She comes to the Library of Congress every day, gliding through the ornate marble corridors in flowing white robes and veil, carrying a white leather Bible and calling herself the "Bride of Christ."
In the hushed, softly lit aisles of the main reading room, a man sits quietly, wearing a yellow plastic wastebasket over his head. Nearby, an elderly woman leafs through stacks of telephone books, looking for the person who had put a spell on her many years earlier.
Their behavior, and that of a dozen other homeless, friendless and unwashed patrons who regularly seek asylum in the building's unthreatening atmosphere, has prompted the federal institution to seek outside help.
In January, the Psychiatric Institute of Washington began an unprecedented 19-week course for library staffers entitled: "Successfully Dealing With Disruptive/Disturbed Patrons."
"The Library of Congress is like the dayroom of a state mental hospital," said Deana Goldstein, director of the Institute's Crisis Intervention Center. Along with a staff psychiatrist, Goldstein meets with 25 library staffers every Tuesday morning from 8:30 to 11:30, teaching them how to deal with bizarre or brazen book lovers.
"Librarians are notoriously tolerant people," said Goldstein. "But they put up with a lot they don't have to. It's not only disturbed patrons, but prima donna from Congress who aren't necessarily psychotic, but close to it."
According to Goldstein, it is the first such effort by a federal agency in helping public employes deal with the public.
"I tell people about some of the readers," said Kathy Gould, director of the newspaper and periodical reading room. "They don't believe it."
The roster of library "irregulars" includes the "Bag Lady," for example, who spends the day at the Library of Congress despite the fact that, "her body odor clears out the entire room," according to the staffer.
"Most of the readers are tolerant," said Gould, recalling one man who became overpowered by the "Bag Lady's foul smell and told the reference desk the Xerox machine must be on fire.
There's "Robin Hood," a tall attractive man who wears a quiver of arrows on his shoulder and sits at the microfilm screen every day, reading back copies of The Los Angeles Times.
"The Button Lady" wears a large, brown paper button with the word "LOVE" printed on it. "She accuses everyone of being an FBI agent and dresses like a nun. One day she brought in a camera and started photographing the other readers," according to one employe.
Then there was the man who was caught -- naked -- doing his laundry in the first floor men's room. One employe remembers the man who came in dressed as a shepherd, carrying a staff. Another reader wears styrofoam cups over his ears to block out interfering radio waves from China.
"Most of them are really harmless," said Gould, a 13-year veteran of the Library of Congress. "But it makes me a little uneasy. "It's the really hostile reader who upsets us."
"Mr. Gloves," according to the library's general counsel, John Kominski, was a hostile reader.
"He wore these thin white gauze gloves and had an irascible personality," said Kominski. Before his banisment from the library, "Mr. Gloves" could be found fighting and cursing the library staffers as they tried to hush his disturbances.
"Over the past few years, it's become an increasing problem," said Kominski. "It's not just street people who come in from the cold, but people who are, in fact, disturbed."
Saying the very nature of the Library of Congress attracts "the fringe element," Kominski said the number has increased inordinantly. "Perhaps it's due to economic or social pressure. Maybe they're spreading the word among themselves," he said."I think it's somewhat of a unique problem." w
Experts in the mental health field say the Library of Congress allows disturbed persons -- some of them out-patients from local mental hospitals -- to be in society without actually having to participate in it.
Since the library is open seven days a week, from morning to night, it has become a haven for the lonely, deluded and paranoid residents of Washington's halfway houses and East Capitol St. rooming houses. They sleep on the reading room tables and gather in the basement snack bar, snatching half-consumed cups of coffee and cigarette butts.
According to Deane Goldstein there are two reasons why the Library of Congress, as well as other public places across the country, are seeing more distrubed persons. "The first reason is the advent of major tranquilizers, the second is the idea of 'mainstreaming' mentally ill patients, the trend away from institutionalization."
In fact, the resident population of mental institutions has been reduced by two-thirds in 20 years, according to nationwide surveys. In 1955, there were 559,000 resident mental patients. By 1975, that figure had dropped to 193,000 patients. At the same time, admissions increased but the hospital stays were of a shorter duration. Studies also found that 64 percent were readmissions and that one-half of all mental patients who were released were readmitted to the hospital within one year.
St. Elizabeth's Hospital Southeast Washington reported a decline of nearly 4,000 resident patients between the years 1966 and 1976. As of May 1979, there were only 1.965 resident patients.
A hosptial spokesman said the idea of "mainstreaming" mental patients into society hinges on support systems in the community. With current city and federal budget cuts, it appears unlikely that services for persons who need supervision, but not hospitalization, will be increased.
"Some of these people, their thing is to go to the library," the spokesman said.
Established in 1800 as a reference library for Congress, the orante marble building across the Capitol now houses 74 million items, with over 350 miles of bookshelves.
The idea of the psychiatric program to handle the increasing numbers of distrubed patrons came about, according to general counsel Kominski, because of a communications breakdown between the library staff and the 164-member special library police force.
"What the class taught me," said reference librarian Martin, "is how to be authoritive, but not authoritarian. To say, "Your actions are not acceptable," rather than making the person unacceptable."
Mark German, a team leader in the book service department, remembers the "Bride of Chirst," also known as "Alpha-Omega."
"She would fill out the call slips in Biblical names," German said. "And walk through the reading room, blessing the other readers. I haven't seen her for awhile. I once loaned her some money. I felt sorry for her."