The collections management team has always jokingly made reference to “Ms. Crystal, the ghost of Crystal Bridges”: an impish phantom whom we credit with the odd late-night shenanigans some of us have encountered over the years. Elevators that won’t come when called, tools that get set down and then mysteriously disappear, lights that seem controlled by a higher power and not the switch. All have been credited to this impish phantom.
Recounted below are the events from a late night two years ago.
Midnight Office Mayhem
From time to time, Collections Management is asked to receive shipments after hours. Normally, they’re related to exhibitions, or outgoing loans that need to reach the borrowing institution by a specific date. As an exhibition registrar, I am often the one meeting these trucks, and I love it!
The long drive through the forest and the ghostly shimmer of Roxy Paine’s Yield in the moonlight. The muffled creaks of the library floor, and the ghostly moon-figures that emerge from the stacks. The phantom voices heard as you walk through the cubicles, and the hum of the sleeping computers. All the best elements of a scary movie are present, with the knowing, watchful eye of the security officers in the control room as cover.
I have settled upon a little routine on my late-night evenings. I arrive one hour before the truck is scheduled to arrive (like the Boy Scouts, we are always prepared and always prompt). I park my car at the entrance of the loading dock beneath a camera, and quickly slip inside. Once I get inside my office, I flip on the lights and pull up Netflix on my phone. An early exposure to Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho has left me with an inability to be alone in a silent room. I flick on my computer and go about gathering the paperwork and labels needed for the shipment being received. Occasionally, I will set up coffee, doughnuts, and other snacks if we are expecting a long night.
It was on just such a night that I meet Ms. Crystal.
It was a February evening. We were expecting two trucks from California for the Van Gogh to Rothko exhibition. Due to some transit delays, the trucks were not scheduled to arrive until 11:00 p.m. I departed my house that evening and made a quick stop at the grocery store to purchase the requisite mini chocolate and powdered doughnuts our prep team would need to survive the long night ahead. As I walked back to my car it struck me, for a second time that day, how oddly perfect the weather had been. The calendar may have said February, but it felt more like October. The air had been a crisp 45 degrees, and the light the unmistakable golden orange of early October. Even as I loaded the provisions into my car that evening, the ink-pool sky was crystal clear with a large moon.
I arrived at the museum, and parked in my usual late-night spot. As I approached the loading dock door, I swiped the card reader for access. The lock light turned green, but the door remained shut, unyielding to my many yanks and tugs. I set all my belongings down and swiped my card again. Green light, and still nothing. I swipe a third time, and the door would not budge. I call the control room and ask if they can unlock the door remotely, my badge won’t work. They tell me to try one more time and I do. This time the door opens easily. Red-faced and stammering, I chalked it up to the full moon and continued on my journey.
Feeling a little on edge alone at the late hour, I quickly whipped out my phone, pulled up Netflix, and relaxed my nerves with the smooth stylings of President Josiah Bartlett. As I approached the card reader outside my office door, I braced for yet another tug-of-war battle, but the door gave easily, and I slipped quickly into the reassuring cement cube that is the registrars’ office.
Once inside my fortress of solitude, busily distracted by the humdrum of the printer and Netflix, Ms. Crystal began to dissipate from my mind.
Eventually, it came time to make the coffee and lay out the doughnuts, as the art handlers would soon be arriving. I slipped from my office, Netflix in hand, and headed toward our break room, filing past rows of empty cubicles. As I made my way along the rows, the moonlight spilling in, I could hear the phantom clicks of computer keys and whispered voices having conversations. Being, for the most part, a rational and logical person, I reminded myself that the human brain likes to play tricks. My brain must just be associating certain places and actions with certain noises (such as walking to the break room to get coffee). I gripped Toby Ziegler a little tighter and quickened my pace.
Sitting in the blazing light of the break room listening to the coffee brewing, I was soon lulled back into my secure cocoon by Aaron Spelling’s masterful word play. As the coffee maker let out a long low I’m-done gurgle, I noticed a flash of a figure from the corner of my eye.
I turned on my heel, darting out of the breakroom thinking it was one of my colleagues. As I activated the motion-censored lights, the office came to life in a brilliant white blaze. Still no one to be seen. Then came the familiar beep and automatic un-latching of the office door. Coming around the corner, I could see the door closing. I jammed my foot into the open space that remained and yanked back the door.
I scurried down the short corridor, heart pounding in my ears and stomach plummeting to the souls of my feet. Bracing myself for what I might find as I turned the corner, I took a deep swallow and stepped forward.
But there was nothing. Silence. Emptiness. A stillness, so still it seemed movie-like. I moved slowly down the hallway. The prep studio remained dormant—lights off and not a sign of life. Moving past the registrars’ office, I opened each vault: nothing. Black darkness and sleeping friends—the silent, familiar shapes of the artwork arrayed on their racks. As I approached my office, I could feel the embarrassment and silliness racing up my neck and settle in on my checks. How ridiculous the past several minutes must have looked to the control room operator!
I slowly filed back through the modular sea of cubicles, contemplating the several moments and attempting to spin a rational and logical yarn that would explain away my new naturally rosy checks. As I entered the breakroom, Trisha, the first of the preparators had arrived. Stretching my back and feeling relaxed for the first time that night, I made my way to the coffee maker. Suddenly, my back was yet again ramrod straight and my pulse quickened.
The coffee pot was gone. I turned slowly, looking around the break room, and then settled my gaze on the industrial black pump-action coffee thermos sitting on the table next to Trisha. My eyes darted up to meet hers.
“Did you move the coffee to the table?”
“The coffee. Did you move it to the table?”
“No. The coffee and cups were already on the table when I arrived.”
Gulp. Slowly, a grin started to spread on Trisha’s face, followed by a slow, giddy chuckle.
“Have you had a bit of company tonight?”
“I think, I just may have.”
“It was only a matter of time until Ms. Crystal got to you too.”
I moved slowly towards the door, scooping up the cups and grabbing the thermos by the handle, thankful that, while the night was just beginning, the haunting initiation ritual had been completed.