The folks at Loch Ness have their monster, western Washington has its Sasquatch and Roswell, New Mexico, has its aliens. Your community probably has its own local legend.
For those of us growing up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, it was the Black Angel.
Oh, that wasn’t its official name but it more accurately reflected its inspiration than its given name of Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial. And it was the story behind the statue that elevated it to local legend status.
Ruth Anne Dodge was the wife of perhaps Council Bluffs’ most famous resident, Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, a Civil War general turned railroad builder who shared President Abraham Lincoln’s vision of a transcontinental railroad. As chief engineer of Union Pacific Railroad, Dodge oversaw construction of the westbound leg of that railroad from Council Bluffs. They eventually hooked up with an eastbound leg constructed by the Central Pacific on May 10, 1869, in Promontory Point, Utah, fulfilling Lincoln’s dream.
Dodge died on Jan. 3, 1916, in Council Bluffs and Ruth Anne died eight months later – on Sept. 4, 1916. Three times in the nights before her death, Ruth Anne Dodge dreamt that an angel urged her to drink from an urn. She finally drank, ensuring immortality, she thought. She died within hours.
Her daughters commissioned noted sculptor Daniel Chester French, who was already deep into a project that resulted in the noted Lincoln Memorial statue in Washington, D.C., to create the angel in memory of their mother. It was finished and dedicated in 1920, two years before the Lincoln project was completed.
In the decades since, daring teens have been known to visit the statue at night, carefully avoiding the Black Angel’s gaze. To look into the angel’s eyes is to tempt fate as she has the ability to follow you with them once she locks onto your eyeballs and, well, we know how things turned out for poor Mrs. Dodge in her angelic encounter.
True or not, local legends often have their roots in local history and have a way of working their way into family history, one way or another.
Writing prompt for the day: What local legends do you have in your family history?
Photo: Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial (aka the Black Angel) in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (The lwlehmer collection).