Saturday, September 20, 2008

Black Aggie

Black Aggie from

We have happy feet again - it's time to rev up the ol' gas guzzler for our Halloween road trip. H&H thinks that a stop in Pikesville, Maryland, is in order to brush up on the lore of an old friend, Black Aggie.

Black Aggie is the name of a statue that once marked the grave of General Felix Agnus, who was buried at Druid Ridge Cemetery in 1925.

The statue itself is an unauthorized replica of Augustus St. Gaudens' monument, popularly called "Grief". It's located at the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and was recast on the sly by Edward L. A. Pausch. The figure is of a seated woman wrapped in a shroud.

St. Gaudens was a noted American sculptor of the late 1800’s. "Grief" would become one of his most famed works, said to be named by none other than Mark Twain. It took him four years to create, and was the memorial for Marian Adams, who committed suicide. It marked her final resting place, along with hubby Henry.

Oddly, the Washington original has no spooky tales associated with it, despite the suicidal and probably mad Marian. But the pirated copy made by Pausch became one of Baltimore's most enduring urban legends.

General Felix Agnus purchased the Pausch version of the sculpture in 1905. He was a much decorated, and wounded (it was said that he had so many lead balls in him that he rattled when he walked), Civil War vet, starting out as a private and ending up a brigadier general.

He built a family memorial in Pikesville's Druid Ridge Cemetery, with the "Grief" clone as its centerpiece. As soon as the granite pedestal was laid, he had his mom's remains transferred from his French birthplace to the new family plot.

The general's wife, Annie, died in 1922 and Angus joined her in eternal repose three years later at the age of 86. They were laid to rest at the feet of "Black Aggie." Then the fun began.

It was said that the statue's eyes glowed red at the stroke of midnight. People claimed that the spirits of the dead rose from their graves to gather around her on moonless nights, and that living persons who returned her gaze were struck blind. Sitting in her cold lap was a death sentence.

If you spoke Black Aggie's name three times at midnight in front of a dark mirror, an evil angel appeared to escort you to hell. Other variations of the theme claim that Aggie herself showed up behind you, and some say with a knife to plunge into your back repeatedly.

Pregnant women who passed through her shadow would suffer miscarriages. The grass wouldn't grow wherever Aggie's shadow touched the ground. She came to life and strolled the grounds in the darkness.

Another story tells of a guy that used Aggie's hand as an ashtray. He was found dead soon thereafter. Aggie doesn't take to disrespect very well.

It's even said that any virgin placed in the outstretched arms of Black Aggie will lose her virginity in 24 hours. Now that's a paranormal phenomena we never heard of before.

But it took a frat rat to launch her into headline haunting news. Supposedly, local fraternity pledges had to sit on Aggie's lap all night as part of their "hell week" initiation. (Geez. At Pitt, the worst we had to do was run back to the house from Schenley Pond in our skivvies).

One bit of lore claims that she once came to life and crushed a hapless freshman in her bronze hands, in front of the eyes of two of his fellow fraternity brothers.

Another tale of Greek hazing gone astray claimed that one night, at the stroke of midnight, the cemetery watchman heard a scream. When he reached Black Aggie, he found a young man lying dead at the foot of the statue. He had died of fright.

It gets stranger. One morning in 1962, it was discovered that one of Aggie's arms had been cut off. The missing limb was later found in the trunk of a sheet metal worker's car, along with a saw. Open and shut case, right? Wrong. He had a defense.

He told the judge that Black Aggie had cut off her own arm while in the throes of depression and had given it to him. Many people believed the tradesman's tale, but not the person that counted - the judge. The tin-knocker was hauled off to jail.

Allow us to digress a minute. Aggie's name is assumed to be taken from her wards, the Agnus family. But another legend tells of a turn of the century nurse named Aggie. She was popular, but her patients had a way of unexpectedly dying off under her care.

The locals thought she was hastening their trip to the River Jordan, and lynched the assumed angel of death. But ooops, they were soon proven wrong, sadly after the fact. The story ends that the monument was built for her as atonement, which is obviously wrong.

But did her vengeful spirit adopt the statue? It would sure explain the eerie goings-on surrounding the bronze sculpture. OK, back to our regularly scheduled post.

In addition to Aggie’s arm being hacked off, graffiti was scrawled on the statue, the granite base and its outer wall, while trash heaped up everywhere from the midnight thrill seekers. Groundskeepers did everything they could to control the vandalism, including planting thorny shrubs around Aggie, but they were overwhelmed.

The Agnus family, upset by the desecration, donated Aggie to the Smithsonian in 1967. It sat for years in storage at the National Museum of American Art (later the Smithsonian American Art Museum), where an authorized recasting of the original Adams Memorial statue is now exhibited. Heaven forbid the Smithsonian deal in fake artwork!

The Smithsonian refused to even admit it had the ersatz sculpture, but it's location was finally run down by an enterprising young reporter, Shara Terjung, rescuing it from oblivion in an outdoor storage lot.

After being rediscovered, Black Aggie was moved to an I Street courtyard behind the Dolly Madison House on Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, where she's quietly enjoying her tranquil new home.

If you want to see her, enter the courtyard during the day, through the entryway off the street. Walk straight back, look to the right, and Black Aggie will be there, waiting for you in the middle of the flowers, looking as serene as can be. You might even tuck a coin in her hand, a good luck tradition from the Druid Ridge days.

Just don't sit in her lap.


Anonymous said...

Tale? great uncle died a couple days after sitting on her lap.

Ron Ieraci said...

Hey, anon, just because we called it an urban legend doesn't mean that we're bold enough to challenge her powers.

Anonymous said...

I sat in her lap. A couple of weeks ago. Nothing has happened to me.

Anonymous said...

I farted on her lap and now I poop green.