Corbin Library in Crisfield is also a Mausoleum

Llilyan Corbin
Lilyan Stratten Corbin

The Corbin Library in Crisfield is the only library in America that also serves as a mausoleum. It is named for Lilly Ann Corbin, born in Crisfield in 1882 who was farmed out to relatives as a teenager because her parents couldn’t support her. And at age fifteen Lilly had saved enough money from cleaning houses to buy a one-way train ticket to New York City. She dreamed of being an actress. Today, her remains are in an urn that is housed in this small community library in rural Somerset County, MD.

When you check out a book at the Lilyan Stratton Corbin Library, look up to the right and you’ll see the large urn set into a niche carved that has been carved into the wall. Below that niche is a plaque honoring Lilyan Stratton Corbin. And across the room a portrait of a woman with brown hair and soft brown eyes hangs on the wall. The woman in the portrait is believed to be Lilyan Corbin.

Is the Library Haunted?

Is it haunted? Most of the staff will say no if you ask them officially. But I had the opportunity to ask off the record a few years back and several (two) staff members said that things did move around especially in the section where the non-fiction and history books are located. It seems sometimes books will shelve themselves. One staffer noted that she moved a cart of books into that section to shelve them and was briefly called away. When she returned about an hour later the history books were reshelved. “This was odd” she said. “They weren’t all properly sorted but I knew several of the books that were on the cart because I’d placed them there myself. They had been removed from the cart and shelved. I was the only one here at the time.”

She admitted that it would be a strange thing indeed for a library patron to start shelving books  – but to start shelving them and for her not to see them was especially rare. But what made the situation extremely rare was that it happened a second time to this staff person and at least two times to another staff person.

The Lilyan Stratton Corbin Story

Lilly’s parents were dirt poor and divorced by the time she was a teenager. They never sent her to school and when the parents separated Lilly Ann got sent away to live with relatives were very kind to her and got her into school, but she couldn’t handle being in first grade at age fourteen, so she dropped out and took on work housecleaning to make extra money. At age 15, fled to New York City, and managed to attract the attention of a Wall Street banker who her helped her get an education and taught her what he knew about investment banking.

He died and left her a small fortune. She pursued her dream to be an actress and took the stage name Lilyan Stratton. She got married a year later to an actor who was also a philanderer. He squandered much of her money, but in a day when women hadn’t even gotten the right to vote yet, Lilyan went to Reno, NV and got her divorce.

Shortly thereafter she married Alfred Oppenheim, a dutch immigrant who had lost everything in World War I. They were very happy. Lilyan built back her fortune, became a world traveler, wrote four novels and never forgot her home and kin in Crisfield. She and Alfred always kept a home there and had hoped to retire in Crisfield one day.

Tragically, in November of 1928, Lilyan was driving her niece in an open car in New Jersey. Her scarf blew over her face blocking her view of the road. She lost control of the car, hit a tree and the car burst into flames. The two women were burned to death.

Her husband Alfred told people that Lilly always said she wanted to be buried in Crisfield. But due to the damage her body suffered in the car accident, Alfred had Lilly cremated. As a tribute to his wife, Alfred (who took on Lilyan’s last name Corbin because his own last name was too difficult to pronounce) brought Lilyan’s cremated remains back to Crisfield as she had requested. He built a mausoleum in her honor on the piece of land where Woodson Elementary School now sits. Meanwhile, the Crisfield library was housed in a dusty room inside city hall.

Llilyan Corbin Library - Crisfield
Lilyan Corbin Library – the only Library in America that also serves as a mausoleum

Vandals looking for valuables raided the mausoleum Alfred built for Lilly, and in the process, they damaged the building beyond repair. Alfred offered to build a library for the City of Crisfield, with a few stipulations. The building would be named for his wife and would house her remains. They would also have to always use it as a library or revert ownership back to his and Lilly’s heirs. The facade of the building resembles the mausoleum that was destroyed by the vandals. Lilyan’s ashes in a beautiful bronze urn were moved from the damaged mausoleum to the new Lilyan Stratton Corbin Library. In the 1980s, the special niche was carved into the wall for the urn. Two of her novels are also said to be housed in the library.

The following is extracted from “Lilyan Stratton Corbin” written by Woodrow T. Wilson. The full document also resides in the Corbin Library.

Thus ended the life of a fabulous woman who was born in poverty, victim of a broken home while still a child, became a first grade dropout at the age of fourteen and, at the same age, started life on her own, single-handed and without assistance. One can but surmise the great mentality and ambition this woman possessed that caused her to accomplish in the remaining thirty-two years of her life success as an actress, investment banker, authoress, philanthropist, socialite, and world traveler. Success in any one of these or comparable fields is more than most people ever achieve.

The Lilyan Stratton Corbin Library in Crisfield is the only library in Maryland that also serves as a mausoleum.

The Corbin Library is on the Crisfield Ghost Walk, and a more detailed version of this story and the haunting are shared on that walk. See the upcoming Crisfield Ghost Walks here.

Resources used: A Biography: Lilyan Stratton Corbin, by Woodrow T. Wilson; Somerset Herald, February 3, 2010; A Lady of Many Talents, Brice Stump, Daily Times