Spirits in the Stacks?

a spooky view of the staircase to the library's upstairs

In 1990, Auburn Hills Public Library moved into the former Annette Brunette house, a historical home that had been relocated from University Drive to the Auburn Hills Civic Center campus during the development of the Oakland Technology Park. In the 29 years since, some staff members have begun to suspect that they may be sharing the library space with a ghost. They’ve reported hearing unexplained banging sounds and footsteps in the building after hours, seeing a shadowy figure moving through the stacks, and feeling the sensation of being pushed or touched by an unseen force. Are these strange occurrences simply part of life in an old building, or is something otherworldly at play in the library? Perhaps the identity of the spirit stalking the library may be found in the story of a long-ago family tragedy that lies buried in the pages of Auburn Hills local history.

In the mid-1920s, prominent Detroit financier Wesson Seyburn and his wife, the former Winifred Dodge, built a country estate near the corner of today’s Squirrel Road and University Drive in what was then known as Pontiac Township. The Seyburns called their country home Winburndale, and hired William Arthur Johnson, who had formerly worked at the Bloomfield Hills Hunt Club, as their estate superintendent. Johnson lived in a house on the north side of the Seyburn property; years later, he would sell this house to Annette Brunette, and still later, the Brunette house would become the home of Auburn Hills Public Library.

Passport photo of Evelyn and Cynthia Johnson, taken 3 years before Evelyn’s death.

Johnson, who was an Englishman by birth, had a young family. His wife, the former Evelyn Girling, had emigrated to the U.S. from England in 1919, and the couple had married in Detroit in 1922. Their daughter, Cynthia, was born in 1923. The Johnsons were living in the superintendent’s residence near the Seyburn estate when their lives took a devastating turn during the summer of 1927.

One August afternoon, Evelyn Johnson decided to go swimming in the pool at the estate, accompanied by her daughter. An account published in the Rochester Era newspaper tells us what happened:

Mrs. Evelyn Johnson, 31, lost her life in the swimming pool at Winburndale, the estate of Col. and Mrs. Wesson Seyburn, south of Five Points, five miles west of Rochester and adjoining the Dodge Meadowbrook farms. The tragedy was witnessed only by Mrs. Johnson’s four-year-old daughter, Cynthia Anne, who was at the pool with her. . . . The child brought assistance, becoming frightened when her mother stopped answering questions. She was standing near the edge at the time, her body upright and head hanging slightly, halfway between the deep and shallow ends of the pool. She is said to have been in water about six feet deep, with her head not more than a foot below the surface.

Evelyn Johnson’s death was ruled an accidental drowning by the Oakland County coroner, and she was laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery in Pontiac. But does her restless spirit haunt her former home? Johnson’s untimely death represents the only tragic circumstance known to be associated with the library building’s history.

In 2014, Motor City Ghost Hunters conducted an investigation of paranormal activity in the Auburn Hills Public Library and recorded several examples of unexplained phenomena. Below is the video they recorded during their investigation. Their complete report and audio recorded during their investigation may be found here.


If Auburn Hills Public Library does, indeed, share its home with a ghost, it is in good company. Several libraries throughout the country have documented similar experiences. If you are interested in the topic, read more about it in “Phantoms Among the Folios,” an article on America’s haunted public libraries from American Libraries magazine.

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