The Spectral Scholar’s Seat at the Old New York University
When I attended New York University as a graduate student in history in the early 1970s, I heard a rumor about a ghost, a scholarly ghost no less, at the main library of New York University. The library stuck as a kind of afterthought in the basement of what is now the main undergraduate building of New York University. The library lacked air conditioning and would be frequently be closed almost every other day during the summer because it was simply too hot to be there.
You had to come early to the library because seats were limited. Otherwise, you would have depended upon staff to get you the books instead of freely wandering the stacks. There were no study carrels, no Xerox machines, and no amenities to help with your scholarly pursuits.
It was there while I waited to use the library; I heard a rumor, a legend, that a particular seat was “lucky.” Whoever sat there would simply have the good luck to find the book he was searching for. Even more, a student would find his intellectual faculties heightened that he would think, research, and write so much better. There were students, graduate and undergraduate, who claimed that if sat there when they studied for an examination they would so much better than if they had prepared elsewhere.
The rumor had it that a student named Mark Givens had sat in that particularly seat. He had interrupted his legal studies to volunteer for the Army Air Corps during World War I in 1917. He had the misfortune to die in a training accident and never made it to the Western Front to see action. Perhaps his spirit was in some way is trying to complete his studies by helping others finish theirs.
In 1973, New York University opened the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library to consolidate its many scattered libraries into one up-to-date modern climate-controlled facility for students and scholars. The books of former main library was moved to a new home where everyone could freely move around the book stacks and use the study carrels to their hearts’ content. They now also had access vending machines, Xerox machines, study carrels, break rooms and every other sort of facility to make scholars feel welcome. Alas, no provision was made for the movement of old main library’s ghost who seemed to stopped haunting since alas he no longer had an audience.