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Central library’s haunted stacks flick is too spooky to be true

The Brooklyn Witch Project: Library’s poltergeist doc debunked

Debunked: The Brooklyn Public Library produced fake articles about a 6-year-old girl who supposedly went missing at its central library
The Brooklyn Paper
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The Brooklyn Public Library is putting the trick in trick-or-treat.

A group of crafty librarians fabricated news stories, filmed a fake documentary, and lied to this paper, all to make it appear that the central library at Grand Army Plaza is haunted, this paper’s paranormal investigations unit has learned.

The elaborate hoax began in 2011, when the library released a 13-minute documentary about the ghost of six-year-old Agatha Cunningham, who went missing at the landmark book depository in 1977 and whose ghost now haunts the stacks in the building’s sub-basements. Or so the story goes.

The online video features library patrons, workers, a police officer, and even library President Linda Johnson, all testifying about their encounters with the lost girl’s ghost. Faded photographs show Cunningham with her family at different stages in her life — she disappeared just after her birthday and the party is memorialized in a picture — as her mother talks about her disappearance on a fateful field trip to the publication palace.

Agatha lives on as a poltergeist who whooshes around the lower levels, making spooky noises and occasionally throwing tantrums, as she did when the library threatened to empty her haunt of books. The library played off the ruckus and the damaged books to journalists as an instance of raccoons rummaging through the aisles, chief librarian Richard Reyes-Gavilan tells us. Cunningham’s classmate Howard Berman gives an unnerving interview about how he took a job at the library to be close to his missing friend, which is the creepiest episode of the film — creepier even than when two teens have a shaky, handheld camera run-in with the ghoul and are locked downstairs.

But, as online commentators first pointed out, no Agatha Cunningham appears in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s registry. Fishier still, the only source material shown in the phantasmal flick is a news clipping from the Brooklyn Eagle that archivist Ivy Marvel pulls out of the back of a deep cabinet. But the vaunted Brooklyn Eagle stopped publishing in 1955 and, except for a failed revival in the early 1960s, remained defunct until a science-teacher-turned-publisher picked up its name in 1996, ultimately winning use of it from former Brooklyn Paper honcho Ed Weintrob.

When we first asked Marvel for a look at the clipping, she said it was lost.

“When I went down to double check, the files were gone,” she said. “I don’t know if the documentary has gotten more exposure and someone took them. That’s its own mystery.”

But close inspection revealed the piece to be a doctored version of a New York Times about the 1979 disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz from the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan.

When this reporter confronted a librarian responsible for the documentary with evidence of the hoax, she readily fessed up.

“There are no actual facts that are involved in it, but we wanted to create the illusion that it could be true,” said Leigh Fox, the Central Youth Services librarian, who screens the movie as part of an event for teens.

So why would the institution’s entire administration help cook up such a creepy tale?

The whole thing was done in the name of fun, Fox said — and fostering healthy skepticism in her kids.

“There’s kind of a side lesson,” she said. That you can’t always believe everything and you have to do your own research.”

We commend the book-minders’ attention-getting efforts (can we really be mad at a bunch of librarians?) but we question whether making up a story about a dead child haunting bookshelves is the best way to promote literacy.

You can weigh the evidence yourself on Tuesday, when the tricksters will screen the documentary and answer Agatha questions at the central branch.

“Agatha Cunningham (The True Story)” at the Central Library [10 Grand Army Plaza at Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Information Commons, Meeting Room 1, (718) 230–2100, www.bklynpubliclibrary.org]. Oct. 29, 4–5 pm, ages 10 and up.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.
Updated 10:16 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

John Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
Pardon the interruption, but I do believe I know Agatha Cunningham and, you'll excuse me for suggesting this, it is possible that she haunts may such parts of Brooklyn, not the least the library, despite what these crafty cat-lovers might have you believe, if you don't mind my saying. Thank you once again.
John Wasserman.
Oct. 24, 2013, 10:03 am
John Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
Nice try, but obviously not a true Wasserman. Thank you for reading.
Oct. 24, 2013, 11:07 am
Charles from PS says:
Of note, it's not really a lie when everyone knows is not possibly true to begin with. An example: "Godzilla was seen on the top of the Brooklyn bridge." See what I mean?
Oct. 24, 2013, 1:14 pm
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
the first floor men's room is haunted with pervs.
Oct. 24, 2013, 3:28 pm
ty from pps says:
Oh man! That's Tal Barzilai's favorite word... right in the headline!!
Oct. 24, 2013, 4:30 pm
Ingrid from Kensington says:
Hi, Jaime, I'm Ingrid and I've worked on this project. This movie was made by a couple of our teen interns a couple of years ago. Pretty good for a bunch of kids, right? We're really proud of their work.

