Black Aggie: the story of One of America’s most mysterious graveyard monument ~
Do you remember the Doctor Gloom’s Crypt of Curiosity? Baltimore has been created by live and dead, by dreams and fears of all those that have called her home.
When General Felix Agnus, died in the 1925, he was buried in Pikesville’s Druid Ridge Cemetery, right outside of Baltimore. On his grave was placed a disturbing strange statue: a large, black mourning figure. The statue’s creator, Augustus St. Gaudens, named her “Grief.” In the daylight hours, the figure was considered a beautiful art of the cemetery: the sculptor, in fact, was one of the premier artisans in Maryland at the turn-of-the-century and the statue was highly regarded…at least until darkness fell and the legends are born.
Augustus St.Gaudens was a known American sculptor of the late 1800’s. Before his death in 1907, he created some of the most honored works in America, and one of his greatest pieces of work was a memorial for Marian Adams, the wife of Henry Adams. Marian, called “Clover” by her friends had fallen into a dark depression after the death of her father in 1885. In December of that year, she committed suicide by drinking potassium.
Henry Adams plunged into his despair and in search of peace, traveled to Japan in June 1886 with his friend, the artist John La Farge. When he returned from his trip, he decided to replace the anonymous headstone that he had ordered for his beloved Clover in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery with a more worthy memorial. So, he asked to St. Gaudens to create something unique. The work took over four years, frustrating Adams, but creating one of the most powerful and expressive pieces in the history of American art. The statue was placed in the cemetery in 1891 and was never officially named, known simply as the “Adams Memorial” and later by the more popular name of “Grief”. The stories for this nickname are different. Some say that the statue was dubbed this by St.Gaudens himself and others say the name was a creation by Mark Twain, who viewed the memorial in 1906.
The original monument was an enigma itself: Henry Adams refused to ever speak about his wife’s death and would never officially name the monument. Thanks to Adams’ silence and the fame of his esteemed political family, he was the grandson of President John Quincy Adams, many became curious about the monument. Adams furthered this curiosity by refusing to have an inscription placed on the monument and by placing it behind a barrier of trees.
The grave became a popular site for the curious, and became the subject of an incredible plagiarism by a sculptor named Eduard L.A. Pausch. It would be from the original Adams sculpture that the sculptor created his own, unauthorized copy of “Grief” in the early 1900’s. The statue that later come to be known as the creepy “Black Aggie”.
Within a few months of the statue being placed on Marian Adams’ grave, Henry Adams reported that someone had apparently made a partial copy of the statue. He wrote to Edward Robinson in 1907 that “Even now, the head of the figure bears evident traces of some surreptitious casting, which the workmen did not even take the pains to wash off.”
And the copy became even more famous than the original! General Felix Agnus purchased the Pausch copy of the sculpture in 1905, and the reason is unknown…perhaps something about the Pausch statue compelled him to own it? We will never know for sure.
Felix Agnus was born in France in 1839, and at the age of 20, fought in the army of Napolean III against Austria and later served with General Garibaldi’s forces in Italy. In 1860, he came to New York and when the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private in the Union Army and began a war record so incredible that he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General by age 26. He saw action in dozens of battles, and was wounded more than 12 times by both bullet and saber. His friend, writer H.L. Mencken later said that Agnus “had so much lead in him that he rattled when he walked.” After a severe shoulder injury at Gaines’ Mills, Lieutenant Agnus was brought to Baltimore, where he met Charles Carroll Fulton, the publisher of the Baltimore “American” newspaper and his daughter, Annie. When the war was over, he returned to Baltimore and asked Annie to marry him. She quickly accepted and after that, Agnus continued his remarkable career, until to take over for his father-in-law at the newspaper. He remained the publisher of the newspaper until his death.
In 1905, Agnus began construction of a family monument in Druid Ridge Cemetery. It was during this time that he purchased Black Aggie and then had created a monument and pedestal that would closely match the setting of the Adams Memorial in Washington. The first burial at the site was of his mother, who had been brought over from France.
A year later, the widow of the artist of the original sculpture Augustus St. Gaudens sent a letter to Henry Adams to inform him of the poor reproduction that had been done of “Grief” and which was located in Druid Ridge. There was nothing they could do legally about the theft of the design, so St. Gauden’s widow traveled to Baltimore to see the site for herself. She discovered a nearly identical statue, seated on a similar stone, but with the name “Agnus” inscribed on the base. She also noted that the stone was a nondescript gray color and not the pink granite of the original. After seeing the site, Mrs. St. Gaudens declared that General Agnus “must be a good deal of a barbarian to copy a work of art in such a way”. Agnus quickly responded and claimed to be the innocent victim of unscrupulous art dealers. The artist’s widow then requested that he give up the sculpture and file suit against the art dealers. Agnus did file suit and won a claim of over $4500, but he refused to give up the copy of the statue. The General’s wife, Annie, died in 1922 and Agnus died three years later at the age of 86. He was also laid to rest at the feet of “Aggie”….and the legend was born.
The Agnus Monument seemed innocent in the daylight, but people who encountered the statue in the darkness, gave her the moniker of “Black Aggie”: for their she was a symbol of terror and her legend was write also in the local newspaper. “Where else could you find a statue whose eyes glowed red at the stroke of midnight?”
It seems that the spirits of the dead rose from their graves to gather around her on certain nights and that living persons who returned her gaze were struck blind. Pregnant women who passed through her shadow, where strangely, grass never grew, would suffer miscarriages.
A local college fraternity decided to include Black Aggie in their initiation rites: the candidates for membership were ordered to spend the night in the cold embrace of Black Aggie. The stories claimed that the local fraternity initiates had to sit on Aggie’s lap and one tale purports that “she once came to life and crushed a hapless freshman in her powerful grasp.” One night, at the stroke of midnight, the cemetery watchman heard a scream in the darkness, and when he reached the Angus grave, he found a dead boy at the foot of the statue.
One morning in 1962, a watchman discovered that one of the statue’s arms had been cut off. The missing arm was later found in the trunk of a sheet metal worker’s car, along with a saw. He told the judge that Black Aggie had cut off her own arm in a fit of grief and had given it to him. Of course the man went to jail.
This tales brought many curious and the Agnus grave site began to be trampled by teenagers and curiosity-seekers. The site was visited, and also vandalized, by hundreds of people over several decades. In addition to the statue’s arm being stolen, hundreds of messages were scrawled on the statue, the granite base and the wall behind it.
By the 1960’s, the descendants of Agnus elected to donate Black Aggie to the Maryland Institute of Art Museum, but the statue remained at her resting place for one more year, until 1967. On March 18, the Agnus family donated Aggie to the Smithsonian Institution. The staff at the Smithsonian had no interest in displaying her and gave her to the National Museum of American Art, where she was put into storage and never displayed. For years, she would remain in a dusty storeroom, shrouded in cobwebs, but recently Black Aggie would rise from the dead!
In 1996, a young writer named Shara Terjung from Baltimore’s area write a story about Black Aggie for a small newspaper. After having been long fascinated with the legends, she became determined to track down the location of the statue. Until, shortly after Halloween, she got a call from a contact at the General Service Administration who was able to discover where Aggie had ended up. The statue can still be seen today at the Federal Courts building in Washington, in the rear courtyard of the Dolly Madison house.