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Delving into the Black Angel

BY JUSTUS FLAIR | NOVEMBER 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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After moving to Iowa City, it doesn’t take long to hear of the Black Angel. The legend may be told more often in darkened dorm rooms than around campfires, but the Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery is still one of the most persistent urban legends in the state.

Marking the grave of Eddie Dolezal, commissioned by mother Theresa Dolezal Feldwert, the nearly-10-foot-tall statue of an angel with bowed head supposedly turned from bronze to black, signifying a multitude of curses: Feldwert murdered her husband and the angel was showing her deception; as a midwife, Feldwert had performed abortions and now the souls she had wronged were punishing her, just as God had punished her by taking her children. If you touch it at midnight, you have seven years left to live. Walking in the shadow of the angel’s outstretched wings? Not a good idea. And of course there is the mysterious issue of why Feldwert’s death date isn’t listed.

This month marks 90 years since she died and more than 100 years that the angel has stood towering in Oakland, and the myths still swirl around her. But what lies at the heart of the tale? In The Enigma of Theresa Dolezal Feldwert and the Black Angel, Timothy C. Parrott found the truth — or at least something close.

Bohemia to Iowa City

Feldwert was born in Strmilov, Bohemia. She married and had a son Feb. 16, 1868, who lived only two weeks. Heartbroken, she decided to train as a midwife in Vienna. Eddie, her second son, who would come to rest below the Black Angel, was born in 1873.

Four-year-old son in tow, Theresa left her home and traveled to America following her husband’s death. She and Eddie arrived in Iowa City in March 1878. With dreams of being a doctor like his father, Eddie worked for a pharmacist at 113 E. Washington St. until he could attend the University of Iowa.

That dream never came true. Eddie died just shy of his 18th birthday. Feldwert commemorated his grave with a tree trunk, symbolizing a life cut short. The monument still stands beside the Black Angel.

Unable to bear staying, Theresa jumped around the Midwest for a while, remarrying, divorcing, heading briefly to Boston, and then settling in Oregon with her third and final husband, Nicholas Feldwert.

In Oregon, Theresa Fledwert was bitten by a rattlesnake, and her lower leg was amputated; she relied on a wheelchair the rest of her life. When Nicholas Feldwert died in 1911, Theresa received a settlement equating to about $1 million today.

The first thing she used the money for? A statue for Eddie — an angel for her angel. 

Bronze to black

After specifying exactly what she wanted to the T, Feldwert hired Josef Mario Korbel to carve the statue for $5,000. Together, they picked the exact spot in the cemetery where the angel would preside.

Originally bronze, the angel quickly turned black, sparking the rumors that still surround it. The darkening can be explained simply by oxidation. Korbel supposedly meant for the statue to darken, as he felt a bronze angel would be silly in a cemetery, but Feldwert was outraged over the change and attempted not to pay the full price. She relented, and the Black Angel, with a poem she had written carved into the base, remained in the cemetery.

Nicholas Feldwert’s ashes and Eddie’s body were moved to the new plot, along with Eddie’s tree-trunk monument.

Having honored her son as best she could, Feldwert began doling out the remaining money. One-third went to Strmilov for a children’s hospital; officials there instead built a house for the elderly.

Today, it’s a nursery school, Theresa’s name glistening on a plaque outside.

She also set aside $1,500 for memorials for fallen soldiers in Oakland Cemetery.

More was sent to Strmilov for general assistance to the poor. Despite all the good she intended, it didn’t last long; eight years after her death, Hitler rose to power. and her gift was seized.

Feldwert, in her will, also set up scholarships for aspiring midwives and for a boys’ home, a sign of her remembrance of Eddie.

Rumors to myths

Feldwert’s ashes were interred with her son and second husband on Nov. 11, 1924; she had died in Iowa City three days previously. The real reason her death date never appeared on her grave: She had no heir to see to it.

She had lived a hard life, losing her first son almost immediately, only to see her second son die in his prime. She lost three husbands. She spent years of her life stuck in a wheelchair. Perhaps worst of all, she lived long enough to hear rumors about the Black Angel. She was forced to listen as people questioned what she had done to turn the angel black. Just as with the money she intended for good failed, the angel meant to show her love for Eddie began instilling fear. Her act of love wound up demonizing her and her son; how sad that instead of mourning Eddie, his grave is now surrounded by crushed beer cans, people touching his grave on a dare, respect for his short life all but gone.

Supposedly, Feldwert thought about erecting a statue of herself in Iowa City; she wanted her name to live forever. It may not be the way she planned or the way she wanted, but Theresa Dolezal Feldwert’s name will be remembered, at least in Iowa City.


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