October 25, 2023

Black Agnes: Montpelier's Death-Cursed Statue

As I mentioned before, Tony and I recently traveled up to Montpelier, Vermont to see our old friend Brian. He showed us around Vermont's charming capital, and also showed us some of its spooky sights, including the infamous Black Agnes statue. 

When we reached Montpelier, Brian immediately took us on a tour of Green Mount Cemetery. He is a Montpelier native, and had a lot of gossip and stories about the different folks buried in Green Mount. For example, he showed us a funerary statue of a young girl called "Little Margaret." Little Margaret's family commissioned a local sculptor to carve the statue after she died (apparently of spinal meningitis), but refused to pay because one of the statue's shoes only had five buttons instead of six. The sculptor was about to apologize when he looked again at the photo of Little Margaret the family had given him to work from. One of her shoes was missing a button in the photo. The sculptor stormed back to Little Margaret's family, showed them the photo, and angrily collected his payment.  

Brian also told us that the road leading to Green Mount Cemetery has been the site of many deadly auto accidents. "When I was young, this road was routinely covered in human viscera," he said, morbidly joking. At least I hope he was joking. 

The Black Agnes statue

Towards the end of the tour, we reached the grave of John Erastus Hubbard (1847 - 1899), a wealthy Vermont businessman. Hubbard's grave features a spectacular bronze sculpture of a robed figure titled Thanatos. This statue is more popularly known as Black Agnes. 

According to legend, terrible luck comes to anyone who sits on Black Agnes's lap. Accounts differ as to what form the bad luck will take. Some say three unlucky things will occur to the person who sits on her lap, others say it will be an uncountable amount of bad luck. That doesn't sound good. Still another legend claims that anyone who sits on Black Agnes's lap will die within seven days, which is perhaps the worst luck of all. 

Many years ago, three teenage boys went to Green Mount Cemetery during a full moon. They dared each other to sit on the statue's lap. Not wanting to look cowardly, each boy took a turn sitting on Black Agnes. They all laughed. It was just a dumb statue, after all. Nothing to be afraid of. But within a week, one fell and broke his arm, one was in a serious car accident, and the third boy drowned while canoeing on the Winooski River. Some people said these misfortunes were just coincidences, but others said it was the curse of Black Agnes. 

Well, at least that's one legend. All the legends vary slightly, with some saying, for example, that you only suffer Black Agnes's wrath if you sit on her when the moon is full. Personally, I say why take the risk? Just don't sit on the statue, regardless of the moon phase. I don't recommend sitting or climbing on any cemetery statue. It is disrespectful to the dead, even if there isn't a death curse. 

Brian told us that the Black Agnes legend didn't exist when he was a kid, and that it must be relatively recent. That could very well be the case - new legends arise and old ones disappear all the time. There are in fact other allegedly cursed statues named Black Agnes around the United States. There is one in Washington, DC, which was originally a grave marker in Baltimore for a dead Civil War general in the Union Army named Felix Angus. It was apparently moved from Baltimore because too many fraternity and sorority pledges kept sitting on it as part of their rush process, daring each other to risk the death curse. It seems likely the Black Agnes legend traveled from the DC area to Montpelier, but I'm not sure how. 

Some folks, apparently in an attempt to debunk the Montpelier version of the legend, have pointed out that the statue is clearly of a male, so therefore the legend cannot be true. This argument doesn't hold up for me. It's 2023, and we all know that gender is a social construct. A statue of a male can easily be named Black Agnes. 

John Erastus Hubbard (1847 - 1899)

John Erastus Hubbard, upon whose grave Black Agnes sits, generated some controversy while he was alive. Hubbard came from a prominent Vermont family, and his wealthy aunt left a significant amount of money in her will to the city of Montpelier to build a library. Hubbard was unhappy about this, and managed to get his aunt's will overturned and inherit the money himself. Montpelier officials took him to court, and he eventually agreed to pay for the library. Upon his death, he left the majority of his fortune to Montpelier as well. However, this late generosity did not necessarily win him many fans among the city's citizens, some of whom noted that a terrible thunderstorm raged through Montpelier the night Hubbard died, which they took as an omen indicating the state of his soul. 

October 15, 2023

The Devil's Washbowl: Home of the Pigman?

Tony and I recently took a weekend trip up to Vermont. Our final destination was Montpelier to see an old friend, but we made a few stops along the way. Some people visit Vermont to see fall foliage and quaint towns. We wanted to see the Pigman!

The Pigman is the resident monster of Northfield, Vermont, a cute little town best known as the home of Norwich University, the oldest private military college in the United States. But if you journey outside the charming downtown and into the dense woods, according to legend you might encounter the half-human, half-porcine horror known as the Pigman. He's said to lurk most frequently in an area known as the Devil's Washbowl, a densely wooded, rocky, and remote area. 

Way back in 1971, a Northfield farmer's twenty-year old son disappeared from home. Perhaps he had run away to the big city, the police suggested. He was never found, but shortly after his disappearance various animals went missing around town as well: mostly dogs and cats. Were these things connected? 

One night a farmer heard something rummaging through his garbage cans. Thinking it was a raccoon, the farmer flicked on his outside light. It wasn't a raccoon. It was a naked man. His body was covered in short white hair, and he had the face of a pig. The man - creature? - ran off into the darkness. 

