The Haunted Bookshop
So there is a bookstore in Iowa City called the Haunted Bookshop that was named after a mystery novel called The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley. For more than 25 years, the Haunted Bookshop was not haunted but then along came a ghost… called Claire… a ghost that loves books and people who love books. Looking for a ghost story this Halloween? Read owner Nialle Sylvan's story if you dare.
“The bookstore has existed since October 1978, and I bought it two years ago,” said Nialle. “I feel the ghost chose me, and it’s a ghost that loves coincidences. Almost every day some strange coincidence happens and we attribute it to Claire – that’s what we call her.
“The first time I ever walked into the bookstore there was no smell, and I thought that was weird – used books have a distinct scent. But I first really noticed her about two weeks before I became the owner. By then I was actually working in the store as an employee although I’d already agreed to buy it. I had been working late and I left for home but remembered that I’d left the coffee pot on, so I rushed back and ended up sleeping the night in the stockroom. When I woke up, I could distinctly smell breakfast even though nothing was being cooked. I felt someone had already been in the front room.
“There are several things that we attribute to Claire. There is an old chair in the fiction and literature room that creaks at night as if someone were settling into it – that’s her. One of our cats, Nierme, occasionally 'talks' to someone while sitting in the chair - she has a set of noises she uses to respond to human speech, and she makes these at night when no one appears to be in the room. There are also books that appear on the shelves out of nowhere. I know every book in this bookstore because I selected each one, but books I’ve never seen before simply turn up when they're wanted.
“And then there are the weird coincidences that happen on a daily basis. For instance, a lady came into the store yesterday looking for a particular children’s book she hadn’t for decades, though she had searched everywhere. Just at the moment, someone walked in with a box of books to sell - and he had a copy of the book in the box. These coincidences happen all the time. People walk in and say they love a certain author and then immediately find the book they need to complete their collection, or they come in looking for something different and happen to find a book that becomes a favorite.
“I met my husband, Kurt, for the first time in Claire’s Room. I think she brought us together, and we actually got married in the bookstore. She makes connections all the time.
"Even the way I came to be the owner came down to a bizarre coincidence. I stumbled into the Haunted Bookshop with a friend and the owner said he was looking for an employee. He hired me and then not long afterwards said the store was for sale. Now I was 26 at the time and had no money. However, I negotiated and agreed a price even though I had no money. I called everyone who could possibly loan or give me the money but had no luck. Then a letter arrived saying that my grandmother’s estate had been settled and I’d been left a sum of money – exactly enough for me to buy the store. I thought her estate had been settled five years earlier and had no idea this was going to happen.
“I don’t know who Claire is, but I personally feel the books made her. The previous owner said nothing about a ghost. A medium came into the store once and she thought it was a masculine spirit, soft-spoken, hard-working, and esoteric. I think she’s feminine, but maybe that's just because she seems to thrive on relationships. A book falls off a shelf and starts a conversation between two people who become friends; an old letter found in our copy of a familiar book changes that book's meaning for a reader. We love that she contributes to our community.
“My husband and I work in the store with two employees, Evan and Owen, and we all consider Claire to be part of the team. We’ve shared our stories about her with many people but now we like to hear stories from people who visit the store. Someone once walked out of the store and then returned because he was sure Claire had been following him and wanted to bring her back to where she belonged. Another visitor later mailed Claire a book she'd had the author inscribe to our ghost, with a wonderful note about how welcome Claire had made her feel. Maybe it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Claire does seem to make a lot of good friends.
“What do I say to people who think I’m crazy? I tell them, probably, and that might be what Claire likes about me; but that's just part of my story, and Claire is part of everyone's.”
You can visit Claire, Nialle and the gang at the Haunted Bookshop on 520 E. Washington Street in Iowa City, IA.