A ghost on King William Street

Paranormal Historian recounts hair-raising research in Trove
Profile picture for user Allen Tiller

Ghost hunter, paranormal historian and Trove enthusiast Allen Tiller tells an appropriately spooky tale about his research into an Adelaide ghost sighting, in the lead-up to Halloween.

Three ghost-themed images from The Australian Women's Weekly
Serialised fiction illustrations from The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-title112

In 2016, I was invited by the Adelaide City Libraries to undertake a world first Paranormal Historian in Residency project titled Haunted Buildings in Adelaide. As part of the residency, the public were invited into the library to tell of their own personal ghost encounters around buildings in the City of Adelaide.

A terrifying encounter

One particular gentleman recounted a story of a haunting in a building on King William Street, Adelaide. He alleged that staff in the building witnessed ghostly goings on that couldn't be explained rationally. The paranormal phenomena included the overpowering smell of smoke and the sounds of screams and alarms, all with no known source.

The most chilling account came from a former staff member who I interviewed privately. She worked in the building during the 1990s, often in the basement. One day, as she was going about her work, she reported being overcome with paranoia and felt as if someone was watching her. She knew she was alone in the basement, but the feeling was overwhelming, and just as she was preparing to go back upstairs it happened…

Before her eyes, the image of a young woman appeared. The woman looked to be in great pain, tears streaming from her eyes, mouth open in a tormented scream. The smell of smoke filled the room and the air seemed to heat up. Suddenly, the apparition looked as though she was burning, then abruptly vanished into thin air. Terrified, the employee ran from the basement. She quit her job not long after and never returned.

A tragic history uncovered

I began to research the building in question and found out it was the premises of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Ltd in the 1950s. Armed with this knowledge, I set myself up for an evening of research on Trove. I found articles describing the auction of the property in 1949 and within another article I found a story leading to events that 'explain' the alleged ghost story.

The Advertiser article: "Five die when fire sweeps city restaurant"
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954), 28th October 1948, pg.1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page2657382

Prior to being a bank, the building had housed the Covent Garden Restaurant. It was a busy, three-storey business, frequented day and night by Adelaide’s hungry socialites. In 1948, disaster struck when a fire broke out in the kitchen and soon became out of control. The building was evacuated, but some staff remained trapped in the kitchen. There were no fire escapes on the building, and many upstairs diners escaped by jumping from windows and balconies onto King William Street below. Five people were burnt to death in the building, with another woman dying a few days later from her injuries.

The Advertiser article: " Another Covent Garden fire death"
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954), 8th November 1948, pg.3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article43790383

The history of the location, in this case, ties together with the details of the alleged haunting. The employee who experienced the paranormal phenomena had no prior knowledge of the disastrous fire, nor the deaths of the six people associated with it. The link between the employee's experience and the historical event does not prove the existence of ghosts, but is an interesting coincidence that can certainly make one question the possibility.

For all types of research

If it wasn’t for Trove, I would have spent many hours in the State Research Centre looking through records, then many more hours researching newspaper stories via microfilm. Trove not only saves time, but also travel, as I can do all my research from home.

Trove has become one of my main resources when researching the history of allegedly haunted locations. It led to many great finds for both of my paranormal-themed history residencies at the Adelaide City Libraries in 2016 and 2017. My 2017 residency, titled Developing the Ghosts and Ghouls Self-Guided Walking Tour, involved two public tutorial sessions where I taught Trove research tips at the libraries' History Hubs.

Trove is an essential research tool for any budding paranormal enthusiast, from beginner ghost hunter right through to Cryptozoologist, Ufologist or Professional Paranormal Investigator and Historian!

Allen Tiller is the recipient of the History Council of South Australia’s 2017 Emerging South Australian Historian of the Year Award. Allen is also the author of a paranormal themed book and blog The Haunts of Adelaide: History, Mystery and the Paranormal, a ghost tour The Ghosts of the Port Self-Guided Walking Tour, and is an internationally recognised authority on paranormal investigation and history.

This blog was first published on the National Library's Trove blog site in October 2017.