Is there someone looking over your shoulder in Rivera Library?

Tim Baca/HIGHLANDER
Tim Baca/HIGHLANDER

Halloween is always one of the most fun times of the year. Small children parade about in their costumes, Halloween parties liven up the drudgery of an impending winter and everybody gets an excuse to pig out on candy. And of course, there are the obligatory horror flicks.

But some students spent their Halloween the good old-fashioned way: ghost-hunting in Rivera Library. Hosted by the Rivera Library and the Paranormal Research Society (PRS) at UCR, around 40 students took a guided tour of the library and learned about just why so many people believe the Rivera Library is haunted.

Krista Ivy, a librarian at Rivera, introduced students to the potential paranormal activity by first giving a history of the building. The library has existed since UCR was founded in 1954, a small one-story affair that you can still see the vestiges of today. As the campus grew, so too did the library, undergoing renovations in 1963, 1968 and most recently 1998.

The library doesn’t just have an architectural history — it has a morbid one, too, as PRS founder and fifth-year neuroscience major Sierra Santaella explained. Just three years ago, a student worker on the fourth floor suffered a seizure and passed away. Ernst Ekman was a professor of history at UCR whose office was located in the Rivera Library. At the age of 54, he suddenly died in his office of a heart attack. Even the man for whom the library was named, UCR Chancellor Tomas Rivera, was not immune: His death in 1984 also came from a heart attack.

Perhaps the saddest story, however, is that of a woman known only as Carmen. Confirmed by records to have actually worked at the Rivera Library, Carmen had a troubled life at home. Driven to drink, she often hid out in an elevator shaft during her work hours so she wouldn’t be discovered by her manager to be drinking on the job. As the story goes, one night, after drinking too much, she drove herself home. She wouldn’t come back to work the next day — she died in a car crash. It’s rumored that Carmen’s spirit is still present in the library.

The combination of deaths and renovations has led many to speculate that several ghosts still wander the halls of Rivera Library. As we walk through the library, current PRS president and fourth-year environmental science major Grace Hartt explains some of the strange phenomena students and staff have witnessed in the building. On the fourth floor, she shows us the refrigerator that staff have heard opening and closing by itself. Down in the basement, she points to the place where a night shift worker was rattled by a rattling door handle — with nobody on the other side. Standing on the mezzanine of a brick set of stairs, she talks about the construction workers who heard the tramping of feet on the very same staircase, only to find nobody but themselves. Hartt herself says that during one of the PRS’s investigations into Rivera Library, a recording while walking on the very same staircase shows a faint but audible “hello.”

The members of PRS are careful to point out that it is far more likely that there are physical reasons for some of the phenomena. The refrigerator, for instance, could be explained by it not being level, or something heavy weighing against the door. The rattling door handle could be wind or vibrations in the ground. Hartt admits that even the recording isn’t necessarily evidence that there are ghosts present.

“We try to debunk things,” Santaella says. “We welcome any kind of explanation for something. In order to find the truth, we need to examine everything.”

And yet, the odd occurrences continue. As we walk toward our next destination, Hartt says that during the group’s initial sweep of Rivera, the librarians cautioned them that accessing the fourth floor via elevator would be impossible: The fourth floor closes at 5 p.m., and the elevator is programmed to not go there after that time. They hoped to take the elevator to the basement — but it had other ideas. After a stop and a shudder, the elevator zoomed up, depositing the baffled group on the fourth floor. “We didn’t even press the button,” an amazed Hartt said. A library worker overheard her telling the story and piped up — the same thing happened to him late one night.

It’s not just Rivera that’s claimed to be pursued by the paranormal. PRS has been asked to do investigations of Watkins Hall before, and they note that Glen Mor 2, UCR’s newest apartment complex, was built on the site of a house that the owner claimed was haunted. As we finish up, a staff member comes up to Hartt and asks PRS to look at the Geology Building, which she says experienced several odd events recently.

But it certainly seems like Rivera Library has more than its fair share of head-turning events. After most of the group has left to go celebrate the Halloween night, members of PRS stick around: A library worker has promised to let them examine two rooms that are allegedly haunted. The first is a concrete basement filled with humming machinery that makes it difficult to hear one another, and one which a handful of people absolutely refuse to enter. As the lights flicker, Santaella pulls out her electromagnetic frequency (EMF) meter to check for paranormal activity (spirits are said to communicate via fluctuations in EMF, she explains). No dice.

The second room is the archive of unused books, the same place where the rattling was once heard. Here, the EMF meter is off the charts. “I’ve never seen it this active,” Santaella exclaims. We huddle excitedly around the detection device — until someone points out that there’s a wireless access terminal a couple of feet above our heads. We turn our cell phones off and move a few feet away, and the reading dissipates. Disappointing to some, perhaps. But not to PRS — it was an answer.

Even so, the many legends about Rivera Library will probably persist far into the future. And if you feel a hand on your shoulder while studying one night, it may be Carmen herself paying you a visit.

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