Standing guard at the edge of the Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa is a lone sentinel known as the Black Angel. Her face is calm as she looks Westward welcoming visitors. Despite her sweet and serene visage, over the years she has become a topic of local folklore and, to some, a sinister being capable of evil.
What we know about the Black Angel begins in 1854 when Ruth Anne Browne and her husband, Grenville Mellen Dodge, moved from Illinois to Iowa. Grenville rose to the rank of General in the Fourth Iowa Infantry during the Civil war. He returned home at the end of the war in 1865 and took a job with the Union Pacific Railroad. Ruth Anne Browne was a strong-willed woman, not afraid to speak her mind in an era when it wasn’t acceptable for a woman to do so. The couple had three daughters and lived in a home Grenville had built with his own hands.
Grenville died in January of 1916, and Ruth Anne passed away in September of that year. Before her death, Ruth Anne had a dream that she was standing on a shoreline when a boat pulled up to shore. On board the boat was a beautiful woman whom Ruth Anne believed was an angel. The angel offered her a drink from a bowl of water she was holding, but Ruth Anne turned down the drink. The angel came to her in a second dream sometime later, and again she turned down the drink. Ruth Anne had the same dream a third time, and this time she accepted the drink. Ruth Anne recounted the dreams to one of her daughters, saying of the time she drank from the bowl that it “gave her immortality”. She died shortly afterwards.
The next year Ruth Anne’s daughter Ella hired a sculptor, Daniel Chester French, to cast a bronze statue commemorating the angel that had given her eternal life in her dream. The angel statue was unveiled in 1920. French would later sculpt the marble statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C, but he always said that the Black Angel was his greatest work. On an interesting side note, Abraham Lincoln once met with Grenville when Lincoln visited Council Bluffs in 1859.
Decades after the statue’s dedication, local residents began reporting strange occurrences around the cemetery. One local reported that the statue had actually left its pedestal and began flying around the grounds. The statue is also said to visit the fresh graves at night, perhaps as a welcoming committee for recent arrivals.
There are those, however, who believe her to be far more evil. Some reported that they had seen children walk behind the base of the statue only to disappear and never been seen again. They also say that if you look into her eyes at midnight you will soon be dead, kind of like she’s THE RING girl of statues.
Some people weren’t content with just retelling stories of her supernatural tendencies. In 2009, the Black Angel needed $400 in restoration after vandals spray painted the bottom half red as well as painting swastikas and “Die 666” on the retaining wall next to her.
Through myths and vandalism, the Black Angel of Council Bluffs, Iowa has kept her watch over Fairview Cemetery. To this day she draws visitors from all over the world to see her beauty, uncover her mystery or just admire her historical significance.