By RAY WEMMLINGER
Everyone is always asking me if The Players is haunted. What I can tell you is this:
Staff from the club office, people who never met each other, have come to me three times over the years with almost identical stories. They were working either very late at night, or on a weekend with no one else in the building, when they distinctly heard footsteps in the rooms above them, which the library uses. When they checked, no one was there.
Other staff members have had odd, sometimes frightening, experiences up there. I'm sure some of the stories were exaggerated, but others were from very levelheaded people and were fairly straightforward. Tales of shut doors opening. Footsteps, with no one in the direction they were heard from. That sort of thing.
In the Nineties there was a new night doorman, back in the time when doormen worked round the clock. He quit after one night. In the morning he greeted the doorman arriving for the next shift out front, where he'd spent most of the night, and he never came back even to pick up his check. It seems that after all the members had left and he'd checked upstairs and made sure everything was locked, he heard someone walking around the top floor.
I have worked on that floor since the bulk of the library moved up there in 1987, exchanging second-floor space — including what is now the Burman Room — for the old single-room-occupancy bedrooms. Until then the most exotic experience I'd had there was meeting the wonderful character actor Henry Jones, whom you may remember as the hapless janitor incinerated by a cherubic Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed.
Very gradually over the years, I started to experience an odd sensation — really impossible to describe — in a certain place in the narrow front hallway. Intuitively, I started to sense there was a ghost of a woman waiting there. Which was strange, because the rooms were always only for men, and had been closed before women became members of the club. But for forty years before becoming The Players’ clubhouse, the building had been a private home, and the census reports are full of listings of household members and servants. And children: I'm remembering now the technician who, when working in the club office opposite the Booth Room, heard a child playing on the other side of the wall.
For obvious reasons, I said nothing about this to anyone, for a very long time. And then one day I decided to ask another staff member, who'd been here nearly as long as I have, if he'd ever had a strange experience in the building. Without hesitation he said yes. When I asked where, he pointed to exactly the same place in the top floor front hallway.
One weekend afternoon, after he'd helped the club manager — at the time a woman — prepare for an evening event, she had left. After locking the front door behind her, he went upstairs to use one of the old bathrooms to get ready to work the event. Suddenly he heard someone in the hallway outside the closed door, and the distinct swish of a woman's dress. Thinking the manager had returned, he opened the door and called out to her, but there was no reply. Concerned that he might have left the front door unlocked, he hurried downstairs to check. But it was still locked.
Around seven years ago, I was giving a tour. Downstairs, while I was talking, I noticed one elderly fellow repeatedly closing his eyes, which I thought meant nothing more than that he found me boring, which I'm quite used to. Then, in the Booth Room, someone else in the group asked about ghosts, and I told them the above story. As they were leaving the elderly fellow lingered, and then approached me. "I'm a psychic," he said. "I've made contact with that woman. She's very surprised you know she is here. She says she's supposed to be here. Her name is ----."
Right after he said the first name I stopped him. After all, I have to work here. Not that I'm frightened: I'm more inclined to be frightened of living people, like terrorists and certain members of the club, than of the dead. But still, I work mostly alone on the top floor, and in the early mornings I'm the only one in that part of the building, and there are grey and shadowy days when I avoid looking in the direction of that hall......
A year or so ago, I was in my office near the end of the day when I heard an odd noise over on that side of the building, and went to investigate. I was shocked when I turned the corner and in the dim light saw a woman in exactly the place I've been describing. But it turned out to be just a club member who'd sought out a remote corner to use her cell phone.
Ray Wemmlinger has worked at The Hampden-Booth Theatre Library, then The Players Foundation, since 1983. His YA novel Booth's Daughter was published by Calkins Creek in 2007, and as an ebook in 2015.