ghosts & museums: two great things that taste great together

Halloween is my favorite time of year. For some reason, I love being scared within an inch of my life. I also love museums. Putting both of those loves together is even better than peanut butter and chocolate!

Read on…if you dare.

ghoulish warriors, ghost birds & hallucinating frenchmen

100 years in operation practically guarantees the National Museum of Natural History is rife with unsettled spirits. The ghostly happenings are detailed here (complete with an eye-opening 1900 Washington Post account of the horrors.)

ghostly admission fees protest

A ghost at an (unidentified) Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México museum was caught on security cameras jumping the turnstiles after hours.

spirit waters & echoes of the “war of northern aggression”

Note: If you’re a subscriber, it’s worth visiting the page simply to hear the  volunteer’s amazing accent. 

haunted period rooms, shadowy visitors & sleeping watchmen

The creepiest thing about the Minneapolis Institute of Arts online ghost tour via flickr has to be the spirit’s red sweater vest. That’s a tough look to pull off, living or dead.

the gift that keeps on giving

It is reported that Caroline Wiess Law, a generous benefactor of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston who died in 2003, cannot seem to part with her beloved collection. She haunts her namesake building by moving preparators’ ladders during late-night installations and employees have heard her ghostly voice  echoing through the corridors.

frights close to home

No ghostly museum survey would be complete without stories from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. As a lifelong visitor and now employee, I have had my share of creepy feelings and strange vibes in some spaces. I was certain I was not alone in my experiences. I polled my co-workers for spooky tales and they were kind enough to (anonymously) provide me with the following:

I was doing a round in the Nelson-Atkins building walking through the Southeast Asian sculpture galleries. Most of the lights were off and I was carrying a flashlight. As I walked into the gallery, I heard a very loud and distinct clap behind me. There was no one there. I didn’t just think I heard something, I know I did. It freaked me out. Naturally, every time I did a round after that incident I was nervous. Two days after that incident, I was doing my round. I slowly walked into the same gallery when suddenly I saw this very deep, black darkness moving alongside of me. The gallery was dark, but some light was coming in from the hallway, and the only way I can describe it was that it looked like a long black smoke cloud that just drifted past me. 

Late at night, Laurence Sickman is seen walking around the Chinese Temple room. Another  figure is seen, although just the pants legs, walking behind the gateway.

I was turning out the lights on the first floor. As I left the ceramics gallery, something made me turn back, like I had forgotten to do something. At that moment, I saw a white figure move across the doorway and through the door into Rozzelle Court

I did the night security watch for several years. I was training a new employee and we were on the second floor near the Southeast Asian sculpture galleries. As we moved into the gallery, I was telling him that part of our job is to watch for anything strange when I felt a breeze rush by about waist-high. I looked down and saw a solid, black, round orb moving past us. It made its way down the hall, leaving smoky vapor trails, and disappeared into the Chinese scroll room. I thought I was just sleep-deprived and seeing things until the new guy said, “What was that?” He looked scared. I said, “What was what?” I didn’t want him to think he wasn’t up to the job, but it gave me chills when I realized I wasn’t just seeing things. Soon after, the new guy had anxiety attacks every time he had to do rounds up there.

I was doing night rounds and there’s always one officer in the command center at all times while the other officer does the rounds. I was checking the women’s bathroom on the opposite side of the floor and the South doors when I heard a loud bang. I went back across the floor to the men’s bathroom. When I opened the doors, one of the heavy, wooden bathroom stall doors was swinging back and forth. Several years before, a visitor suffered a heart attack and died in that bathroom.

During the night, the elevators move up and down on their own. You’ll be doing your checks and suddenly hear them start moving, but no one is in them when the doors open and you don’t see anyone in them on the cameras. You’ll also hear noises  in the hallways, like people talking or having a party, but no one is there. I notice that a lot in the lower levels of the Bloch Building.

I was checking the period rooms on the second floor. This was a long time ago, before they were remodeled. Back then, besides the main hallway, there was an interior hallway that you could take to go from one room to the next. There were motion detectors along the baseboards in that interior hallway. As I walked the exterior hallway past the rooms, the motion detector alarm farthest from me sounded off. I radioed the officer in the command center and asked him to check the cameras. Then another alarm went off, this time closer. The other officer responded back, but when I tried to answer him, I was so freaked out, I couldn’t speak. Suddenly, the alarms started going off faster and faster, getting closer to me. I turned and left as fast as I could. I didn’t want to see what was heading near me! Back downstairs, I asked him if he had seen anything on the cameras. He said no. But he did hear those alarms going off one by one through the radio. 

my tale of terror

Last year, I had a memorable experience in the 14th Century Cloister (this photo is extremely well-lit). The Young Friends of Art happy hour was taking place there that night. It’s a unique space, so I wanted to mention the event on Twitter and include a photo (the tomb slabs were moved to protect them from the partiers.) As I searched  for the perfect spot, I heard whispering right behind me. I turned around expecting to assist a visitor, but no one was there. I would walk a bit further and the whispering would resume. Again, I turned and saw no one. This happened three times, loud enough for me to hear, but not enough to understand what was being said. I checked the neighboring galleries, but they were empty. This was making what was supposed to be a quick project very time-consuming. Out of snarky frustration I said, “If you have something you want to say to me, you need to speak up.”  Nothing.  As I crouched down to take the shot, I felt a cold breeze on my neck and heard a distinct, short burst of giggles. I’m suprised the photo turned out well, because my hands were shaking.  Photo taken, I said, “fair enough” and left as fast as I could.

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever had a paranormal experience in a museum? What is your favorite museum ghost story?

9 thoughts on “ghosts & museums: two great things that taste great together

  1. The Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City at one time had a Small Spanish Chapel reconstructed in the museum which was *very* haunted. They took it apart and allegedly put it into storage in the 1990’s but I think they may have actually sold it on the down-low. Someone needs to quiz the Trustees on that.


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  4. Me and my friends recently visited this museum for an assignment in Art class, we took some pictures and capture some people in our pictures! We were so freaked out, the people in the pictures are clear as day. I tried to upload them on here but dont know how…


    • That’s so creepy! I definitely would have been freaked out. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t let commenters upload pics but if you’d like to send them to me, my email is russell(dot)adrianne(at)gmail(dot)com.


  5. Fun post! I’m sorry I only just now saw it (after Halloween). Working at the Nelson for 14 years, certainly exposed me to a number of “Nelson ghost” stories… but these were some that I have not heard before. I never experienced any eerie happenings or unexplained sitings while I was there, which is surprising because I was often in the museum after hours and in places that were unoccupied (by living visitors anyway)… BUT I think I have made it very clear to the ghosting community that I am just not interested in ANY type of contact – so maybe they are respecting that and leaving me alone! (Although I did feel uneasy at times, which I attributed to me “just freaking myself out” – so who knows!)


    • I’m so shocked that you don’t have ghostly tales to tell after all that time! But I think you’re right, perhaps they picked up on the “don’t-bother-me” vibe you were giving off. I really enjoyed your Fright Week posts, BTW. It really inspired my “ghost post.” 🙂


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