Greenport Parapsychology Library is looking for a new home
Lisette Coly is not a medium, but her grandmother was.
Eileen Garrett, who died in 1970, “spoke with the dead, healed the sick, predicted the future” and “performed miracles for fifty years with undiminished and frightening precision,” wrote biographer Allan Angoff. She encouraged critical thinking about psychic phenomena – the field of parapsychology, she said, needed scientific study.
“If the strange and mystifying whole of the psychic gift could be torn from the obscurity of the sitting rooms and put into the expert hands of science, everyone would feel much better about the subject and the world of science and of philosophy could be enriched. Ms. Garrett said.
In 1951, with the help of politician and philanthropist Frances Bolton, she founded the Parapsychology Foundation in a Manhattan Brownstone, an institute dedicated to the scientific study of the field. Today, 70 years later, the foundation maintains one of the world’s largest collections of material on parapsychology, the study of psychic or paranormal phenomena, in a building on Front Street in Greenport. And, financially, it is in difficulty.
“The foundation is in great financial distress,” said Ms. Coly, who heads the Parapsychology Foundation. “We’ve been living on an endowment since 1951, so it’s a miracle that we’ve continued as long as we have. But what I want to do, unless the owner tries to sell the building, which was a shock – I thought I had a little more time – I don’t want the collection broken.
The building at 308 Front Street, where the foundation moved in 2005, is listed at $ 835,000 by the Corcoran real estate agency. It houses over 12,000 carefully selected books on subjects ranging from ghosts and the occult to spirituality and quantum physics. Ms. Coly called the collection “arguably one of the best three in the world, and possibly the largest of its kind in North or South America.”
“You could fill shelves with all kinds of schlock books, you know, I call them airport books – how to be a psychic, 10 easy lessons or whatever – no, to get on the shelves at the Garrett, it really is.” intended for academics research, ”she said. “And of course there are things for the general public, because we serve both ridings, and it’s the public that is at the mercy of all kinds of charlatans and what they see on TV.”
The non-profit organization acts as a ‘quality clearinghouse’ on parapsychology, housing everything from rare 16th century manuscripts to theses and cassettes of world conferences held throughout the history of the institute. It even funds grants and scholarships.
“The foundation does not have an ax to grind. We’re not here to jump up and down and say, “Oh, yeah, everything you hear going on at night is definitely paranormal in nature,” Ms. Coly said. “Because obviously there are many, many explanations for the things that happen the night before you jump into the paranormal. At the same time, if you have a really grounded understanding of what these phenomena can represent, or how they exist, then you are so far ahead of the game in taking the possibility of a paranormal existence.
Finances, however, have dwindled over the years, eventually forcing the association to sell the Manhattan Brownstone and move the collection to Greenport in 2005, where it is available by appointment only. The foundation is looking for funding to maintain the collection, but if this is not possible, Ms. Coly hopes to find a university or library to follow him. She wants to keep it together.
“Now what I’m trying to do, unless I can find an angel to endow the library – because now, with the mix of selling the building under me, it doesn’t make sense to move unless have the money to move with her, ”she said. “I’m just postponing the inevitable. So I try to place it in various universities. I really want the resource to be used.
The problem, she added, is that the collection would not be free.
“A lot of universities would love the collection, but it doesn’t come with an endowment,” Ms. Coly said. “From what I understand, it takes money to integrate it into the university’s electronic catalog. They must have space for it – in fact I was here this morning with my daughter at dawn trying to find out how many linear feet [the collection is] because one of the universities asked.
The collection is largely out of use since the pandemic, Ms Coly said. When based in Manhattan, people stopped there frequently and until lockdown, the library was popular in Greenport as well.
The foundation has a strong personal meaning for Ms. Coly. Her mother took over her grandmother’s institute and Ms. Coly followed in their footsteps. Even now, she is helped by her daughter, who is a staff member of the institute.
“It wasn’t meant to be a family affair,” Ms. Coly said. And yet, in her library office, her desk is flanked by oil paintings of her mother and grandmother. The institute was founded only a year after its birth; she grew up with it.
“When I’m sitting here alone, buckets of tears,” she said of the potential loss of the library.
But either way, the foundation’s legacy will continue, she added. And she does not yet intend to “give up the ghost”.
“If anyone wants to donate on our website to parapsychologie.org … We are fully tax deductible, ”she said.