Statues can be creepy as it is, with their never changing visages, eyes that seem to stare off right through us, and often towering above us. Even without any sort of haunted lore or tales of paranormal activity they can manage to creep us out, but add these elements and they truly catapult into the land of the eerie. Within the state of Iowa lie two such statues that are molded into the likenesses of angels, albeit taking on the color of black rather than white, and orbited by persistent legends and stories of the supernatural, ghosts, and curses.
Perhaps the most well know “black angel” stands menacingly overlooking the Oakland Cemetery of Iowa, in the United States, and it has gone on to become absolutely permeated with spooky lore and legend in the region. It is an imposing presence, towering 8 and a half feet over the ground, and although it is black now it wasn’t always so, which is actually a part of its unusual lore. The statue itself was bronze when it was first brought to the cemetery in 1912, as a burial monument for the wealthy Feldevert family. It was designed by an artist in Chicago by the name of Mario Korbel, who was commissioned by Teresa Dolezal Feldevert in order to eternally watch over her family’s gravesite, where her husband was buried and where her own son, Eddie, was also interred after having died of meningitis in 1891.
The statue was installed in 1912, and was already notable for its rather disturbing stance, its sad face cowled and turned down, mostly hidden from view, and wings not gloriously uplifted as those of most cemetery angels were, giving it a rather somber and creepy ambiance. Shortly after this arrival, Eddies body was moved to sit right alongside the statue, while at the same time the ashes of Teresa’s husband were placed right beneath it. Teresa’s own ashes were interred there as well when she died of cancer in 1924, and it was from around this point that the rather ominous looking statue began to accrue is sinister reputation. It was noticed that right after Teresa’s ashes were placed here the statue seemed to very rapidly turn from a shiny bronze to an unsettling greenish black color, which was probably the result of oxidation of the metal but which was rapid and alarming enough that it helped launch the statue into scary local lore, with the change said to be caused by paranormal forces from beyond our understanding, and legends began to spring up to explain it.
One of the most popular of these legends is that Teresa was far from an angel herself, that behind closed doors she was a wicked and sinful woman, even a practitioner of black magic, with some even whispering that she had in fact murdered her son, and that this malevolent energy surrounding her had transferred to the statue upon her death to taint it and cause it to turn is oppressive black, a permanent testament to her evil past. In one version of the tale the statue turned black suddenly one evening after a thunderstorm and lightning strike, and this has all also led to the idea that the intimidating statue is actually cursed, with a few versions of how this malicious paranormal power manifests. In one story any girl who is kissed at the angel’s feet during a full moon will die within 6 months, in another touching the angel on Halloween night will lead to death in 7 years, actually kissing it will cause instantaneous death from heart failure, and a pregnant woman who walks under its wings is said to lose her child.
The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery has gone on to become a permanent fixture of local legend, gathering about itself a persistent reputation as a haunted place, with apparitions and odd phenomena roving about it, and it is indeed a popular destination for paranormal investigators, who have managed to capture odd photographs and EVP phenomena in the vicinity. One famous investigation of the Black Angel was carried out by the SyFy channel TV show Haunted Highway, during which time no one dared touch it, although they did allegedly manage to produce evidence in the form of sudden inexplicable temperature fluctuations within the statue. The menacing statue has unfortunately also become a magnet for macabre curiosity seekers and thrill seekers, many of which have vandalized the statue over the years, although no word on whether the curse got them for that. Is this all urban legend or is there any reality to it at all? The cemetery is open to the public all year round, so go check it out yourself and make up your own mind, just go right on past the wrought iron gate, through the twisted trees, and face the sorrowful visage of the Black Angel, staring right back and silently daring you to touch it.
At another cemetery, also in Iowa, is yet another black angel surrounded by dark history and myth. Here we come to a place called Fairview Cemetery, at Council Bluffs, in Iowa City. The cemetery itself is one of the oldest in the state, born as an Indian burial ground before being used by Mormon settlers of the region. In 1919 the wife of a Civil War Veteran and railway engineer named General Grenville M. Doge was buried here, a woman by the name of Ruth Anne Browne, and the angel was erected to serve as a guardian of her grave. The statue was crafted by a Daniel Chester French, who also happens to have been the same man who would go on to create the Lincoln Memorial Statue in Washington DC, and it was apparently formed in the likeness of an angel who had appeared in the dead woman’s dreams and premonitions before her death. According to Ruth’s daughter, these were extremely vivid visions, with her saying:
We realized this was no dream, no ordinary occurrence, but an apparition such as appeared to those saints of olden times, who were spiritual seers, holy enough to penetrate the fleshly veil and view spiritual things hidden from the worldly minded.
Ruth had described to her family of seeing an angel in white atop a boat covered with flowers that sprang from a thick mist at a rocky shore, and who carried some sort of shallow urn under her arm filled with water that “glittered and sparkled like millions of diamonds.” This vision would come to her a total of three times, each time with the angel offering the water to drink and being refused until the last time, with Ruth’s death occurring just days after she finally drank of it in her final dream, although she had claimed that the water had given in fact her immortality. As such, the statue in question depicts a beautiful maiden with an urn of water that perpetually pours water into a fountain below it.
While the statue looks serene and calm, it has still managed to draw to it all manner of tales of strange phenomena surrounding it. One is that locals claimed that it will actually move and even fly about at night before returning to its perch in the morning, and it is said to often visit new graves to stand over them in solemn silence, whether in belevolence or not know one knows. More sinister tales say that the statue are rather malevolent, such as causing children to disappear, shooting fire from her mouth, and her gaze said to bring death and misfortune if you are to look into her eyes for too long or touch her beckoning outstretched hand. Of course it too has taken on a rather dark color that makes it appear more threatening and has surely helped fuel the stories, with folklore professor Todd Richardson, from the University of Nebraska, saying of this:
In the case of the Black Angel, it sounds creepy and it looks creepy. It would make more sense to have a nice marble angel representing the flight to heaven, whereas the black angel represents something more ominous.
Over the years the statue has undergone several renovations to fix its flowing fountain and to repair damage caused by vandals, and in 1980 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Yet it still manages to generate tales of the paranormal and of nefarious curses. Is there some mysterious force surrounding this statue, and if so is it malicious in nature and why? Whatever the case may be, it has become a popular landmark in the area, and keeps its secrets close. And that seems to be the story with both of these enigmatic statues, standing there overseeing their domains of gravestones and the bodies of the dead, that it is hard to know where myth ends and any reality begins. With their unique appearances and the spooky quality of their locales, they are natural magnets for tales of the paranormal, food for ghost stories and campfire yarns, and as we try to figure them out they stand there inscrutable as always, silently surveying their land and perhaps bearing mystical forces we cannot comprehend.