Ghosts of the Prairie: Haunted Maryland
(Right) Black Aggie as she looked in 1966. As the stories claimed, no grass would grow in front of the monument (Photo courtesy of Pat Bailey)
There are many ghostly legends involving haunted, glowing and moving
gravestones in America. While these tombstones can certainly be strange,
and even a little spooky, there are few that can be as eerie as the
baleful stare of a piece of graveyard statuary. Many of these monuments
are nothing more than the peaceful, angelic forms of heavenly
messengers.... but look into their cold, stone eyes.
When General Felix Agnus, the publisher of the Baltimore “American”, died in the 1925, he was buried in Pikesville's Druid Ridge Cemetery, right outside of Baltimore. On his grave was placed a rather strange statue. It was a large, black mourning figure. The statue's creator (sort of), Augustus St. Gaudens, called her “Grief.”
In the daylight hours, the figure was regarded as a beautiful addition to
the graveyard art of the cemetery. The sculptor 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 began.
|Strangely, the original monument was something of an enigma itself. Henry Adams refused to ever speak publicly about his wife's death and would never officially name the monument. He also refused to acknowledge its popular nickname. 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 and shrubs. The challenge of finding it only fueled the public interest, first by word of mouth and later in guidebooks and magazine articles. The grave became a popular site for the curious, especially as the statue was so unnerving to look at. It was fascinating that it became the subject of an incredible piracy by a sculptor named Eduard L.A. Pausch.|
It would be from the original Adams design that the sculptor created his own, unauthorized copy of “Grief” in the early 1900’s. The statue would later come to be known as the infamous “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 casting of the piece. 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."
The copy would go on to become even more famous than the original!
General Felix Agnus purchased the Pausch copy of the sculpture in 1905, perhaps after having admired the original work at the Adams grave. Why he decided to use the copy to grace his family tomb, instead of commissioning an original work, is unknown... but 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. At the age of only 13, he traveled
around the world and at 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 went to work as a silver chaser and sculptor at Tiffany’s.
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, including Big Bethel,
Richmond, the Siege of Port Hudeson and the Battle of Gaines’ Mills. He was
wounded more than 12 times by both bullet and saber. His friend, writer H.L.
Mencken later said that Angus “had so much lead in him that he rattled when
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 a monument and pedestal created that would closely match the setting of the Adams Memorial in Washington. The first burial at the site was of the General's mother, who had been brought over from France.
A year later, the widow of the artist 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 now resting 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. The Baltimore site also did not have the bench and the rest of the stonework as the original Washington gravesite had.
After seeing the site, Mrs. St. Gaudens declared that General Angus "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. Strangely, 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 himself died three years later at the age of 86. He was also laid to rest at the feet of "Aggie".... and shortly thereafter, her legend was born.
While the Agnus Monument seemed innocent enough in the daylight, those who encountered the statue in the darkness, gave her the nickname of "Black Aggie". To these people, she was a symbol of terror and her legend grew to become an occasional story in the local newspaper and of course, the private conversations of those who believed in a dark side. Where else could you find a statue whose eyes glowed red at the stroke of midnight?
The legend grew.... and it was said 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.
Black Aggie may be gone from Druid Ridge Cemetery, but she’s certainly not
forgotten. “We still have people coming to Druid Ridge, asking for Black
Aggie all the time,” said one of the cemetery spokesmen in an interview. “I
don’t think there’s a week that goes by when we don’t get a call about
HAUNTED HOUSES by Richard Winer and Nancy Osborn (1979)
Baltimore Sun (Newspaper)
Baltimore News American (Newspaper)
Weekly Retriever (Newspaper)
IN THE STATUE’S GRIP by David Buscher (unpublished)
Personal Interviews and Correspondence
And special thanks to SHARA TERJUNG, Black Aggie aficionado!
Also thanks to "Jennifer" for additional information and photos as well as to Tom Stansbury for his assistance with facts in the article.