Blankenship, Hall bring strange history of Oak Lawn library to CHS

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Stefanie Blankenship, branch librarian at Oak Lawn Library, spoke to a crowd of over two dozen people at the Cranston Historical Society meeting on March 21 at the Sprague Mansion to explore the history of her branch.

Blankenship is well versed in the history of the library and the myths and rumors surrounding the paranormal activities that are taking place in the library.

“Reverend Briggs and Joseph A. Shaw started Oak Lawn Public Library Association 1889 housed in the Oak Lawn Baptist Church,” Blankenship said. “They started using the former schoolhouse in 1895. They were able to use it for free until 1923 and then they bought the building from the city.”

Laurence Shaw was the first librarian in 1896, and his sister Adelaide Shaw served as librarian from 1905-1909 who then resigned, married and died after childbirth. Laurence’s wife, Harriet Shaw was librarian from 1934-1968.

“The exact number of additions isn't really known, except that they added onto the main part of the school house sometime before it became a library, the children's room and teen room and basement were added in 1965, along with the office, and the handicapped accessible entrance and newer room was added in 1989/90,” said Blankenship.

The Oak Lawn Library has a long and varied history when it comes to being home for spirits and unusual ongoings.

“I’ve had books fall off the shelves, doors open and close, and other types of unexplained incidents,” said Blankenship.

During her presentation, she passed around albums of pictures and historical pieces from the library. One interesting photo was a Civil War flag made by three local women that was originally given to the Quaker House that was next door to the Baptist Church.

“She is very knowledgeable and has a great amount of information,” said Florence Lambrese, audience attendee.

The second presenter was Andy Hall. Hall has been working on a personal project since April 2015.

The Oak Lawn School for Girls was built in 1880, and it was the sister school of the Sockanosset Boys School. It was built on 18 acres, which are now the Brayton Park ball fields. His mission is to find the graves of seven of the schoolgirls who were buried on the property when the school was open.

The purpose of the school was to house girls aged 8-18 who were considered trouble: truancy, being idle and disorderly persons, being lewd and wanton, for vagrancy and for assault.

“I have been in contact with a woman whose great-grandmother was there in 1902. I sent her pictures from that year of several girls in the laundry room of the school and she believes one of the girls was her great-grandmother based on the resemblance to herself and her daughter,” Hall said.

There is a list of girls that he knows are buried there: Delia Flaherty, Mary Haskell, Loraine Herwin, Mattie Malvose, Maggie McCoy, Minnie Pherson and Abby Shepard. He is not sure if there are more girls buried there or not.

Hall has been able to isolate the possible area for the cemetery to two acres. While searching, he has come across quite a few unusual objects.

“I’ve found a Mazda Edison lightbulb from 1910 [it doesn’t work], some fire hydrants and a bowl with a stamp of ‘Hall,’ so I knew I had to do this project,” he said.

Jim Rawley from Rhode Island K9 Search and Rescue brought three of his dogs to check out the area. The dogs all went to an “area of interest,” but nothing was dug up. The search team is coming back in the spring, when the ground is not as hard.

“This has become an obsession for me. It bothers me that they are there and are forgotten,” said Hall.

Ocean State Paranormal will be at the Oak Lawn Library on July 7 for a presentation on their research in Rhode Island, including the library. For more information on all library programs, go to www.cranstonlibrary.org

If you have any information on the Oak Lawn School for Girls or a former resident, contact Andy Hall at ajhall62@gmail.com.

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