Stories swirl around the Black Angel in Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery, most of them based more in fantasy than fact.
For instance, the angel never sailed on the ocean, and it isn’t made of cheap metal. No one was cheated, and no one was cursed. No murder is connected to it and no infidelity.
But there is a story with facts blurred in history and embellished by writers’ imaginations.
Teresa Karasek married Dr. Frantizek Dolezal in Bohemia in 1865. They had a son, Eduard.
Beloved son dies
Why Teresa and Eduard immigrated to the United States in 1877 is unknown, but they settled in Iowa City.
Eduard, who went by “Eddie,” planned to become a doctor. He worked at a drugstore, but he died of meningitis in 1891 at 17. Teresa buried him in Oakland Cemetery under a marker shaped like a tree stump with an ax embedded in it to symbolize his life cut short.
In her grief, Teresa moved to Chicago, then St. Paul, Minn., where she was married briefly to Joseph Picha. From there she headed to Eugene, Ore., where she met Nicholas Feldevert, a wealthy Oregon rancher. They had two marriages each and the deaths of adored children in common.
On March 20, 1897, Teresa and Nicholas were married by Justice of the Peace A.E. Wheeler in the parlor of Wald House in Eugene.
When Nicholas died in February 1911, he was buried in Eugene. He left an estate valued at $30,000, consisting of a ranch, city property and other investments worth more than $800,000 today.
Teresa began making plans to erect a monument in Iowa City for her family.
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A friend recommended an up-and-coming Chicago sculptor, Mario Korbel, to create a sculpture for the gravesite. Korbel designed an angel to be cast in bronze. His clay model attracted much attention at the Art Institute in Chicago. It would take him three months to cast the figure in bronze.
After reviewing his model, Teresa hired Korbel to do the monument in April 1911. The Gazette reported that Korbel passed through Cedar Rapids on July 27, 1911, on his way West. Even then he was recognized as “a young artist with a brilliant future.” He stopped in Iowa City soon after to view the site.
The Eugene, Ore., newspaper reported in August that Teresa was “expecting daily an agent from Chicago to confer about erecting a monument in the cemetery at Iowa City, where she has a son buried, and where she is to be buried when she dies.”
In the meantime, she began advertising in Oregon newspapers to sell the nearly 1,000-acre ranch 9 miles west of Eugene that she had inherited from Nicholas, as well as two properties they owned in town.
Unhappy with statue
When the monument was ready, Teresa planned to travel to Iowa City to inspect the finished statue. While she waited for word from Korbel, she had her husband’s remains disinterred on Feb. 7, 1912, and shipped them by train to Portland to be cremated. From there, the ashes were sent to Iowa City.
Korbel usually worked in bronze, and he experimented with patinas. When the 8½-foot bronze statue arrived in Iowa City by train on Nov. 21, 1912, it already may have had its dark color.
Accounts from 1960 and after declare that Teresa was unhappy with the angel. She wouldn’t pay the artist, and he filed suit. Korbel won, it was reported, and the statue was erected at the gravesite in 1918. Strangely, none of the local newspapers from that period ever mentioned a lawsuit.
A story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen 10 years later said, “(Mrs. Nicholas Feldevert) was disappointed at the blackness of the angel, but the artist argued that a ‘shiny’ bronze statue would be a foolish monument, and therefore, they disagreed, but the monument remained in position, and probably always will be there, and the dark covering will duly be abraded or eroded by wind and water and sunlight, until the bronze shines through anew.”
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Eddie’s grave originally was some distance from the angel, but was moved, along with the stump marker, shortly after the Black Angel was erected.
In her remaining years, Teresa spent most of her money on projects in Bohemia, including a grade school in Strmilov, her hometown.
After Teresa died on Nov. 18, 1924, her friends were startled to learn that among her belongings was an 1869 diploma from the University of Vienna showing her to be a qualified “practitioner of obstetrics,” or midwife. She also had a certificate from a course of lectures given by a Viennese child health specialist. As a result, the Iowa State Board of Health licensed her to practice as a midwife.
Little money left
Teresa was cremated in Davenport and her ashes placed in an urn on Nov. 21, 1924. Services already had been held at the Hohenschuh mortuary that morning. When the ashes arrived in Iowa City, they were interred under the Black Angel with her husband and son.
After her death, her remaining estate was appraised at $1,393.21.
Without any immediate heirs, Teresa willed $500 to a monument for fallen soldiers in Strmilov and $500 for books for the town’s public library. What was left went to a scholarship for two or three worthy boys from the town.
The inscription reads:
RODINA FELDEVERTOVA (The Family of Feldevert)
Nicholas Feldevert 1825-1911
Teresa Feldevert 1836-
Teresa left no money to inscribe the monument with her date of death.
History shows that the black covering on the angel never wore off to reveal bronze, but the statue did change colors over the years when vandals tried to paint it.
In one incident, on a cold January day in 1965, the angel was painted a silvery gray. It remained that way until weather warmed enough to reduce risks of damaging the monument during repair.
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