Library, AOC Hit By Series Of Deaths

Posted February 11, 2004 at 6:33pm

A string of deaths has struck the Library of Congress and Architect of the Capitol. Spokeswomen for the two agencies have confirmed the recent deaths of five staffers and one visitor, four of whom collapsed on Library grounds.

A male AOC employee collapsed from an apparent heart attack while on Library property Jan. 26 and later died at George Washington Hospital. AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki would not provide further details, saying it is against AOC policy to release any information about a deceased employee without the family’s permission, which had not been given.

On Feb. 5, 55-year-old Gerald Wager, head of reference and reader service in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, collapsed of a massive heart attack outside the John Adams Building and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

The next day, an elderly visitor collapsed after a massive heart attack in the tunnel between the James Madison and Thomas Jefferson buildings, and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Then on Monday, Carl Peterson, a preservation microfilm processor in the Preservation Reformatting Division, collapsed inside the Madison Building, and he too later died at the hospital. His cause of death has yet to be confirmed.

In a message sent to Library staff detailing the deaths, Deputy Librarian of Congress Donald Scott said the LOC’s physician, Dr. Sandra Charles, “has advised me that as far as we know, each of the four people either had some underlying cardiac abnormality or a chronic medical condition that predisposed them to cardiac arrest.” Scott also noted that studies have linked cold weather with increased levels of “cardiovascular mortality and morbidity.”

In each of the four cases, Scott said emergency first aid was administered.

A spokeswoman for the Library, Helen Dalrymple, called the deaths “a very unhappy set of coincidences,” but said there was no indication any of the deaths were related or linked to the recent discovery of ricin in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

In recent weeks, the Library also lost two other staffers. On Jan. 12, Basil Malish, a 54-year-old senior acquisitions specialist for the Anglo American Acquisitions Division, died at home of a heart attack. Two days later, Regional and Cooperative Cataloguing Division Assistant Chief Cynthia Johanson died, after suffering from ovarian cancer, at the Washington Home hospice.