storage area above where she was.

"I put my book down and got up to look, and I saw an older woman walk to the door and exit the room.

"I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. It’s a library patron who doesn’t know that this area is off limits to everyone but employees.’ So I followed her."

But when Young got to the door and opened it, the woman was nowhere to be seen.

"I looked down the hall and walked over to the stairway to look down to the main floor, and I didn’t see anyone who looked like the woman I saw. I thought that was kind of funny because an elderly woman couldn’t have possibly moved that fast."

Young went to the main desk and asked co-workers if they’d seen the woman.

"They said, ‘I guess you’ve met the ghost of the library,’ " she said.

The staff informed her that several people believed that the spirit of the former librarian lives in the library.

Soon after, a maintenance man at the library told Young about his encounter with McMurchy.

"He was in the library before it opened one morning, working on something on a computer," Young said. "He heard a loud bang coming from the loft area. So he went to find out what it was."

He didn’t find any source of the noise, but he did find an old-fashioned heater that was "glowing red" and just about to catch the library loft on fire.

"There was never any reason for the loud, crashing bang," Young said. "But it couldn’t have happened at a better time."

Young and the maintenance man believe it was McMurchy warning them of the overheated heater.

Young is the first to admit that in order to experience anything like she did with McMurchy, a person has to have an open mind.

"I guess you would say that I am more aware and more alert to these kinds of things than most people," she said. "We had a spirit in our house when I was growing up in Montana."

Young, who left the Snohomish Library in January to work in her husband’s food service consulting business, said the spirit still haunts the library.

"All throughout the time I worked there, when I was in that loft area that became a workroom for us, I felt a sense of real peace.

"She’s happy to be there and likes people being in her library," Young said.

Assistant Library Manager Mike Bergeson also has had "experiences" with McMurchy.

"The very first day I came to work here, I was being shown around, and we were in the basement," he said. "As we walked down the hall, I felt the temperature drop about 30 degrees. It was like a cold spirit passed by.

"I blurted out, ‘Do you have a ghost?’ "

Bergeson has researched McMurchy and found that she moved with her family to Snohomish in 1909. She was one of three sisters who worked at the library. Catharine began June 15, 1923, the year after her father died. She was at the library for 16 years, leaving because of health and other commitments Feb. 9, 1939.

An article in the Snohomish Tribune at the time said, "During the 16 years she has served, she has won the friendship and respect of hundreds of patrons."

Bergeson said it appears that McMurchy spent retirement in Snohomish at the family home on Fourth Street, near Glen Avenue, with a sister, Anna. The two moved in 1950 to a Seattle nursing home.

"No one yet has figured out just when she died," he said. "But we found it ironic that the story in the Tribune when they moved to Seattle had this headline: ‘McMurchy Girls Say Farewell, But It’s Not Goodbye.’

"Apparently everyone knew she’d be back to visit the library, one way or another."

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