Tucked away in a corner of the Wellington Plaza, in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, is a charming little bookstore called Rivendell Books. Named after the Elven kingdom of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and complete with a little elf printed on the business card, the little bookshop specializes in used, rare, antique, and out-of-print books, and has, according to its owner Wendy Cahill, has “too many books to count.” The store was opened about a decade ago, and back in those days it used to be that you could just bring your books in and a deal could be made for them on the spot. Over the years, the books piled up and is now known as a bit of paradise for rare book lovers, where one can spend hours wandering through rows stuffed with old books, immersed in the smell of them, and surrounded by walls painted green to invoke the feeling of being in a forest, and there are even chairs to relax in and a kids’ section for young ones to play while their parents peruse the aisles. It really seems like a cozy, family-oriented place, and not at all the sort of place one would expect to find ghosts, yet Rivendell books has gathered a reputation for not only being a haunted bookstore, but indeed one of the most haunted places in Ontario.
Cahill first became aware of the haunting when her and her husband began finding things out of place that neither of them had moved, or books moved to different locations during the night when the shop was closed. This graduated to finding whole piles of books stacked up on the floor, and Cahill says of this:
On Saturday nights, my husband and I have a routine where we clean the store. I vacuum and dust from back to front... and then my husband goes from back to front and washes all the floors, and then we go out the front door. When we came back on Sunday, there would be neatly piled stacks of books on the floor, always in the same section, the war section. There’s enough room between the shelves that they couldn’t possibly have fallen, and even if they had fallen, they wouldn’t have fallen in a nice, neat pile. It happened quite a few times. There’s no explanation, as far as we know. Nobody else has keys. I’m not really a believer in ghosts, myself.
Oddly, the books that were out of place or piled up were always on the topic of WWI or WWII, and it was all rather perplexing to be sure. Not long after this started happening, people began reporting seeing an “elderly, grey-haired man in old-fashioned clothing” wandering about the history section, always around the books on WWI and WWII, and although he looked very real and solid, he would vanish into thin air when anyone tried to talk to him, although sometimes he was known to wave before doing so. In some of these cases, there were reports from customers who claimed that they had been tapped or to have had a book they were reading pulled away from them by an unseen hand. Visitors and employees would also have incidents of doors shutting on their own, or of feeling cold even in the middle of summer. There have even been witnesses who saw the ghost without even being in the bookstore. In one such account a woman standing at a nearby pharmacy saw an elderly man pacing about outside of the bookshop during closing hours looking agitated, before finally phasing right through the glass storefront to enter the premises. Even stranger than seeing this spectral World War buff looking at books is that he apparently will even follow people who buy books on World War I or II home. Cahill says of one such case:
A customer once bought a military book, but brought it back a couple days later and he was white as a ghost. It was an older book on the First World War. An older gentleman bought the book, but two days later he brought it back with a story for me. He said he awakened during the night to see this ghostly figure, an elderly man. The man was walking through his bedroom, holding on to the book. He said they made eye contact and the ghost walked into his closet, disappears and the book fell to the ground. He was terrified. He said he went to see his minister, who told him to just get rid of the book. They brought in a psychic who said it was an elderly man who had lived through the First and Second World War who never had any money. Now, he’s just here wanting to read the books. And when he was seen at the customer’s home, it was determined that the spirit had been reading that book and wasn’t finished before it was bought.
The book would pass hands to another customer who reported something very similar. The witness claims that the first night he brought the book home, he awoke in the middle of the night to the startling sight of an older man standing over his bed dressed in old-fashioned clothing and with a rope tied around his waist for some reason. The man apparently waved at him before vanishing. The man kept the book, but the following night his room was filled with the smell of flowers that came out of nowhere, and on another night he awoke to the sound of the ghost flipping through the pages of his book. The last straw was when he woke up on yet another night to find a “bright red curtain hanging over his closet door.” The man would consult a priest, who told him to get rid of the book, and he brought it back.
