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Black Agnes

09/01/05 12:00AM By Joe Citro

(HOST) Commentator Joe Citro tells the story of a mysterious, cursed tombstone.


(CITRO): When I was writing my book about New England curses, I studied the power of words. Can curses kill? Can they really do harm? Of the several Vermont curse stories, there is one in our state's capital -- and it's nothing political. Rather, it's a gravestone known as "Black Agnes."

The story goes something like this:

A prominent Montpelierite was murdered around 1930. Afterward, an elegant monument was erected for him. It's a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary. She's sitting with her face upturned toward Heaven. Somewhere along -- for reasons as yet unexplained -- she picked up the nickname "Black Agnes."

Here's where the curse comes in: it is said that anyone who sits on Black Agnes's lap in the light of the full moon will suffer seven years of bad luck, maybe even death. Supposedly no one survives the seven years unscathed.

As you might expect, there are several anecdotes illustrating that the curse really works. One has to do with a high school boy who plunked himself down on Agnes's lap. Shortly thereafter -- and well within the fatal seven years -- he died in a canoeing accident on the Winooski River, less than half a mile from the statue.

I asked a lot of people around Montpelier if they knew the story. Many did. I also asked them if they'd ever sat on Black Agnes's lap. I couldn't find anyone who had.

Upon closer investigation, I discovered a few problems with the story. First, and perhaps most conspicuous, the statue is not of the Virgin Mary. And it isn't any "Agnes," either. The anatomy is most distinctly. . . male.

Interred beneath it is John E. Hubbard, a local philanthropist who died of natural causes, not murder.And his passing occurred in 1899, not "around 1930."

The "bad luck," the "full moon," and the "seven years" are all stock elements of scary campfire tales and urban legends; they have little to do with legitimate curses.

But several true mysteries remain. One wonders how this five-foot-high bronze monument -- created by artist Karl Bitter -- earned such a tarnished reputation.

The only hint I was able to discover was that Mr. Bitter called his creation "Thanatos," the Greek personification of death. So, I suppose sitting on the "lap of death" might be a bit risky.

But the biggest mystery -- at least to me -- is how Thanatos, mistaken for the Virgin mary, got renamed Black Agnes.

My curse is that I can't discover the answer. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

This is Joe Citro.

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter who lives in Burlington. His new book is titled, "Cursed in New England: Tales of Damned Yankees."
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