Thursday, December 12, 2013

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

I guess it’s time to confess our secret: We have a ghost at our offices and her name is Marcia. It’s actually Marcia Crocker Noyes. Marcia was the librarian at MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society where I work, and when our current offices were built in 1909, an apartment was built for her on the top floor. In essence, a penthouse!
Marcia started her library career at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and then took a position at MedChi in 1896, when MedChi was located in a building several blocks from our current location. She was in her mid-20’s when she started and the library had about 7,000 outdated volumes.Marcia crocker noyes
In 1889, Sir William Osler, one of the founding physicians at the newly opened Johns Hopkins Medical School, arrived in Baltimore and set to work with Marcia to revive MedChi’s library. He was a noted bibliophile and had a large personal collection of books on various topics. Sir William and Marcia worked to build a widely-respected library, and when our building was erected in 1909, a large four-story stacks library was created that was renown in the world’s medical community. IMG_2969x
Her apartment, on the top of our building, was a lovely four room flat, with lots of light, big windows, a working fireplace and a view out over the city. She kept a vegetable garden in what is now our parking lot. Her apartment was considered the first penthouse in Baltimore!Marcia Noyes2
Marcia worked diligently to create a state of the art library and at her death, 50 years after she arrived, the number of volumes totaled more than 65,000! Img 027She was well-known in the emerging field of medical library sciences, and in fact, the highest award for a medical librarian is named for her. She became become the first woman and first non-physician President of the of Medical Library Association in 1933.
In her 50th year of service to MedChi, a large party was given in her honour. The doctors knew she was dying and pushed to have it earlier in the year, although her anniversary was in November. She was still living in the apartment on the top floor, and working in the library, although an elevator and a dumbwaiter had been added to make things easier for her.
She died in her apartment in November of 1946, 50 years after she arrived. Her funeral was held in Osler Hall, named for her dear friend, Sir William Osler, and 60 doctors were honoured to act as pallbearers.sideboard2She’s still here in spirit, if not more. There are documented cases of her being seen in Osler Hall, and odd things happen in our buildilng. In her old offices, you can hear someone typing on the keyboard, even when no one’s there. If she doesn’t like the song on the iPod, she changes it to a new tune. As I approached our old elevator the other week, the door magically opened – no one was around and I hadn’t heard it arrive.
When we did our tour of our building on October 30th, I was talking about Marcia and all that she did, when suddenly, the lights dimmed, flickered and went out. There was no one near the switch, and you couldn’t dim the light-bank even if you tried. We think that it was Marcia letting us know that she was there. Wheels squeak in the stacks, and you can hear muffled footsteps. Things turn up, even though they were NOT there before… like the painting I found a few weeks ago!
As the colleague who works in Marcia’s former office read through this blog, her mouse began to move and scroll backwards. Apparently, Marcia hadn’t finished reading the entry, possibly the one on her old friend, Sir William Osler.
According to some evidence which I found on the internet, where, you know, everything is true, Marcia spent her summers at a camp on Lake George in the Adirondacks.
At first, the only building housed the kitchen with its huge, wood burning, cast iron stove and the great room with floor to ceiling book shelves, used principally as a dining hall for the girl's camp that had existed there since the turn of the century. The girls slept on narrow, World War I army cots in large canvas tents rigged on wooden platforms. There are still women in their eighties and nineties on the Lake who relish sweet memories of their girlhood summers at Camp Seyon. Marcia Noyes (Seyon is Noyes spelled backward), who ran the camp, was an internationally known medical librarian at Johns Hopkins University {sic}. Johns Hopkins provided her a pent house apartment in Maryland and the Medical Librarians Association still gives out a yearly award in her honor. But Miss Noyes' summers were dedicated to the camp and her girls. Marcia had the Main House floated down from an island in the Narrows on a barge; the Camp was, then, a virtual island. A boggy path led across the isthmus to the peninsula; vehicles were left on the mainland.
Seyon 1
Oddly, there’s a Seyon Lodge on Noyes Lake in Vermont, but I am not sure whether the two are connected.
There is much to be admired about this woman who worked so hard for us, who was beloved by all – her employees stayed with her for years – and who did much to advance library science. She was the Google of her day, being available to doctors 24/7 for 50 years. She’s a benign presence here and still a revered figure in her chosen field.


  1. Hi there - one small correction in your delightful accounting of the life and work of Marcia Noyes. The award that is given annually in her name is given by the Medical Library Association, not the Medical Librarians Association. I think I should like to meet her ghost someday and thank her for her contributions to medical librarianship!
    Best regards,
    M.J. Tooey
    MLA President 2005-2006
    Janet Doe Lecturer 2016
    AVP, Academic Affairs
    Exec. Dir. Health Sciences and Human Services Library
    University of Maryland, Baltimore

  2. Love this story about Marcia. Wasn't she a beauty?