Black Aggie: The urban legend that won't die
If you came of age in Baltimore during the 50s and 60s, you probably heard the talk about Druid Ridge Cemetery's most famous grave marker.
Just about everyone knew about “Black Aggie,” the statue of a draped, melancholy and mysterious woman seated at the Agnus family plot in the south-facing side of the cemetery in Pikesville.
Word was that her stony eyes turned red at night. Sit on her lap at midnight and you would meet your own end within two weeks.
In those days, the cemetery was lightly guarded. Teens, often fueled by beer and bravado, travelled to Druid Ridge at night to test the rumor. It was terrifying, exhilarating and the stuff of Baltimore urban legends for years.
By 1967, she was gone. But where?
The Black Aggie saga began near Lafayette Square, across from the White House in 1885.
Marian “Clover” Adams lived there. She was a celebrated socialite, hostess and one of the country’s earliest portrait photographers. At the time, though, she was thoroughly despondent about the death of her father. She ended her life by drinking chemicals from her photography developing supplies.
Her husband Henry Adams, the great-grandson of President John Adams and the grandson of President John Quincy Adams, was grief-stricken. He commissioned one of the world’s most celebrated sculptors, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to create a gravesite memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery. The statue, though never officially named, was often called Grief, or simply "The Adams Memorial."
The figure, a seated and draped woman, evoked a particular feeling of mystery and gloom. So much so that it became a popular tourist attraction, even though Adams tried to shield the view with trees and shrubbery. Despite many requests, he refused to allow copies of the statue to be made. However, a sculptor named Eduard L.A. Pausch managed to do so.
Meanwhile, Baltimorean Felix Agnus purchased a family plot in Druid Ridge Cemetery. Agnus had led a eclectic life. A native of France, he was a world traveler, veteran of several wars (including the American Civil War), a silver craftsman at Tiffany and Co. and a Baltimore newspaper publisher. He purchased Pausch's copy of the Adams Memorial for the plot and built a pedestal similar to the original.
Augustus St. Gaudens' widow was incensed. Though Agnus insisted that he was the unwitting customer of an unscrupulous art dealer, the statue remained in Druid Ridge Cemetery. He and his wife Annie are buried in the plot, along with his mother.
Soon after their deaths, the whispers around Baltimore evolved: Pay Aggie a visit after dark, look her in the eye and be struck blind. Pregnant women were warned to stay far, far away. Sit in her lap at midnight and death lurks around the corner.
People visited anyway, almost nightly. It was a Baltimore rite of passage and often a fraternity initiation drill.
The nocturnal crowds, notoriety and resulting vandalism were too much for Agnus family descendants. They quietly donated the statue to the Smithsonian Institution in 1967. The museum had little interest in displaying her, though. She was placed in storage and quietly forgotten, at least by her D.C. caretakers.
Not so in Baltimore, where Aggie's legend never died away.
In 1996, Shara Terjung, a Baltimore-based reporter discovered that she had been quietly on display since 1987 in a somewhat out-of-the-way courtyard of the National Courts Building. Ironically, the final location is on the east side of Lafayette Square, the same neighborhood where Marian “Clover” Adams took her life in 1885.
To this day, people in Baltimore reminisce about their clandestine nights at Druid Ridge Cemetery.
Sources and more information:
To see a photo of Black Aggie today and/or to find your way to see it in person, get details at geocaching.com.
Black Aggie: The Haunted History of One of America's Most Mysterious Graveyard Monuments, by Troy Taylor, Ghosts of the Prairie, Haunted Maryland, acessed 11/09/17
Black Aggie: From Baltimore to Washington, by John Kelly, The Washington Post, August 18, 2012