The black angel and wild rumpus of Iowa City

The black angel of Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City.
The black angel of Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City.

IOWA CITY, Iowa – “We’re off to have a wild rumpus!” declared one of the Aunties. “Would you like to join us?”

We were in the cemetery to see the black angel. She is tall – nine feet atop her four-foot pedestal – and beautiful. Her face is sad, chin turned slightly downward, her wings spread out at an angle. She is at once menacing and comforting. Legend says if you kiss her, you will die instantly.

The Auntie who spoke to us had a wide, friendly grin. The other stood shyly back. The young woman with them had a face shaped like the angel’s except her round blue-grey eyes were laughing. Soft brown hair fell straight down her back and over tattooed arms. The lone man in the group had his hair tied back and his long, full beard was not unkempt. Each young adult had a little girl on their back and two more – all of them blond and appropriately wild – wove around the party eager for the rumpus to begin.

Two friends pay their respects.
Two friends pay their respects.

Though we said we couldn’t join them – we were four hours from Omaha and it was nearly sunset – we let our own blond Wild Thing out to meet the menagerie that walked with them – a tiny dog named Penny and two waist-high wolfhounds, Tilly and Dashiel, who wanted nothing more than to lick a fresh baby face.

“But if you go this way,” the Auntie told us, swinging her arm (the one without the beer) toward the far side of the graveyard, “you’ll find a white angel reclining in the tall grass. You should see her, too.”

Trevor and I drove on ahead, leaving Melani and Jilly to join the rumpus.

“We might have lost them,” I sighed. “We could turn a corner and just never see them again.”

The lesser-known white angel of Oakland Cemetery.
The lesser-known white angel of Oakland Cemetery.

And yet, they turned up at the white angel shortly after we did. All the little girls were on their feet by then, zigzagging around headstones and perching on angels.

iowa“We call this Poet’s Corner,” the quiet Auntie told me. “Engel was a professor at the University of Iowa. Justice was a Pulitzer Prize-winner.”

The adventurers had gone on without us, meandering to a hill overlooking a devastatingly sad mausoleum with the statue of a mother in a rocking chair looking wistfully at her lost child. The first Auntie hushed everyone so we could hear the owl hooting from his home high up in a sycamore tree.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to Melani, “but if we’re going to make it to Omaha tonight, we have to leave.”

“But first follow the road to the left,” the Auntie advised. “There’s another person there, lying on her grave with her arms crossed. You’ll want to see her, too. Don’t worry about getting lost on the way out. Just remember: The black angel is always looking toward the exit.”

They waved us off as we said our thank yous for the company and the tour. We drove away, but their wild rumpus went on.

iowa

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