Before long, Cahill realized that the haunting had started when her store had brought in that particular book, implying that perhaps the alleged ghost is not tied to the location itself, but rather that specific book itself. This would not be the first case of a haunted item, and tales of the paranormal cover a wide range of such objects, from cars, to jewelry, dolls, paintings, even wedding dresses and chairs, among other things, which the ghost has for whatever reason bound itself to in what is often referred to as “spiritual attachment.” Librarian and paranormal writer Helen Power has mused on this and brought up a lot of good questions, saying:
This story seems to point to the idea that it is the book itself that is haunted. Why did the ghost follow the customers home? What is so special about this specific book? Who was its previous owner? How did Rivendell Books come to sell it? Were there any sightings of the ghost at Rivendell Books during the weeks that someone owned the book? Is the spirit attached to the book itself, or was he making nighttime field trips to find his favourite read? If he is haunting this book about WWI, what decade would he have died in? And what is the significance of the rope tied around his waist? Is it possible that the ghost is haunting the book because of its contents? Because of what it does or doesn’t say about him, personally? Was he a forgotten war hero who is only mentioned in this one specific book? Is the ghost haunting one of the last copies, hopeful that his legacy won’t be forgotten? There are so many questions that cannot be answered.
Rather oddly, although the haunting at Rivendell Books is almost exclusively confined to the history section and specifically around that particular WWI book, there has been at least one seriously spooky account from another section of the store, this time dealing with a more macabre book. Power has said of this case:
One day Cahill was working in the back of the bookstore when she heard a loud thump. She raced toward the source of the sound and found a biography of Charles Manson lying on the floor. His dead eyes stared up at her. She stood frozen in terror as books flew off the shelves all around her. They were caught up in an invisible wind that whipped them through the air and flung them at her feet. Is it believable that this ghost would do this? This seems to be a giant stretch from what this spirit had been seen doing previously. And why the Charles Manson book when he was obsessed with the World Wars? Was he looking to branch out in his reading and he didn’t like what he learned? Did the content upset him? I don’t blame him; Charles Manson was pretty sick. Still, that’s no excuse to throw a tantrum.
What was going on here? The haunting of Rivendell Books has over the years drawn in interest from a number of paranormal investigators. One of these is The Haunted Barrie meetup group, which uses equipment such as video cameras, audio recorders, photo cameras and EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors. Although they did claim to get some strange readings at the shop, they nevertheless explained this as probably coming from more mundane phenomena and not evidence of a ghost in this case. Tara VanderMeulen, assistant organizer for the group, says their group typically tries to eliminate the more rational explanations before jumping to the conclusion that it was ghosts, and she says of this:
We want to be able to rule things out.... like what’s a more reasonable explanation? People always get all excited (when they experience something), because yeah, they want to see a ghost. We know that, but we try to keep them busy and active (so they’re not looking for things that aren’t there). If we get something on a recording, we want to be able to rule it out as anything else. And if we can’t... we try to re-enact it. If we still can’t, then potentially it’s a good piece of paranormal evidence. Everybody wants to believe there’s a ghost, so when you explain stuff away, they don’t always love you for it. We still want to have fun, but we also want to educate people.
The paranormal investigation group Ghost Girls of Simcoe County apparently investigated the shop and had much more dramatic results. In this case they claimed that there were many ghosts in Rivendell books, and that it was the “scariest place” they’d ever been. One spirit they claimed to be lurking there is a decidedly malevolent presence, which they say haunts the back room of the store. They claim that when they tried to record in the back room their equipment went haywire and they were only able to capture some fleeting images of a dark, shadowy figure. This testimony, plus the incident with the Manson book makes one wonder if maybe they are right, and there is more than one spirit lurking haunting the shop. After all, neither of these two cases sounds like the doing of a kindly old man who by all accounts is harmless and just wants to read his books. If there is more than one spirit here, then why should this be? There seems to be no dark or sinister history associated with the shop itself or the land it sits on, so are they attached to books as well? Who knows? In the end we are left to ask, why is this quaint little quiet bookshop circled by such strange phenomena and what does it all mean? For now, it is a mystery.