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The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City

In Oakland Cemetery, on the north side of Iowa City, Iowa, stands a foreboding, mysterious statue. Locals tell tales of the mysterious powers and curses the memorial contains. Legions flock to the site to tempt their fates by testing the various legends surrounding it. She is the mysterious Black Angel.

The Black Angel is an eight-foot tall bronze statue that stands over the graves of three members of the Feldevert family. The stories associated with the statue tell of its mysterious change in color. Over time the mournful winged angel has transform from her original brilliant bronze tint to a more dark and foreboding black hue. All attempts to restore the statue to its original gleaming incarnation have failed, and the Angel continues to get darker and more ominous looking with each passing year.

There are a few legends that attempt to explain this drastic change. One story says that the matriarch of the family beneath the angel, Teresa Feldevert, was an evil witch in life. Her evil was so great that even in death it managed to taint the monument directly above her. Another legend states that when Teresa’s husband buried her, he swore never to dishonor her memory by sleeping with another woman. As time went on and he managed to move past his grief, he found another sweetheart and slept with her. This breaking of his graveside promise resulted in the Black Angel’s discoloration. 

Regardless of the disputes over why the Angel is cursed, there are a slew of stories about the danger the Black Angel poses to those still living. Many legends involve kissing in front of the statue. It is said that if a girl is kissed directly in front of the Angel, the statue will return back its original golden color if that girl is a virgin. This is, however, a double-edged sword, as another legend states that any woman kissed in front of the monument will die within six months. One girl who should never be kissed is the Black Angel herself. It’s said that any man foolish enough to attempt this feat will die instantaneously. Even touching or merely looking directly into the eyes of the Black Angel reportedly results in the offender coming down with a mysterious and incurable illness. Anyone looking to vandalize the statue will also be struck down swiftly; one story says that a group of men once urinated on the statue and got in a fatal car accident on their way home from the cemetery that very night.

The statue itself is rather strange. Unlike most angelic grave markers, the Black Angel is staring down at the ground and has her wings pointing downwards. The imposing black figure seems to be making no effort towards entering Heaven. Instead, she holds her ground here on Earth, standing as a reminder of pain and death, and inflicting those very things upon those who disrespect her.

The Black Angel Has the Look That Kills

For those who have grown up in the Iowa City area, a nighttime visit to the "Black Angel" is almost a rite of passage, a necessary part of growing up and

facing your darkest fears. To many, who can often recite dark tales of the Angel, the story is little more than a local legend. However, the Black Angel does have a very real history... and according to some, there is reason to be afraid of her!

Teresa Feldevert commissioned the bronze statue in 1911 as a monument for both her husband Nicholas and her teenaged son, Eddie. Many consider it to be one of the greatest works of art in the area, having been created by Daniel Chester French, the same sculptor responsible for the gigantic statue of Abraham Lincoln at the memorial in Washington.

No one knows how the stories of death and curses got started, but perhaps they came about because of the appearance of the statue itself. The eyes of the figure are truly eerie with swirled irises that seem to bulge from the blankness of the rest of the eye. They seem to stare at the visitor from beneath strangely drooping eyelids... and effect that can be unnerving at best. The sheer size of the statue does little to convince the visitor of the angel’s celestial goodwill either. Some claim that looking directly into the mysterious eyes of the Angel at midnight will result in a fatal curse upon the gazer. Others maintain that the curse is transmitted only if a person actually touches the statue. 

One has to wonder if there is any truth to these legends at all? It’s doubtful, but who can really say for sure? As nearly every legend has some basis in fact, I can’t help but wonder how this story got started in the first place. Is the Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery really cursed? I don’t know, but I don’t suggest waiting around the cemetery at midnight to find out!  –Troy Taylor

Illustration by Tamara Pellek

Weird Iowa

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