Black Angel up close.

The Black Angel

Field review by the editors.

Iowa City, Iowa

The Black Angel is not as famous as some other cursed grave markers, but perhaps it should be. First, it's big: the Angel is nine feet tall atop a four-foot pedestal. Second, the hooded figure is black, and looks like the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, with big, drooping wings. It's a jarring shift from the angels that are usually depicted in cemeteries, which hold their heads high, have their wings lifted toward heaven, and are white. The Black Angel is therefore assumed to be cursed or haunted or possessed of some nameless, horrific evil.

The Black Angel in winter.

There are natural enough explanations for the Black Angel. It's black, scientists tell us, because it's old -- the statue was made in 1912 -- and because it's bronze, which has oxidized (Most outdoor bronze statues turn black, but bronze isn't often used in cemeteries). It looks so un-angel-like because it was commissioned by Theresa Dolezal Feldwert, a Czech-Bohemian immigrant. In other words, it's not an AMERICAN angel. And it droops its head because it's looking at the grave of Eddie, Theresa's son, who's buried at the foot of it, under a monument that resembles the lower half of a tree with its top blown off. Another cheery Eastern European touch.

These explanations have done nothing to temper the Black Angel legends that have spooked generations of Iowa City school kids. People here just know that anyone who kisses the Angel will drop dead; that the Angel turns a shade blacker every Halloween to mark those that it's killed in the past year, etc. Defacing the Angel also supposedly brings death, but that hasn't stopped jerks with hammers and hacksaws from removing several of its fingers.

The Black Angel

Oakland Cemetery

Address:
1000 Brown St., Iowa City, IA
Directions:
I-80 exit 246. South on Hwy 1/Dodge St. for about 1.5 miles. Turn left onto Summit St., then right onto Dewey St., then left onto Brown St. to the Oakland Cemetery entrance. The Black Angel is in a ways, but straight in from the entrance. Lot 1, Block 24.
Hours:
Daily 7:30 am - dusk. (Call to verify)
Phone:
319-356-5105
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October 24, 2014

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