Tales From Iowa City: The Black Angel of Death

By Mike Jones on March 13, 2018 at 4:15 pm
Black Angel
Wikipedia Commons

In 1839, Iowa was not yet a state and its territorial capital was located in Burlington. The Iowa Territory was actually what would eventually become our great state, along with the majority of Minnesota and the Dakotas, as seen here:

Governor Robert Lucas desired to move the capital closer to the center of the territory, or at least a little further from the bottom of it, so the legislature created Iowa City in 1839. Two years later the capital of the territory was moved there. As it grew from a tiny hamlet into a smaller city, a problem arose: there was no place to put the dead. And so the territorial legislature deeded Oakland Cemetery to the people of Iowa City in 1843. Located in northeast Iowa City, the cemetery is the resting place of several prominent Iowans including Robert Lucas, former governor and United States Senator Samuel Kirkwood (Kirkwood Community College), Walter Jessup (Jessup Hall) and Virgil Hancher (Hancher Auditorium).

It is also the resting place of the Feldevert Family, whom this story is centered on.

The official story goes something like this: Teresa Dolezal Feldevert was born in Bohemia (Czech Republic) in 1836 and was a practicing physician when she immigrated to Iowa City with her son Eddie Dolezal. Eddie died of meningitis at 18 and was buried in Oakland Cemetery. To honor him, she had a monument of a tree stump with an ax sticking out of erected over his grave. This, presumably, was a metaphor for "a life cut short.” 

Teresa moved to Oregon and married her second (or third) husband, Nicholas Feldevert, who also died, and so Teresa returned to Iowa City in 1911 with her husband’s ashes in tow. Of note, per the Gazette’s piece on the Black Angel, Mr. Feldevert had an estate valued at $30,000 at the time of his death (more than $800,000 today).

Ms. Feldevert started to make plans to construct a monument for her family and eventually commissioned sculptor Mario Korbel, who was also a native of Bohemia and was making an impression at the Art Institute in Chicago. The angel sculpture was made of bronze and took months for Korbel to create, with it eventually arriving in Iowa City in November of 1912. There seems to be some dispute about whether or not it was immediately installed as Ms. Feldevert was supposedly unhappy with the final result but regardless, she and her family were interred beneath the angel as early as 1918 and as late as 1924, when she died. Eddie's tree monument was also moved alongside the statue.

Black Angel in 1939
The Black Angel and Eddie's tree stump monument as it appeared in the December 12th, 1939 edition of The Daily Iowan.

The statue’s transformation from bronze to black doused gasoline on the urban legend fire and so the “Black Angel of Death” became a local legend. Per the official Iowa City website, myths of why it turned black include:

  • Teresa Feldevert was a very mysterious woman, and her evil caused the Angel to turn black, which would serve as a constant reminder of the sins of the family;
  • There was a storm on the night following Teresa’s burial and the Angel was said to have been struck by lightning;
  • A man erected the monument over his wife’s grave, and because of her unfaithfulness to him during their marriage the Angel blackened to serve as a reminder of her sins;
  • A preacher's son is buried beneath the Angel, and it turned black because the preacher had murdered his son; and
  • The angel watched a Todd Lickliter-coached Iowa basketball game.

Of course, we all know that the real reason that the angel turned from bronze to black is due to oxidization but that isn’t very fun, is it?

The City also lists myths surrounding Black Angel by touching or being in its presence, including:

  • No University of Iowa coed is a true coed unless they have been kissed in front of the Black Angel.
  • Any girl kissed near her in the moonlight will die within six months.
  • If a virgin is kissed in front of the Angel, the Angel will return to its original color, and the curse that turned it black will be lifted.
  • Touching the Angel at midnight on Halloween means death within seven years.
  • Anyone who kisses the Angel will die instantly.
  • Every passing Halloween causes the Angel to turn one shade darker as a reminder of the people she has killed.

That’s an awfully violent statue in my honest opinion.

If you’d like to see the dark lady, stop by Oakland Cemetery at 1000 Brown Street in Iowa City. 

Just make sure you go during the day.

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