A few weeks later, during a high-school dance, four students were smoking and drinking in a sand pit behind the school. As they talked, they saw something move towards them in the night. It was a naked man with the hideous face of a pig. Terrified, the four students ran into the school gymnasium and told their friends what they had seen. A group of students ran out to see the creature, but it had vanished, leaving behind only beaten-down undergrowth as proof it had been there. 

Jeff Hatch was one of the students that rushed out to find the Pigman, and many years later he told Vermont author Joseph Citro about the creature. Citro included the legend in his book Green Mountains, Dark Tales, and in subsequent books, like Weird New England and The Vermont Monster Guide. According to Hatch, locals at first suspected the Pigman was living at a nearby pig farm (which makes sense), but many motorists that year reported seeing a strange white creature near the Devil's Washbowl, a stony hillside depression that a stream runs through. A young couple that had parked their car near the Devil's Washbowl for a romantic interlude also claimed the Pigman had attacked them, and the young man had the claw marks on his body to prove it. 

Small piles of bones and piles of hay, which seemed to have been used as bedding, were found in caves near the Devil's Washbowl, further lending credence to the idea it was the Pigman's lair. Jeff Hatch claims the police went to investigate, but never found anything. 

Some people want to see the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids. Ever since reading this story, I've wanted to see the Devil's Washbowl, so we made it a stop on our Vermont trip. Devil's Washbowl Road is easy to find on Google maps, but when we visited it was not marked by any street signs. (It looked like they had been stolen by vandals.) It's a dirt road that wends its way along a steep, wooded hillside. There are a few houses and farms along the road, but mostly you're in the woods. Devil's Washbowl Road is pretty, but it also reminded me of the beginning of a horror movie, particularly as we were two city boys out of our element. 

I had asked Joseph Citro how to find the Washbowl itself, and he told me I would see it when the road passed over a culvert. After mistakenly thinking a small stream was it, we came to the actual Devil's Washbowl. Many geologic features in New England bear the Devil's name, often because they are rough and vaguely inhospitable to humans. This is one of them. A stream runs down a rocky hillside, empties into a rocky basin, and then disappears into the woods. I haven't found a specific legend explaining the origin of the Washbowl's name, but it does look like someplace where the Devil would wash his hands after committing a nefarious deed. 

Would you go down there? We did not...

We pulled over and got out of the car to take some photos. Other than the sound of rushing water, it was very quiet. I debated climbing down into the Washbowl itself to find one of the caves, but I (wisely) decided not to. My main concerns: breaking a leg, getting Lyme disease, touching poison ivy, getting eaten by the Pigman. Four good reasons to stay near the car. And then Tony noticed a good reason to get back in the car: a big piece of animal scat, relatively fresh. Was it from a bear, or maybe a coyote? Or perhaps it was from a half-man, half-pig, humanoid monster? We didn't stick around to find out. 

Jeff Hatch seemed to think the Pigman was actually the farmer's son who went missing in 1971, who somehow devolved after living in the woods. That's the original theory, and there are a few other theories circulating these days about the creature's origin. One suggests that he is the unholy offspring of a lonely farmer and a much beloved swine. I won't comment on that one, other than to say I don't think that's how biology works.  

Another, more detailed story about the Pigman's origins seems to have appeared online around 2013. This story claims he was originally a teenager known as Sam Harris. On October 30, 1951, Sam went out to cause mischief in Northfield. The night before Halloween was called Picket Night in Northfield, and it was the designated night for kids to wax windows, egg cars, and throw toilet paper in trees. Sam left home that night but didn't return... until three years later. Sam appeared on his parents' front porch one night in 1954, naked, squealing and tossing bloody pig innards on the porch floor. The sight supposedly drove his mother to suicide (she threw herself into a pen full of ravenous hogs), and a teacher who tried to debunk the legend was found dead with the words "PICKET NIGHT" carved on her body. 

Still not going down there...

In 2014, another addition to the legend appeared online, this time from horror author William Dalphin, who grew up in Northfield. Dalphin claims that in the 1980s, a group of teenagers camping near the Devil's Washbowl encountered the Pigman, who clubbed one boy on the head and dragged him off into the woods. The boy was never seen again, except possibly by one local man who said he had seen the teenager rummaging through his trash, wearing just a pair of torn jeans. His body was covered with short white hair and his eyes had a hollow expression. Dalphin intended his story as fiction, but it has since been cited as part of the actual legend. 

Northfield is not the only place in the United States that is supposedly terrorized by a pigman. A bridge in Denton, Texas, is said to be the home of a pig-headed madman who menaces teenagers. He is either a local hunter transformed into a were-pig after being bitten by a feral hog, or he is the disfigured victim of gangsters who cut off his nose and sliced open his cheeks. Also haunting bridges are the the Pigman of Hawkinsville, Georgia, the Pigman of Angola, New York, and the Pigman of Shelby County, Tennessee, who is said to appear near the bridge at night if you shout, "Pigman" three times. A similar legend is told about Pig Lady Road in Hillsborough, New Jersey, where a monstrous Pig Lady appears if you say her name three times. 

I enjoyed my trip to the Devil's Washbowl, even if it was a little creepy. Perhaps next year I could road-trip across the country, visiting assorted haunted Pig People locations? I suppose I could, but maybe that would be pushing my luck. I should probably count myself lucky I didn't see the Pigman on our trip to Northfield.