Urban Legend: The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery

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Cemetery Angels

Loss has a way of striking us where it hurts most—our experiences shape who we are, as well as how we interact with and see the world around us. As a result of varied cultural and religious preferences, there is a symbolic connection between angels and death. It is popular, especially within religious traditions, to erect angel statues alongside the traditional headstone. Angels represent the symbolic connection between heaven and earth, but their additional meaning of strength, peace, faith, protection, and beauty can be comforting to those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. Angel costumes and art are associated with Christmas and other popular holiday celebrations. However, a certain black angel in an Oakland cemetery has become renowned for darker supernatural reasons.

Angelic Symbolism

The many different poses that these angels assume also contribute meaning to their presence over their respective graves. Angels represented in prayer signify the deceased’s devotion to god, an angel pointing upward can act as a symbolic guide for the soul to find its way to heaven. A weeping angel shows immense grief over the death of a loved one and an angel with their head bowed can symbolize the mourning of a sudden or unexpected death. Although angels are most commonly made from granite, they are often created from bronze as well—a granite angel would have less of a reaction to environmental factors, whereas bronze statues can come with unexpected consequences.

The Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City

In 1839, before the Iowa Territory became a state, its capital was located in Burlington; Governor Robert Lucas decided that the capital ought to be closer to the center of the territory and so the legislature created Iowa City. When the capital of the territory was finally moved there, two years later, the tiny hamlet had blossomed into a small city, at which point they recognized a problem arising—they had no place to put the dead. By 1843, the legislature deeded the Oakland Cemetery to the people of Iowa City.

The Truth Behind the Legend

Terezie (anglicized as Teresa) Karásek was born in Strmilov, Bohemia, in Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic) on October 14, 1836. In 1865, at the age of thirty, she married František Doležal, a doctor from Moravia. After two years of marriage, Teresa birthed their first son, Otto who died when he was two weeks old. After the loss of her first child, Teresa became a midwife; she obtained her certificate in Vienna and moved back to Strmilov where she became a prolific midwife, delivering nearly one hundred children.

Immigrating to the United States

Closer to her forties, Teresa had her second son, Eduard (anglicized as Edward)—by the time he was four years old, Teresa left her husband and moved to the United States in 1877 with her son. It’s unknown why she left her husband, although it was fairly commonplace at the time for immigrants from Bohemia and Slovakia to find themselves living in Iowa, working on the railroad, and taking jobs at farmsteads.

In many tellings of her history, Teresa is said to have been a physician that turned to midwifery once she arrived in America, whereas others maintain she was a midwife her entire career. Either way, Teresa’s son Edward had planned to follow her example and enter the medical field as a doctor and in his late teens, he worked at a drugstore. Unfortunately, Edward contracted meningitis around the age of 17 or 18 and passed away in 1891, at which time he was buried in the Oakland Cemetery. Over his grave, she erected a monument of a tree stump with an ax sticking out of it in his honor—it is generally assumed that this was intended as a metaphor for his life being cut short.

Loss of A Second Son

Soon after Edward’s death, Teresa is said to have moved around a lot, having lived in Chicago, and even marrying her second husband, Joseph Picha, in Minnesota. When that marriage didn’t work, her travels landed her in Eugene, Oregon which is where she met and married her third husband, a German rancher by the name of Nicholas Feldevert. The two were married on March 20, 1897, by Justice of the Peace A.E. Wheeler in the parlor of Wald House in Eugene, Oregon. Nicholas had also been married twice before and had experienced the death of his only daughter whom he had seen die as a child.

Back to the Family Plot

Her husband, Nicholas, died in 1911; it was around this time that she moved back to Iowa City and brought her husband’s ashes along to put to rest next to her son. In memorial to her late husband, she commissioned Mario Korbel, a Chicago-based Czech sculptor to create what has come to be known as the locally famous monument the Black Angel.

The Black Angel in Oakland Cemetery is not to be confused with the Black Angel in Council Bluffs, Iowa—which is considered to be a great work of art sculpted by Daniel Chester French, the same artist who created the seated Abraham Lincoln inside of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Minutemen in Concord, Massachusetts.

While there is a disagreement on the timeline of the commission and when it was delivered, it is believed that the statue was commissioned between 1911 and 1913 and that it was delivered to Oakland Cemetery between 1912 and 1915. Without historical documentation to lend as evidence of its commission, completion, and delivery it’s difficult to say, with authority, the exact dates.

Teresa’s Philanthropy

 When Nicholas died he left behind no heirs and by default left his estate estimated at $30,000 (more than $800,000 by today’s inflation rates) to his widow, Teresa. Teresa sold the ranch and began to send money back to Strmilov as a patron for students and public welfare—scholarships and community projects benefited from her generosity in this respect. As her years dwindled, she made a point to spend her husband’s wealth since she also had no immediate heirs to leave her money to. Projects in Bohemia, including a grade school in Strmilov, benefited from her generosity.

