Local legends: The Black Angel, Coe College’s ghost and the haunted Edinburgh Manor

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The Black Angel in Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City. — photo by Jordan Sellergren

The Black Angel

The Black Angel is a foreboding presence in Oakland Cemetery: a nearly-nine-foot-tall figure on a four-foot monument with outstretched wings and arms, a downturned face and helmet hair. Vandals have lopped off most of her fingers, an act that, according to legend, leads to death. Non-virgins who dare kiss the statue are also assured an untimely demise, especially on Halloween.

Folklore aside, what makes the Black Angel so­ — weird? Well, it’s not the ethereal image Americans are used to seeing at gravesites. The sculpture was the brainchild of two Czech-Bohemian immigrants: artist Mario Korbel and commissioner Theresa Dolezal Feldevert, who wanted the piece to look down upon the grave of her late son Eddie (buried under the statue of a tree stump to the angel’s right).

The Black Angel presides over the graves of midwife Theresa Dolezal Feldevert, her second husband Nicholas Feldevert and son Eddie Dolezal. The pedestal reads ‘Rodina Feldevertova,’ Czech for ‘the Feldevert family.’ — photo by Jordan Sellegren

The Black Angel, originally bronze, cuts a dreary figure common in Eastern Europe cemeteries in the 1910s, though even Feldevert allegedly found it a little off-putting. Still, she and her second husband Nicholas are buried at the Black Angel’s feet.

Its transition to black has been attributed to everything from Feldevert’s rumored infidelity to murders committed by the angel itself. The less superstitious would tell you it’s the natural result of bronze oxidization. During Halloween season, we’d rather believe the former.

— Emma McClatchey

The ghost of Voorhees Hall

Helen Roberts wasn’t famous until she was dead.

A student at Coe College in Cedar Rapids in 1918, Helen lived in the nicest dorm on campus, Voorhees Hall (“Voorhees Hall exemplifies something new in the construction of girls’ dormitories,” complete with laundry facilities and a pool, according to a 1915 newspaper story). It’s also where she died.

Helen has become Coe’s ghostly mascot. Judging by the stories, Helen is less of a spectral menace and more of an annoying roommate. Generations of students have claimed Helen slams doors, stomps up the stairs, pulls off blankets and plays the piano in the dark hours before dawn.

But if ghostly Helen’s half-hearted poltergeisting isn’t particularly terrifying, what happened to the real flesh-and-blood Helen is.

Helen was one of the victims of the great influenza pandemic of 1918. The details of her death aren’t recorded, but that doesn’t matter — she died the same way the other victims did. It started with a sudden fever. A few days later, her lungs began filling with fluid. It became harder to breathe. Helen slowly drowned as she lay in bed. Less than two weeks after falling ill, Helen Roberts was dead.

The 1918 pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide, according to most estimates. That era’s medical science was largely powerless against it. And there’s no reason to feel safe just because medicine has advanced in the last 99 years. Experts agree that another lethal flu pandemic is almost inevitable, and that whatever flu strain is able to spread worldwide will be resistant to current treatments.

Just something to think about this Halloween, as you read about funding cuts for science.

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Image: A grandfather clock dedicated to the memory of Helen Roberts is said to be permanently broken. It allegedly once stopped at 2:53 … the time at which Roberts died.

— Paul Brennan

Edinburgh Manor

This Jones County attraction is a ghost hunter’s playground, literally.

Edinburgh Manor is a large Victorian building located in Monticello. Prior to the manor’s construction, the site was home to the County Poor Farm, where impoverished, insane and disabled locals could earn housing and food in exchange for farm labor. From 1850 to 1910, more than 80 deaths were reported on the property.

By 1911, the farm was replaced by Edinburgh Manor, which served as a community care home for the insane, poor and elderly until 2010. There are reports (or, at least, rumors) that the asylum staff severely mistreated residents throughout its history, leaving them sitting in their own filth for days and subjecting them to dehumanizing exams and living conditions — the kind of trauma from which the most infamous hauntings arise.

Though medical documents are still scattered throughout the building, Edinburgh Manor has been open to paranormal investigators since 2012, including TV’s Ghost Adventures. These overnight visits have yielded a handful of evidence videos and audio recordings and dozens of reports of loud noises, humming, cold spots, disembodied voices, spontaneous mist and shadowy figures.

Those looking to organize a truly ghostly sleepover can book a night at the manor for $200, or $40 a person for groups of five or more. Make sure to pack a camera.

— Emma McClatchey

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  1. There is no pool in the dorm. She was sick for 3 days before she died. The illness was very fast acting and 40+ other girls in the building were sick.

  2. Voorhees Hall did have a pool and it was located in the basement of the west wing. I was associated with Coe College in the ’70s. Helen might have been the first to die (Spanish Flu) in that dormitory, but she wasn’t the last.
    My student job was to light the campus lamps as none of them had photo eye activators at the time and I found Helen to be particularly noisy in the summer when the dorm was empty (that was until the Upward Bound program showed up and the building got loud again).

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