Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Evanston Public Library #4: The Corpse on the Circulation Desk

January 15, 2016

Mary Lindsay 2

Today’s story is a sad one that also hints at the bizarre.  Many bizarre stories do have a bit of sadness to them, of course.  Would that all the weirdness in the world was wacky.

Our tale today concerns one of the very first librarians to work at Evanston Public Library.  When the library was founded, ten librarians led it until about 1894 when Miss Mary B. Lindsay came on board.  She was a graduate of the library training school that had been run by Melvil Dewey (he of the Dewey Decimal System) himself and had trained in Albany, NY.  During her time at Evanston the library adopted the aforementioned Dewey system to classify the books (1896), some newfangled card catalogs replaced “finding lists” or book catalogs (1896), the open shelf system was adopted (1898), and they started Sunday hours for the Library (1901).

Miss Lindsay served until 1917.  It was at that time that The Evanston News Index reported that her “resignation as librarian of the Evanston free public library was accepted”.  Not soon long thereafter she fell from the third story window of her brother’s house in Chicago.  Here’s how the report went:

“Miss Lindsay had spent the early part of the morning in the front room of her brother’s home.  At 11 o’clock her sister-in-law went to her room to visit with her.  miss Lindsay was not in the room.  An open window attracted Mrs. Lindsay’s attention, and, looking down, she saw her sister-in-law’s body on the ground below . . . . Her brother stated at noon that his sister’s death was accidental.  Miss Lindsay suffered a nervous breakdown shortly before the holidays and went for a rest to the Hinsdale sanitarium.  She improved rapidly and two weeks ago went to live with her brother.  The news of her untimely death came as a severe shock to her many friends in Evanston.”

Later it mentions that she had resigned after informing the library board “that her physical condition was such as made it necessary that she take an indefinite vacation from her long and arduous duties as head of the institution.”

All well and good.  But then we get to a January 26, 1917 article in The Evanston News Index that announces where Ms. Lindsay’s funeral will be.  And in a rather original move, the services were held not in the First Presbyterian church where Ms. Lindsay was a member but rather in the library itself.  More specifically, her casket was placed directly on the circ desk.  As you might imagine, the funeral was also very well attended, with policemen in full uniforms keeping “the crowd in orderly lines”.  Afterwards she was taken to Peoria for burial.

Mary LindsayBefore you begin asking the librarians of EPL today where you can find the desk where Ms. Lindsay’s remains lay for a while, bear in mind that there have been two different public library buildings constructed since that time.  However, since the library has always occupied the same footprint in town, it is believed that the original reference desk was housed around the westernmost corner of where the children’s room is today.

By all accounts, Ms. Lindsay lived, loved, and died by this library.  To this day you can find a photograph of her opposite the elevators on the fourth floor of our building.  Her funeral was a popular affair because she was so popular, and was attended by the city itself.

As they said of her at her service, “Miss Lindsay is not dead.  She has simply gone on to another sphere of usefulness.”


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