Mysterious America

Illinois State University’s Loyal Librarian

Some say the ghost of “Aunt Ange” lingers among the books she carefully cataloged when she was alive.

Founded in 1857 and originally a teacher’s college, Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois is currently home to around 23,000 students and faculty, as well as one tenacious ghost. This ghost is said to be that of Angeline V. Milner, or Ange for short, a librarian who remained with her books long after she passed from this world. As head librarian for 37 years, she was so beloved by the school that Illinois State University named its library after her.

Angeline Vernon Milner was born on April 9, 1856 in Bloomington. By all accounts, she seemed to be destined for the work which would become her legacy. According to Charles W. Perry, who assisted the famed librarian for several years and wrote her biography, she learned how to read before she was four-years-old.

Ange began her fated job at the university library on February 1, 1890, and the Normal School Board was so impressed with her skill and dedication that they appointed her as the sole and head librarian in the fall of that same year.

“Aunt Ange,” as the students called her, died in 1928. According to legend, she collapsed while organizing a section of biology books. She was buried in Bloomington’s Evergreen Cemetery, but for whatever reason did not have a headstone until a short time ago. In April 2006, former Governor Rod Blagojevich, along with Mayor Chris Koos of Normal, issued dual proclamations declaring April 10th “Angie Milner Day.”

In 1917, the university moved its library from the Old Main Building to North Hall, where Miss Milner worked until she died. North Hall served as the library until 1940, when a new building was constructed and christened “Milner Library” to honor Normal University’s beloved Aunt Ange.

In 1976, the old Milner Library became known as Williams Hall and most of the university’s books were moved into the new Milner Library, located on the north side of campus.

Many of the older books, still with call numbers hand written on the binding by Ange Milner herself, remained on the third floor of Williams Hall. Since at least the 1980s, staff members working in the Williams Hall archives have reported encounters with what they believe is the ghost of Ange Milner.

Employees have reported eerie feelings, sightings of mist or fog, and even discovered books that inexplicably fell from the shelves. A psychic even claimed to see a “purple column of light.”

In 2004, a former employee named Joan Winters told the Daily Vidette that she had witnessed a full-torso apparition of the former librarian while working in the archive in 1995. She described it as “a five-foot tall elderly woman in a floor length dress wearing her hair in a bun.”

The fact that Miss Milner never set foot in Williams Hall has led observers to conclude that her ghost haunts her books, not a particular location. The haunted books have recently been moved again, to a brand new storage facility much better suited for their preservation. Has Ange Milner’s ghost followed them to their new location, or has she finally found peace? Only time will tell.

One more ghost is rumored to haunt Illinois State University, that of the architect who designed Watterson Towers, the tallest dormitory in the United States. An urban legend circulating campus states that the architect (some mistakenly call him by the name Watterson, others claim he was Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons) went insane and committed suicide. In reality, an architecture firm named Fridstein & Fitch of Chicago designed the towers, which opened in 1968 they were named after Arthur W. Watterson, a professor of geography at ISU from 1946-1966.

Professor Watterson did not commit suicide, but try telling that to students who swear the rumor is true. “Watterson was so upset over how the building turned out that he threw himself from the top,” Brett Gould explained in his recent critical retelling of the legend in the Daily Vidette. Another rumor states, incredibly, that the architect designed the top floors of the building so they would fly off in the event of a tornado, and that the building sinks as much as an inch each year.

Further Reading

  • Pantagraph (Bloomington) 30 October 2000.
  • Daily Vidette (Normal) 27 October 1998.
  • Daily Vidette (Normal) 30 October 1998.
  • Pantagraph (Bloomington) 30 October 2000.
  • Jan Harold Brunvand, Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999, 2001).

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