By Mike Moran, a Baltimore based stand up and podcaster
The Phantom of O’Donnell Heights
For three terrifying weeks in 1951, the East Baltimore neighborhood of O’Donnell Heights was said to have been paid an unwelcome visit by a mysterious, malevolent entity, who would rise at night from his home in the local cemeteries to torment citizens. Residents claimed the ghoul was dressed all in black, with a wicked, nasty face. He was said to have the ability to leap great distances, leading some to speculate that the infamous Spring-Heeled Jack apparition of London had made his way to the States. During the hysteria, multiple residents claimed to hear the Phantom scamper across their rooftops, dreadful organ music was heard emanating from the cemetery chapel after midnight, an old lady claimed the fiend broke into her home, and several girls reported the Phantom hiding under cars and beckoning to them chillingly with the words; “Come closer, my dear.” A patrol was formed of local vigilantes, but they never apprehended the wicked fiend. However, they did claim to have chased the Phantom deep into a local cemetery where they witnessed him slip into a crypt, never to be seen or heard from again.
…or, maybe, it was just a classic example of a mass-panic.
Mass hysterias like this one happen pretty frequently, and are standard for human populations; one person witnesses some creepy old guy acting weird, she embellishes some details of the story to her friends, some kids start pranking each other around it, the news runs some sensationalized accounts, and pretty soon your neighborhood watch is chasing barn-owls with pick-axes, because they have glowing-devil-eyes. The Mothman of West Virginia, the Satanic cults of 1980s America, the Bunny Man of DC; for some reason, life is just so much more interesting when you have real monsters running around harassing people.
Deep within the Druid Ridge Cemetery, just beyond the city line (technically, Pikesville), there is an empty platform with a single word carved in to it: “Agnus.” Decades ago this plot housed one of the area’s most notorious villains: the evil stature known as “Black Aggie.” The horrific carving cast an air of dreadful melancholy so powerful it drove some to madness. The towering monstrosity; made of an icy weathered bronze, face peering out from layers of thick cloak, indifferent eyes that seemed to convey the chilling inevitability of death, once compelled a cemetery worker, so bedeviled by Black Aggie’s gaze, that he removed her arm with a saw. Police could not convince the entranced man that the dreadful carving had not requested him to do so. No grass would grow within Black Aggie’s shadow, and daring, local youths quickly learned not to toy with the powerful “dark angel.” Stories emerged of dead teenagers found within Aggie’s presence in the early-morning light, perhaps crushed to death in her cold, mighty, hands. Or, maybe it was her lifeless, doll-like eyes, said to glow with demonic fire late at night, that caused meddling non-believers to drop lifelessly before her. Black Aggie was said to have delighted in causing pregnant women who walked within her sight to miscarry. She could even cause blindness to those who gazed into her her cruel face. So wicked was the cursed idol, that the cemetery eventually removed Black Aggie. They donated her to The Smithsonian, who quickly learned of her malevolent strength and locked her away deep within their catacombs, so that no one would have to peer into the dreadful eyes of Black Aggie again.
…or maybe, it’s just a good story.
Urban legends involving frightening, real-life, statues are nothing unique to Baltimore (though can you think of one with a creepier name than “Black Aggie?”), and likely the bulk of Aggie’s mischief existed only in the spooky rumors of local youths. No deaths, miscarriages, or sudden bouts of blindness were ever officially reported, and heavy trampling around the notorious monument likely accounted for the grass dying. The story about the cemetery worker is indeed true, though it’s believed he may have hacked the arm of the wrong statue, and it is, in fact, debated which monument Black Aggie actually was (apparently the Druid Ridge Cemetery is just bursting with creepy statues). It’s just as true that the popular Aggie was given to The Smithsonian, who weirdly lost track of her for awhile, but the removal was due to all the unwanted attention it was bringing to the cemetery. Aggie eventually showed up again and can be found today in the courtyard behind the Dolly Madison House in our nation’s capital, where she is now free to horrify tourists from all over the world. You’re welcome, DC.
Perhaps Baltimore’s best kept secret in the field of urban legends is the shocking story of Karl Atticus and his “movie that drove its audience mad.” Not until a recent documentary entitled Mortal Remains emerged on the scene, was the local population reminded of the bizarre events of of a movie screening in the early-70s, and the macabre details that later emerged around it. It was said to have occurred at a midnight screening in Baltimore’s Patterson Theater (now owned by the Creative Alliance). A film, also called Mortal Remains, made its debut, and so disturbed the audience that a frenzied riot ensued. Dazed movie-goers violently seized the film reel to destroy the only copy of the unholy thing in the street. To this day, no one seems to want to discuss what was shown on the screen that night. Strange rumors surrounding Karl Atticus, the movie’s mysterious creator, including accusations of grave-robbings, murders, and necrophilia, were not quelled after the reclusive filmmaker committed suicide the following year, and a plethora of bizarre items were removed from his house by police.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smEYDkiIk4Y
…or maybe that’s just good marketing.
Was there really such an event, and did it go down the way the makers of the Mortal Remains documentary claim? Could a city really have forgotten about one of its most fantastical stories, with virtually no one alive willing to discuss it? Could a man described as the “father of the modern slasher film” really be forgotten by the horror movie fan base at large? Perhaps the answer is that the real event was merely embellished upon via creative license. Maybe it’s even possible to create an urban legend out of thin air, and convince people of their retrospective knowledge of it (I’ve found several people who claim to have vague memories of Karl Atticus and the movie-house riot). Or maybe it’s true that dreadful events, occasionally come to pass, so disturbing in nature, that all involve conspire to erase it from the public consciousness.
…well, farfetched as it may seem, a good story is a good story.