Thursday, 27 October 2016 17:04

Cramer the friendly ghost

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On the second floor of the Julia Ideson Building, the faint sound of violin music has been heard, echoing voices have spooked librarians, and unexplainable cold spots in the building have left both staff and patrons puzzled.

Along with housing collections of rare books, historic documents and old photographs, the Julia Ideson Building is also believed to be the home of Jacob Frank Cramer, an 80-year-old ghost.

In the spirit of Halloween, Houston Public Library held their second annual Scream In for local youth ages 10-15 at the Central Library on October 15. The event included a host of activities, a costume contest and a ghost walk of the Julia Ideson Building.

“The Scream-In is one of Youth Services’ most involved programs,” said Rebecca Denham, a teen services coordinator for HPL. “We had 25 staff, 10 volunteers and 50 participants at this year’s event.”

“Hosting a program exclusively for younger teens allows HPL to reach new teen customers and helps us spread the word that the library is so much more than books and computers,” Denham said.

More than 50 kids attended this year’s Scream In, and bravely toured the Julia Ideson Building, where the ghost legend of Jacob Frank Cramer was born. 

 “He was an interesting man,” said Laney McAdow, manager for the Houston Metropolitan Research Center located inside the Julia Ideson Building.screamin ghostwalk web

“Where ever he worked is where he lived,” said McAdow of Cramer, who took up residence in the basement of the Julia Ideson Building. 

Believed to be a friendly man, Cramer loved to play the violin and owned a German Shepard named Petey, according to Julia Ideson staff members.

“The first time he worked for the library was for the Carnegie Library, the city’s original library that was built in 1904 and is no longer standing,” McAdow said.

“Later he’s appearing in different places in the city’s directory,” she said. “He came back when the Julia Ideson opened in 1926.”

Cramer would spend the next 10 years working as the night watchman, gardener, and handyman before dying in 1936 at 79 as reported in his death certificate. Yet, an obituary post from the Houston Posts states he died at 63.

The birth of a legend

Despite the contradicting information surrounding the date of Cramer’s death, his attachment to his work would become clear in the following years when

library staff began to report unusual activity in the building.

“He loved music and he loved to play the violin,” said McAdow. Cramer played the violin on the third floor after doing his rounds with his beloved Petey by his side.

Both library staff and library patrons have reported hearing violin music and the clicking of a dog’s toenails in the halls of the building, says McAdow.

“One of our patrons who visits the Julia Ideson came to my desk and told me that he was in the John Stuabs conference room,” said Gwendolyn Parker, an administrative associate who works at the front desk.

“The patron said he turned his head and saw a dog,” she said. “When he turned back around the dog was gone.”

It was the first time a library patron told Parker about seeing a dog. But it wasn’t the first time she had experienced or heard of unusual occurrences in the building.

“When I first started, every once in awhile the elevators doors would open on their own,” said Parker, who has spent the last four years working at the Julia Ideson Building.

“Cleaning staff has reported that faucets in the fourth floor restrooms come on by themselves,” she said.

Voices in the stacks

“We have a lot of our old rare books on the second floor of a closed stack area,” McAdow said. “A volunteer was inventorying a children’s book collection from the turn of the century.”

“She had taken a book off the shelf and opened it when she heard from behind her a child’s voice say, ‘hello,’” she said. “[The volunteer] said it sounded like someone was talking through a tunnel.”

“She stopped working on the collection because of it,” McAdow said.

Other times librarians have reported that sheet music would be boxed up in storage and the next morning it would be scattered like someone had gone through it, says McAdow.

Most recently, McAdow experienced something herself.

“We were in a meeting room doing an interview and it got so cold,” she said.

“Everything is really controlled in the building because of the collections, so that was unusual.”

“It happened the same day of the man who reported seeing a dog on the third floor,” McAdow said.

With its Spanish renaissance style and beautiful grounds, the Julia Ideson Building remains a popular spot for downtown visitors. Home to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, it was the first archival branch of the Houston Public Library and was named after Julia Ideson, the city’s first professional librarian who served from 1903-1945.

To learn more about the Julia Ideson Building or to schedule a tour, visit

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