The John E. Hubbard monument in the Green Mount Cemetery at Montpelier, Vermont, features a statue of Thanatos created by famed sculptor, Karl Bitter. The monument is neither black nor Agnes—it is green and it Thanatos. Thanatos, in Greek mythology, was the personification of death.
Oddly, however, this monument has become known in local lore as Black Agnes. The monument may have been given the name based on a sculpture that was erected for General Felix Agnus, the publisher of the Baltimore American who was buried in the Druid Ridge Cemetery, at Pikesville, Maryland, outside of Baltimore. The seated sculpture, that became known as Black Agnus and once decorated General Angus’s monument, was a knock-off of the sculpture that Augustus Saint-Gaudens created for the Adams monument in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington, D.C.
What is plain from looking at the Hubbard monument is that the “she” is a “he.” Nonetheless, the name, Black Agnes, persists and a mythology of its own has been created around the sculpture. Supposedly, if you sit on the lap of the sculpture, something bad will happen to you—some say in seven hours, some say seven days, some say seven months; the amount of time varies depending on who retells the story of the curse. Locals also tell of screams coming from the cemetery at night in the vicinity of the monument. Others report seeing the eyes of the sculpture turn to glowing red, though, no photographic evidence of that has surfaced.
Separating Fact and Myth
What we know to be true is that the monument was created for John Erastus Hubbard (1847 – 1899) who was a prominent businessman and citizen in Montpelier. When his well-to-do Aunt passed away in 1890, she left the bulk of her fortune to the city of Montpelier. John contested the will and won the fortune which he added to his own sizeable holdings. It caused many in the city to see Hubbard as a bit of a scoundrel who cheated the city out the bequest—which some estimated the fortune at $300,000—which was a King’s ransom in the 19th Century.
Hubbard’s reputation was nearly instantly tainted, but when he died less than ten years later, he left the bulk of his fortune to the city—some believe to polish his tarnished legacy.
On either side of the statue that dominates his tomb are the following two stanzas from William Cullen Bryant’s poem, “Thanatopsis” which would seem to indicate that Hubbard did not believe he had anything to be ashamed of:
THOU GO NOT LIKE THE
QUARRY SLAVE AT NIGHT
SCOURGED TO HIS DUNGEON
BUT SUSTAINED AND SOOTHED
BY AN UNFALTERING TRUST
APPROACH THEY GRAVE
LIKE ONE WHO WRAPS THE
DRAPERY OF HIS COUCH
ABOUT HIM AND LIES DOWN
TO PLEASANT DREAMS.
As the French proverb goes, “There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience”.