The Haunted Bookshop
219 N. Gilbert St.
Iowa City, Iowa 52245
We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming. To recap our last bookstore episode: while on vacation, my husband and I had stopped in Iowa City and had just enjoyed a visit to the renowned Prairie Lights bookstore. With plenty of time still left in our day, we set off to check out another establishment only a few blocks away, a shop that would prove to be entirely different, yet equally fascinating. I've been saving this one. Now as the farm stands are bursting with apples, potted mums, and other trappings of fall, now when there is frost in the forecast and the suggestion of autumn color, now when corn mazes rather than beaches provide weekend entertainment and thoughts of Halloween are not too far distant, now is the appropriate time to tell you about The Haunted Bookshop.
|Store owner, Nialle Sylvan|
Is the store actually haunted? Could be. But the Haunted Bookshop was actually named after a book. As store owner Nialle Sylvan tells it, a young couple went out on a date, he happened to notice her copy of The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, and she loaned him the book. The couple would eventually marry and then open a bookstore of their own inspired by the Morley book which features a married couple who own--surprise--a bookstore. (Click here for more about the book.)
Being a second-hand store, The Haunted Bookshop is filled, room after room, with the spirits of formerly loved titles waiting to inhabit the reading hours of new owners. Over 52,000 volumes fill the shelves in this repurposed old home, in a broad range of subjects including poetry, sociology, travel, history, and many more.
The store turns 36 years old this October, but has only been in its present location since 2013. The historic house, built in 1847, is the second oldest home in Iowa City. Once a boarding house at the turn of the 20th century, it is a beautifully well-kept example of Greek Revival architecture.
The old wood floors creaked as I roamed through each well organized room. Upstairs and down, the place is lined with books. One area is reserved for children's and young adult titles, and there is also a large selection of games, puzzles, toys, and puppets. Sprinkled here and there are old chairs for shoppers to stop and browse.
Nialle Sylvan has been the owner of The Haunted Bookshop for 10 years, but she told me that Logan, a friendly cat, actually runs the place. He wanders freely throughout the old house along with another cat named Nierme. At any given moment a feline friend can be found sitting atop a bookshelf or gazing out a window from the back of a chair.
|Logan in charge.|
Not surprisingly, Nialle worked in a used bookstore while in college and considered library work as a career path. She truly loves her books and shares a connection with them to the point of what she termed self-identification as bookstore. "There comes a point at which bookstore is body," she says. "I cannot have an intelligent discussion about a book unless I have touched it lately."
Visiting The Haunted Bookshop and meeting Nialle was a memorable experience. My husband enjoyed browsing the store as well. We made some interesting purchases including some quirky scientist finger puppets--Tesla for him, Einstein for our son, and Galileo for our future daughter-in-law. I am surrounded by science geeks, in case you hadn't guessed.
|Nierme relaxes by an upstairs window.|
My taste runs more toward history, and I found the perfect book, a true story of World War II titled Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. How appropriate.
So I guess there actually are, or were, some ghosts in The Haunted Bookshop. Well worth a visit, ghosts or not.