Black Aggie is the local name given to a statue that haunted the Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville, Maryland until it was removed in 1967. Her face covered by a shroud, Black Aggie sat in mourning watching over the Angus family plot. Rumors spread about Black Aggie’s paranormal activity, her demonic powers further evidenced by the fact that the earth before her figure remained a barren wasteland where even the green grass found throughout the rest of the cemetery grounds feared to grow. It was said in the evenings, after the sun began to set, Aggie’s features would become completely shadowed by the shroud draped around her; then that her eyes would begin to glow, two tiny red beacons looking out for victims in the night.
Word of Black Aggie spread, and she became a figure of local horror lore. It was said she could cause the death of any unborn baby if a pregnant woman passed too close, and she melded with other folkloric tales in the community – saying Black Aggie in the mirror three times would summon her into the looking glass in a local variation of Bloody Mary. The most frequent story about Black Aggie was the death of a frat boy during pledge week. According to legend, two boys from the local fraternity dared one of their pledge’s to sit on the lap of Black Aggie. As the pledge perched upon her lap the other two boys saw her eyes begin to glow and her arms reach out to encircle the boy. Shrieking, the other two boys fled the scene and caused such a commotion that the on-site caretaker went to investigate. He came upon the scene, Black Aggie sat still and silent in the night, the dead boy rested in her lap, his face locked in the grip of fear.
This urban legend led many to believe that sitting on Black Aggie’s lap at the stroke of midnight would result in death. Many kids dared each other to break into the graveyard and creep up to Black Aggie during the night. This became such a common occurrence that her family became concerned about the vandalism to their family plot and finally decided to remove Black Aggie, donating her to the Smithsonian in 1967.
So why was the Smithsonian interested in Black Aggie? Sadly, not for her paranormal activities, but because the remaining Agnus family believed she was a priceless piece of art. But, it wasn’t quite so, Black Aggie was actually a knock off of a statue originally created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the request of Henry Adams (An American political historian and grandson of President John Quincy Adams). His wife, Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams, was an American socialite, a darling of the elite world in which she lived, and rumored to be the inspiration behind two of writer Henry James’s works: Daisy Miller (1878) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881). Clover was well known for her passion as a photographer, and she became one of the earliest portrait photographers, both taking pictures and developing them in her darkroom. Despite her outwardly perfect life, Clover suffered from fits of depression, which increased with the death of her father in 1885. While she tried to stay busy documenting the building of her new house on the edge of Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. At age 42, Clover lost her battle with her inner demons and took her own life by swallowing a vial of potassium cyanide, one of the chemicals she used to develop the photos she loved so much.
Her husband, Henry, distraught at the loss of his beloved wife, commissioned a piece to be built to watch over his wife, and the giant bronze was installed at the Adams’ memorial site in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. The statue was described by art historian Cynthia Mills as “one of the most extraordinary American funerary monuments of the nineteenth century… it became the most widely known and influential of a number of figurative grave memorials”. Adams, however, refused requests for those wanting to copy his heartfelt memorial to his wife. He had collaborated heavily with Saint-Gaudens to create a piece that he felt encapsulated his own spiritual hell that he felt losing his beloved wife, but to also copy the essence of compassion that he had found peace in within its Buddhist iconography. Adam’s was passionately protective of the piece, writing to Saint-Gaudens son: “Do not allow the world to tag my figure with a name! Every magazine writer wants to label it as some American patent medicine for popular consumption – Grief, Despair, Pear’s Soap, or Macy’s Mens’ Suits Made to Measure. Your father meant it to ask a question, not to give an answer; and the man who answers will be damned to eternity like the men who answered the Sphinx.”
Enter Felix Agnus, seaman, soldier and eventually newspaper magnate after marrying the daughter of the owner of the Baltimore American, which Agnus later expanded to include the evening paper, the Baltimore Star. Agnus was searching for the perfect memorial for his own family plot, and wanting to leave his mark on the world, purchased a copy of the one so admired at the Adams’ memorial. Whether Agnus was mislead by an unscrupulous art dealer, or whether he was unfazed by the murky copy-write infringements of his own piece, Angus was clearly happy with the result, even shipping his mother’s body over from France to be interred beneath Aggie’s watchful gaze.
When the Smithsonian discovered that the replica was not an approved piece, rather a copy from another artist, they removed it from their archives and installed in the courtyard of the National Courts Building in Lafayette Square, Washington D.C. where she remains today, right near the house Clover Adams was building at the time of her tragic death. Black Aggie’s powers have not followed her to her new home, and perhaps being near a piece of Clover has settled Black Aggie’s restless soul.
This story used details from the following sources:
Beyond Grief: Sculpture and Wonder in the Gilded Age Cemetery by Cynthia Mills
‘Black Aggie’: From Baltimore to Washington By John Kelly https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/black-aggie-from-baltimore-to-washington/2012/08/17/54cef546-e7da-11e1-936a-b801f1abab19_story.html