I think you misunderstood what we were doing here. 1) We're celebrating some awesome kids who went above and beyond as library users and made this great video. You may not approve of the topic and that's fine. You're not a 17 year old Brooklyn boy. 2) We teach about information literacy here at the library, meaning, don't believe everything you read on the internet. We wanted one of the *kids* to out this project. Not you. In two seconds of Googling you've sort of blown up our spot and what we've tried to accomplish.

I get that you've figured it out and I'm proud of you, but this was really an activity for the children, not for a journalist who we would hope would understand it anyway.

I don't appreciate what you've done here and don't really understand why you've honed in our little information literacy project.
Oct. 25, 2013, 11:52 am
JP from Bayonne says:
you debunked the work of two teens? cool story, bro! great journalism! pulitzer-worthy.
Oct. 25, 2013, 11:54 am
sharon m from bushwick says:
This was clearly not meant to be serious or believed...it was meant to be a fun program for young people. Were you actually duped by it and thus felt you had to ruin the fun for everyone else? Spoil the hard work of, from what I see in the comments, teenagers? I am confused. HEADLINE: BLAIR WITCH ISNT REAL!!! HEADLINE: OUIJA BOARD DOESNT REALLY TALK TO DEAD PEOPLE!!! I mean, really? The fun is in figuring it out...in almost believing...in playing the game. Good job at being a total weirdo fun killer.
Oct. 25, 2013, 12:26 pm
AG from Greenpoint says:
So how does it feel to have undermined an innovative teen program at an urban public library? You've clearly moved from reporting to inserting yourself in the story. Perhaps you'll attend the event in order to answer that question.
Oct. 25, 2013, 12:37 pm
Phillipa from Park Slope says:
If this was an internal "educational project" of the Library, then the newspaper story is completely inappropriate. But if this "project" approached the newspaper, or led the newspaper on in an interview and those involved are now pretending that this hoax was some kind of "educational project" after getting caught, that is a complete abuse of the Library and I would hope anyone who was part of it would be fired.
Oct. 25, 2013, 1:24 pm
Ingrid from Kensington says:
Rest assured, this was an internal project. Please don't fire us. Thanks, Phillipa. We're just trying to make education fun over here.
Oct. 25, 2013, 1:34 pm
John Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
If you'll excuse my saying so, sometimes these articles are not exactly the brightest bulbs on the tree of journalism, if you know what I mean. I hope you do. Pardon the interruption.
Oct. 25, 2013, 1:55 pm
Roberta from Clinton Hill says:
"Library’s poltergeist doc debunked"? You asked the librarian if it was real and she said no. That's not debunking. Debunking requires research.
Oct. 25, 2013, 2:49 pm
Bill Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
Just how many other Wassermans are there in Windsor Terrace! Seriously! I actually AM one, and I have a son who's name is John (not old enough to use a computer so I suspect the above isn't him). Is this some kind of strange joke I just don't understand.

And to the writer, yeah, it's ghosts. No sane person actually believes in those.

~Bill (Father of a real John Wasserman).
Oct. 25, 2013, 4 pm
John Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
Hello Bill Wasserman (if that, indeed, is truly your real name). John Wasserman. I can't help but feel taken aback by all of this. Perhaps we should meet at a beer bar, while I myself had no idea that there were other Wassermans in the neighborhood. Do you know Will and Jeanie? This could be quite interesting, if you'll pardon my saying so on the air like this.
Oct. 26, 2013, 3:07 pm
Josh "John" Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
Dafuq? It's Josh "John" Wasserman from Windsor Terrace here, son of Bill Wasserman from Windsor Terrace, now OLD ENOUGH to use a computer and I don't appreciate you using my name from Windsor Terrace. I also hope they fired Ingrid and those responsible, like Ingrid. And the "teen" interns received no credit.
Nov. 29, 2015, 11:35 pm

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