February 09, 2013

Black Agnes, the Statue That Kills

I love exploring cemeteries. They're peaceful, full of beautiful sculpture, rich in history, and sometimes just a little bit creepy. Legends about ghosts and other supernatural happenings are also attached to a lot of cemeteries.

For example, consider the Green Mount cemetery in Montpelier, Vermont. The ghost of a small girl is rumored to haunt the walkways of this burying ground, searching for the gravesite of her mother. Green Mount is also home to Black Agnes, a funerary monument with an unsavory reputation.

Black Agnes is actually a large statue titled Thanatos (which means "death" in Greek). Sculpted by Karl Bitter, Black Agnes/Thanatos marks the grave of John Erastus Hubbard (1847 - 1899), a wealthy Montpelier businessman.

According to the legend bad things will happen to anyone who sits in Black Agnes's lap. Depending on who tells the story, the unlucky person will:

Encounter three strokes of bad luck

Have an uncountable amount of bad luck

Die within seven days

There are some variations of the story. Some say that sitting in Agnes's lap will just bring bad luck, but actually lying down on the statue will bring certain death. Others say that death will only come if you sit on Agnes during the full moon. Hmm. I say just avoid the statue altogether.

One story claims that three teenagers sat on Black Agnes during the full moon, trying to show how brave they were. They all drove home safely that night and thought they had escaped the curse. But within a week one was in a serious car accident, one fell and broke his leg, and the third drowned when his canoe capsized in the Winooski River. Just coincidence or the malevolent power of Black Agnes?

Black Agnes photo from T.M. Gray's More New England Graveside Tales.

I first read about Black Agnes in T.M. Gray's More New England Graveside Tales. Ms. Gray says locals claim John Hubbard was murdered, which is why his monument is charged with supernatural evil. She also says this story isn't true - records indicate he died of liver cancer.

Gray's book and these two websites also note that the Black Agnes statue actually represents a man, not a woman. I suppose Agnes could be his nickname or drag persona, but I think something else is going on here.

According to Snopes.com the Black Agnes story is actually found in many different parts of the country, including the Washington, DC area and in the Midwest. Snopes claims the original Black Agnes statue was in a cemetery in Baltimore, but was ultimately moved to the Dolly Madison House in DC because too many frat boys and sorority sisters were breaking into the cemetery for terrifying late-night initiations on Agnes's lap.

The Black Agnes statue in DC is of indeterminate gender but gets its name because it marked the grave of Civil War soldier Felix Agnus (1839 - 1925). Over time Agnus became Agnes, and in some places the statue is now simply called Black Aggie.

I'm not sure how the legend moved from Baltimore to Montpelier, but even if the Snopes explanation is true I don't think it lessens the power of this legend. Looming behind the narrative details of foolish teens and murderous statues is the very ancient idea that the dead have power and shouldn't be mocked. Sitting on a gravestone or a funeral monument is disrespectful to the dead - should we be surprised that they retaliate?

Like Midnight Mary, Black Agnes is another of those spirits who instructs us in how to show proper etiquette towards the dead. After all, when we've joined them on the other side we won't want obnoxious teens sitting on top of us either.

6 comments:

C.E. Wolfe said...

I'm so glad I found this blog. It's fascinating!!! I love learning more about the lore of my own neck o' the woods.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks C.E.! There's so much good lore and paranormal stuff in this area, and I get excited when I find something I never knew about before, like Black Agnes.

Jodie Humphrey said...

Spooky!!! I doubt I'd even be brave enough to walk past Black Agnes after that story, let alone sit on her lap!

www.believeinfairystories.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Very nice - I had been looking for this in Google using terms such as Thanatos grave, etc with no luck. Then I saw this image that looked like what I read in a Weird Maine or Weird New England book... that's the one, all right. For some reason I thought it was in the Kittery/York ME area, but guess not. Thanks for the education :)

Anonymous said...

The connection between the two statues (Hubbard's statue and Agnus's statue) has to do with Agnus's wife. Felix originally commissioned the Black Aggie statue for his wife when she passed (I guess it was going to be their family plot). Anyway, Hubbard illegally copied the statue (something Felix found out about) for his grave. Some people think the malevolent spirit attached to Black Aggie is actually connected to Felix's wife - who committed suicide and was unable to bear children.

Anonymous said...

I know, this story is terrifying. But I sat on her lap last night, and I'm doing it again tonight. As I do every night. Enjoy your spooky story folks. But im warning you, don't be afraid. :)