Excerpt from White Rock, The Novel, Chapter 4
Laura crept up the flight of stairs carefully so as not to allow her footfalls to frighten whomever or whatever she might find. With each step the humming grew louder, an awkward melody echoing through the ether. It was familiar in a strange way, something she remembered from her childhood perhaps. Sad and quirky, what was once nothing but a forgotten ditty had just become a tool of communication between her and something from beyond.
Turning the corner she saw a boy, probably a few years her junior, sitting on a clear bench against the golden spires of the perforated barricade. He was engrossed in something in his hand. Looking up, he smiled at her. She smiled back knowing that he was not real, only a reflection of something that was once living, a shadow cast on the ground by a soul walking into the sun.
The boy’s face turned grave and he shook his head as if in answer to her thoughts. He stood and held up the object in his hand, showing it to her. It was a dead rosebud, dry and shriveled, cupped in the smooth white skin of his palm. His eyes were enormous brown windows staring right through her. She felt waves of sadness coming from him.
The boy abruptly turned and threw himself at the barricade, his body passing through the golden security wall, which seemed to shimmer in and out of transparency. Instinctively, Laura lunged towards the barrier but there was no way to reach him in time. And even if she had been able, what she was witnessing was a ripple in the pool of Time; there was no way to prevent what had already happened years ago. She was simply watching a replay.
Still, time seemed to stop as he fell away from her, through the safety barrier, past floor after floor of glass and steel, his limp body going through a stream of motion in mid-air, a minute ballet, all the while humming the same eerie melody that she now would never forget for the rest of her life. She heard his body impact on the stereogram patterned marble floor seven stories below with a loud resounding crack.
The scream finally escaped her throat and ricocheted through the cavernous space. Below, a dark pool of blood widened and surrounded the lifeless shell of what had once been a boy.
The history of the Bobst Library is colored somewhat by the reputation of the building’s namesake, Elmer Holmes Bobst, a self-made pharmaceutical tycoon, who was not only an outspoken anti-Semitic but was also posthumously accused by his grand daughter and great-grand daughter of both incest and pedophilia.
Further tarnishing the less-than-pristine reputation of the edifice was the curious sentiments of the library’s architect, Harvard alumni Philip Johnson, an open Nazi sympathizer and fascist activist during Hitler’s reign of terror, though he did vehemently reject his views later on in life.
Did these influences leave an indelible curse on the structure itself, or at least create a vortex of deep negativity that set the stage for future calamity within it’s walls? You be the judge…
Impressive and striking, the open atrium of the Bobst Library proved to be a convenient location for three tragic suicides:
- The first suicide was John Skolnik in September of 2003
- Next was 18 year old freshman Stephen Bohler, also in 2003
- In 2009 Andrew Williamson-Noble, 20, of Irvington, NY climbed over the polycarbonate barriers that had been installed and ended his life, marking the third suicide at the Bobst Library.
At that point the school could no longer ignore the potential for additional attempts and needed to install something more substantial and effective than the simple polycarbonate barriers. Having been hailed in 1973 as “one of New York’s most spectacular architectural experiences” by Paul Goldberger, then-architecture critic of The New York Times, the Bobst atrium needed a solution that would prevent any further suicide attempts and be aesthetically compatible with the original design. NYU commissioned Joel Sanders Architect to re-imagine the space. The resulting barrier, named The Pixel Veil, is constructed of enormous laser-cut sheets of aluminum designed to look digitally pixilated, with open rectangles spaced on a tight grid that allows the natural sunlight to stream through from the massive banks of windows of the building. The sheets completely enclose the balconies and connecting staircases around the perimeter of the atrium.
In the spring of 2014, I was in New York City for business. Having an afternoon to myself, I went to the Bobst Library hoping to meander around, take photos, and perhaps experience first-hand some of the residual energy of the spirits that undoubtedly reside there. By that point, the Pixel Veil installation had been in place for over two years, along with an updated security policy that prevented anyone without a valid student ID admittance even to the first floor of the library. I was allowed only to view the atrium from behind the security desk that spanned the entire length of the building. Even from the limited vantage no more than 15 feet from the front entrance, I could detect an underlying feeling, something beneath the quiet activity, like a low voltage shock or a low frequency vibration. It was no stronger than perhaps the nervous feeling one gets after two cups of strong coffee, but it was clear that this breath-taking space was somehow unsettling…