Halloweekend kicked off Friday with Rush Rhees’ 25th annual Scare Fair, which featured a scavenger hunt, delicious donuts, and gorgeous views from the top of Rush Rhees. 

River Campus Libraries’ (RCL’s) Social Media Manager (and, around this time of year, their resident Scare Fair organizer) Claudia Pietrzak sat down with the Campus Times to discuss the origins of the fair and the myths surrounding it.

“The original point to Scare Fair was because students thought that the stacks were spooky and they were really overwhelmed to go in them, so the event was to have students originally do a scavenger hunt to find books in the stacks to dispel the mystery of the old stacks,” Pietrzak said.

With first-years starting their first research projects around this time of year, the librarians of the 1990s wanted to make sure that students would be taking advantage of all the resources that the library has to offer, Pietrzak continued.

Unfortunately, fire code doesn’t allow for all of the attendees to pack the stacks nowadays, but Pietrzak says Scare Fair is still a great opportunity to see the rest of the library. It’s also a chance for students to learn about study spaces and resources they might not otherwise have heard of.

“We have like nine libraries and library spaces,” shared Pietrzak. “A lot of students don’t know about Robbins Library on the fourth floor. They don’t know about Rare Books. When Studio X opened, it was a great opportunity to show off Carlson.”

The Scare Fair also included booths detailing the many services that the library offers, including inter-library loans, librarian consultations, research assistance, and information and help surrounding regional scholarships.

The scavenger hunt culminated in a trip to the rotunda at the top of Rush Rhees, and the once-a-year (for underclassmen — it’s open during senior week in the spring) chance to peep the best view on campus.

If you managed to get up to the rotunda, you might have noticed how it’s just an empty little part of the building. Pietrzak reports that she’s “heard different things from our archivists, that they originally wanted to have the President’s office up there, but they never fully reinforced the floor. You can’t have a lot of heavy things on it, because the floor will collapse.” 

“The top of the tower is very inaccessible,” lamented Pietrzak. “We wish it was more accessible, but you literally have to climb through a window to get out onto the balcony part, and there’s only one elevator that goes up and down. So it takes a lot of people power to pull this off, which is why we only do this twice a year.” 

Scare Fair is a chance to learn more about what the library can offer and to catch beautiful views from the top of the tower. 

But one question remains: Are the stacks really haunted?

The legend, Pietrzak said, is that construction worker Pete Nicosia fell to his death while working on building Rush Rhees in the 1920s. In the following years, students reported sightings of a man in construction working clothes that responded to that name.

Despite the reports, RCL’s Special Collections librarian and archivist Melissa Mead has not found any evidence of Nicosia, casting doubt on the existence of Pete the Tower Ghost. In fact, Pietrzak contends another library ghost’s existence may be more likely.

“I would argue that actually, Robbins might be a little more haunted,” said Pietrzak, referring to Rossell Hope Robbins Art & Medieval Library in Rush Rhees. “After [Robbins] donated his books, he would come to Rochester and they would set up a cot for him so he could sleep in the library so he could be around his books. And then when he died he just loved his books so much that they think he’s still around just looking after his collections.”

Who knows if we have ghosts floating around Rush Rhees or not? If we do, we’d like to think that they’re friendly. Maybe every year around Halloween, they eagerly await the influx of costumed students exploring every nook and cranny of our wonderful old libraries. Hopefully they are filled with joy at seeing us appreciate everything that they cared for in life, and help our librarians in ensuring that future Scare Fairs remain a treat.

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