The legend of Black Aggie is one of Baltimore’s most popular legends. Ask anyone what they know of Black Aggie and all will have an experience to share. Black Aggie is a cemetery sculpture located in Pikesville’s Druid Ridge Cemetery, a few miles outside of Baltimore City. It is a life size statue of a seated woman draped in a shroud. Her head is bowed and she is black in color and in mood. During daylight, you can see the amazing detail and artistic beauty. However, encountering her at night her presence is ominous and threatening. No grass or plant life will grow around her.
Some say Black Aggie was a creepy statue erected as a cruel joke by a husband who had killed his wife and had treated her so disdainfully that she lost her will to live. There are others who say that the statue was typical Victorian cemetery art and dedicated to a loved wife, but that the grave site was haunted because disrespectful visitors disturbed the spirit of the woman. There are still others who say she was a nurse in Baltimore who was accused of committing a ghastly crime when strange things began to happen during her shifts. After the town lynched her, they discovered her to be innocent the very next day so out of guilt, they commissioned a statue for her. No matter who the woman was or how she died, there are many tales of how she punished anyone who disrespected her.
One legend has it that if you sat in statue’s lap at night, she would wrap her arms around you and crush or stab you to death. A local college fraternity included this in its hazing rite. The candidates for membership needed to spend the night sitting beneath Black Aggie. As the story goes, one dark night, two fraternity brothers and a candidate came to the gravesite. The candidate nervously took his place beneath Black Aggie. At the stroke of midnight, the statue’s eyes began to glow menacingly and the statue stirred. The two fraternity brothers froze in shock as the statue turned to the frightened candidate and reached out an toward the shivering boy. The fraternity boys tried to rescue the candidate, but it was too late, he gave one last gruesome yell and disappeared into the embrace of Black Aggie. Screaming, the fraternity brothers ran out of the cemetery to avoid being captured by the dark angel. A night watchman hearing the screams went to the gravesite to investigate. To his horror, he found the body of a boy who had been frightened to death.
Another legend is that if you stared into her face, her glowing eyes would blind you. On certain nights, the spirits of the dead will rise from their graves and gather around her. Pregnant woman would miscarry. Unmarried women would become pregnant. People’s hearts would stop at the very site of her by moonlight. Place a virgin in her arms and she will lose her virginity within 24 hours. If you say the name Black Aggie in the mirror three times in the dark at midnight, she will appear behind you and either stabs you, causes you to lose your mind or transports you to hell – or all three at the same time.
The history of the evil angel statue is as interesting as the stories that surround it. After the Civil War, General Felix Agnus of the Union Army married Annie Fulton, the nurse who had tended to his wounds during the war. They settled in her hometown in Baltimore. He later retired from his government career to take over as publisher of his father-in-law’s newspaper, the Baltimore American.
In 1905, Agnus commissioned Edward L. Paunch to create a statue for his family plot. This was not an uncommon practice, as during this time there were many craftsmen who created cemetery sculptures. The sculptures were often replicas of captivating angels, fellow mourners or of the deceased themselves. Paunch named the statue Grief, the same name famous sculpture Augustus St. Gaudens used for a statue created for the Adam’s memorial in a Washington, DC cemetery called Rock Creek. Henry Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams, commissioned the statue twenty years earlier to commemorate his wife Marian “Clover” Adams, who had committed suicide by drinking potassium after falling into a dark bout of depression due to the death of her father. It stood unmarked near Marian’s plot and Henry never spoke of his beloved. The statue took over four years and is considered “one of the most powerful and expressive pieces in the history of American art, before or since.” The statue was known as the “Adams Memorial” and later named “Grief.” Some say the St. Gaudens himself named the statue this and others say it was Mark Twain who saw the memorial in 1906.
In 1906 the widow of Augustus St. Gaudens accused Agnus of being a “barbarian” for having her husband’s work so poorly copied. By this time Agnus’ statue was resting at Druid Ridge and he soon discovered she was right. His statue was in fact an unauthorized version of the famous statue by St. Gaudens. Agnus sued and won his claim for $4500 against Edward L. Paunch but he did not remove the statue from his plot.
Annie Agnus died in 1922 and the General followed three years later. He was buried at the feet of Black Aggie and soon the legend was born.
In 1962 a watchman discovered that one of the dark angel’s arms had been cut off during the night. The missing arm was later discovered in the trunk of a sheet metal worker’s car. He told the judge that he witnessed Aggie cutting her own arm off in a moment of grief and had given it to him. The story brought even more attention to the grave.
Thousands of those seeking a thrill came to check out Aggie, knowing they were taking possibly their lives into their own hands. Then in 1967, after the many cases of vandalism and trespassing, Black Aggie was removed from the cemetery and donated to the Smithsonian Institute. The Smithsonian never displayed Aggie. A Baltimore Sun columnist speculated “Maybe just maybe” he wrote “they’re not taking any chances.” Later, the Smithsonian gave her away to the National Museum of American Art. She was never displayed there either and remained in storage for many years.
In 1996, Shara Terjung, a journalist, did a story on Black Aggie. She wanted to track down where Aggie was after all of these years. Finally, after much searching, she received a call from the General Service Administration, who led her to where Aggie had ended up. She is now in the courtyard of the Dolly Madison House on the corner of Madison and H streets in Washington DC, located close to the White House.
Today, a granite platform is all that remains at the Agnus family plot. This doesn’t stop curious visitors from coming to the spot. Grass now grows on the plot.
However, this story has a twist. Some believe that the statue now located at the Dolly Madison House, may not be the actual Black Aggie. Another statue in Druid Ridge Cemetery called Clotho, depicts one of the three fates from Greek mythology. Clotho is a few feet away from Grief, and has a hooded shroud and outstretched arms. It appears as if one of the arms had been severed and repaired at one time. Her eyes are made of rubies. Is Clotho the real Black Aggie? Does she still rein her terror over curious thrill seekers? If you are ever in Baltimore, why don’t you check it out for your-self? That is if you aren’t too chicken.