Friday, May 17, 2013

The Black Aggie

Agnus Statue - Black Aggie
The Black Aggie is a cemetery statue surrounded by myth and legend.  When it was placed upon the grave of General Felix Agnus in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville, Maryland, the statue immediately stirred controversy and superstition among the locals.

Felix Agnus was a Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General and owner/publisher of the Baltimore American newspaper.  Agnus was also one of the original members of the Associated Press. He died on Halloween - October 31st, 1925 and was buried under the petulant gaze of what became known as 'Black Aggie.' But Agnus was not the first to have this image guard his grave. 

Marian 'Clover' Adams
The original sculpture was created by the famous American artist, Augustus St. Gaudens.  He was commissioned to create a statue for the grave of Marian ‘Clover’ Hooper Adams by her husband, Henry.  Adams wanted a sculpture that embodied the Buddhist concept of nirvana: “release from the cycles of life and death, desire and pain.”  It was to memorialize his wife who had committed suicide in 1885. Six years later, in 1891, the statue was placed on her grave in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Adams Memorial - 'Grief'
St. Gaudens sculpted a shrouded figure in bronze, sitting, eyes closed, with its back against a granite wall. He called the work “The Mystery of the Hereafter and the Peace of God that Passeth Understanding.”  Henry Adams wanted it known as the Adams Memorial. The public simply called it “Grief.” 

The Face of 'Grief'
The sculpture has been described as mysterious, beautiful, moody, and haunting. The result of the shadows cast by the changing light during the day make the face inside the cowl appear to take on different expressions.

American Art Museum
Replica of Adams Memorial
The Adams Memorial is said to be one of St. Gaudens most original and beautiful works.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  A replica of the Adams Memorial – the life-sized, genderless statue, was cast in 1969 for the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  It can be seen on the second floor, in the east wing of the museum.

Agnus Copy
The Agnus statue was an unauthorized copy of the Adams Memorial, created by sculptor Eduard L.A. Pausch. General Agnus purchased the unauthorized copy of “Grief” in 1906.  He had it erected on the family’s plot in Druid Ridge Cemetery after his mother’s remains were shipped from France and buried there in 1907.

Grass Would Not Grow...
Black Aggie
While there is little in the way of legend that surrounds the Adams Memorial, the Agnus sculpture is rife with superstitions.  Tales abound of the Black Aggie walking Druid Ridge Cemetery at night; legend has it that grass would not grow in the statue’s shadow, and that the menacing eyes glowed red at the stroke of midnight.  Many said that the spirit of Marian Adams inhabited the statue.

Smithsonian Institution
The urban legends grew and visitors flocked to the cemetery, mainly after hours, to see the Black Aggie. Some tried to spend the night sitting on 'her' lap, others were said to have been found dead near the statue.  Vandalism grew rampant and the Agnus statue had to be removed from the cemetery.  The Agnus family decided to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1967. 

Back of Agnus Pedestal
Agnus Pedestal Today
Today, the Agnus plot retains the empty granite pedestal.  All that remains is a faint outline where the Black Aggie once rested. A bronze sculpture of Felix Agnus’s face hangs on the back of the granite stone.

Dolley Madison House
The Smithsonian placed the Agnus statue in storage where it remained for years before being given to the General Services Administration.  In 1987, it was placed on display in the rear courtyard of the Dolley Madison House on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.

Black Aggie Today
Black Aggie remains there today, now looking more serene than menacing as 'she' contemplates life and death from a seat among the trees, with a shrouded point of view.

~ Joy


  1. A great interesting article! From your fan, Indiana Bones

  2. Interesting post. I have to admit that Black Aggie is a bit creepy looking.

    1. Creepy is right! I can not imagine attempting to spend the night, sitting on it's lap!?!

  3. Very nice post! I had seen something about this statue on a show called "Mysteries at the Museum," and it was great to see all of your photos!

  4. Interesting post! The photo where the face is completely in shadow is definitely creepy. But in others, s/he looks very peaceful. All in the interpretation, maybe.

  5. You're right, Jenny. I've been told that she looks rather peaceful behind the Dolley Madison House...