Monday, October 31, 2005

All Hallows' Eve

It's the 31st, isn't it? I woke up and found out that Sam Alito had been nominated by President Bush (why didn't he just go with him the first time, I don't know). But then I was reminded of the date and that reminded me that tonight is the night.

No, I don't plan on going trick or treating. I went to a costume party last weekend and that took care of any need to dress up in some horrific outfit. Instead, I intend to make my second pilgrimage to the Black Angel, situated in Oakland Cemetary on the north side of Iowa City.

I first read about the Black Angel in W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, the novel upon which Field of Dreams is based. A lot of the action in the novel takes place in Iowa City itself. Kinsella was involved in the Writers Workshop back in the late seventies and his Iowa City is one that had pretty much disappeared by the time I arrived in 1999. In the novel, some of Iowa City's folklore is recounted, including the traditions surrounding the Black Angel, a bronze statue in Oakland Cemetary that turned black shortly after its erection almost a century ago.

Bob Hibbs writing in the Iowa City Press-Citizen summed up the history of the Black Angel best, telling of the various stories that claim to be the truth of why the monument was commissioned and placed in Oakland Cemetary.

Other websites recount the superstitions that surround the Black Angel. One site gives a version of the tale of the famous 'virgin kiss' beneath the Black Angel.

She incarnates a mother’s desperate love for a son who died at age 18 in 1891. But, students claim no woman is a true UI coed unless she had been kissed beneath the Black Angel, preferably at midnight. Fraternity members claim that if such a coed is “innocent of men” the statue will turn white. Nobody ever said myths were fair!

Another site reminds us that some of the other superstitions are not so benign.

However, the main phenomena here appears not to be something lingering in the cemetery, but something that vandals and disrespectful people take away from the cemetery. Many stories involve people who have touched or desecrated the Angel in some way who were rewarded subsequently by death. One well-known story is about four boys who urinated on the monument, and died later that night in a car wreck. Another tells of a young man who used a hacksaw to cut the thumb off the Angel (and indeed a thumb and a few fingers are missing) who basically lost his mind and was eventually found dead in the Chicago River. His cause of death was strangulation, and the sole piece of evidence was a single thumbprint on his neck. Days later, a caretaker supposedly found a blackened piece of bronze in the shape of a thumb at the base of the Black Angel monument.

Tonight, I'll walk through the darkness and see if I can not get lost on my way to my meeting with the supernatural. I don't plan on touching the Angel myself, nor do I have a virgin co-ed with whom to test whether or not drastic color change is possible. But walks through the dark under the trees are spooky enough. Happy Halloween.

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