The Angel’s Appearance

At one point, the statue that watched over the Feldevert family plot in earnest was a glorious golden-bronze monument that represented the love and grief of Teresa at her many losses in her lifetime. The 8.5-foot sculpture took Korbel months to create and being cast out of bronze, it wasn’t exactly a cheap commission. The story that we’re told is that the statue was not immediately installed, as Teresa was said to have been unhappy with the final result. This is another source of conflicting accounts—as some versions of the story insist that it was immediately installed upon arriving via train; others believe that the statue sat in a barn for six years while Teresa pursued a lawsuit. When she inevitably lost the suit, it’s assumed that she paid the artist the $5,000 he was owed, then eventually installed the angel atop a four-foot pedestal where her husband’s ashes were interred and moved the monument of her son to stand alongside the angel.

At the End of a Long Life

Teresa died of cancer on November 18, 1924, at which time her ashes were placed beside her husband’s and although the monument displays her birthdate, she did not leave any money behind to inscribe the monument with the date of her death. As such, her remaining estate was appraised at $1,393.21 and since she had no immediate heirs, she willed $500 to a monument for fallen soldiers in Strmilov, $500 in books for the town’s public library, and whatever was leftover to be used for scholarships for two or three boys in town that were deemed worthy of the aid.

The Reputation of the Black Angel

The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery has been a destination for those looking for paranormal thrills for literal decades; with all of the creepy legends surrounding it, how could those who have a thirst for the paranormal stay away? It’s likely that the stories about the monument are based less on fact than on fiction, with the tendencies of writers to embellish for the sake of a good story. As seen by the story of Teresa and her family’s life there was no immediate reason for the Angel to be haunted or cursed—loss happens, but there was no infidelity to speak of, no one committed suicide, nor was anyone murdered. So, why has the monument become part of such a famous urban legend?

The wild myths and legends that surround this monument were spawned primarily from the unsettling appearance that the monument took on after Teresa’s death. While the truth remains that the statue was forged in bronze and has oxidized over the years due to environmental factors—but that’s kind of a buzz kill isn’t it? The truth is, the creepiness of the blackened bronze isn’t lessened when people are eager to believe in the paranormal. To those who don’t do a deep dive into the true story behind the Black Angel, it’s clear to see how its reputation could make even seasoned investigators quake in their boots.

The Myths that Fuel the Superstition

Teresa Feldevert was, in life, a mysterious woman which led to many believing that she was in fact a witch—whether she ended up cursing, possessing, or simply haunting the statue is a source of some debate. Had she called some nameless evil to inhabit the Angel? Or was it simply her evil nature that caused the Angel to turn black as a reminder of the sins of her family? Was there really a severe storm that raged the night following Teresa’s burial, where a bolt of lightning struck the Angel and turned it black?

The myths become even more outlandish from there, based solely on rumors that make no sense after looking into the legend. Some believe that a man erected the monument upon his wife’s grave, but that his wife had been unfaithful throughout the marriage which caused the Angel to turn black due to her infidelity. Others maintain that a preacher buried his son beneath the Angel but it turned black because the preacher had actually murdered his son.

It’s believed by some that the Angel darkens every Halloween in recognition of the people that have been killed by the evil curse upon the statue. It doesn’t help that first-hand accounts from visitors report ghostly voices and strange anomalous lights floating around the statue. So what should you do (or not do) to avoid becoming the next victim of the Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery? We’ve compiled a list of simple rules to survive your encounter with the Black Angel.

  1. Never touch or kiss the Angel—to do so means instant death (unless you’re a virgin).
  2. Never kiss a girl near the Angel in the moonlight, or else the girl will die within six months.
  3. Never touch the Angel at midnight on Halloween, to do so means you’ll die within seven years.
  4. If you’re pregnant, never walk beneath the statue’s wings, otherwise, you’ll risk a miscarriage.
  5. If you happen to be a coed of the University of Iowa, then tradition states you must be kissed in front of the Black Angel.
  6. If a virgin is kissed in front of the Angel then the Angel will return to its original Bronze color and the curse will finally be lifted.

The Statue Vandalized

Throughout the history of the Black Angel, it has been noted that the black covering has never worn off to reveal the original bronze. The monument has, however, changed colors over the years when vandals have tried to paint it. One particular incident was recorded as having happened on a cold day in January of 1965 when the angel was painted a silvery gray—due to the weather, it remained that color until it was warm enough to reduce the risks of damage from the repairs. It’s also known to have had several fingers removed with hammers and hacksaws on a separate occasion, a bold move considering the alleged story that defacing the Angel will bring death.

Sources:

https://www.goiowaawesome.com/iowa-city/2018/03/2670/tales-from-iowa-city-the-black-angel-of-death

https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/16409

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/black-angel-of-oakland-cemetery

https://paranormal.lovetoknow.com/ghosts-hauntings/black-angel-oakland-cemetery

https://www.thegazette.com/life/time-machine-teresa-dolezal-feldeverts-black-angel

https://www.thegazette.com/life/time-machine-teresa-dolezal-feldeverts-black-angel/#?secret=txk88YPIGy

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