High atop a ridge overlooking the Missouri Valley is Council Bluffs’ Fairview Cemetery, where stands the Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial, also known as the Black Angel. Legend has it the spot is haunted and visitors sometimes report unusual occurrences. Nevertheless, the site is worth a visit as the beautiful bronze sculpture, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the work of Daniel Chester French, who created Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial and the minuteman in Concord, Massachusetts.
Ruth Anne Dodge was the wife of railroad baron General Grenville Dodge, an honored figure in the history of Council Bluffs and the westward expansion of the railroad.
Born in 1833 in Peru, Illinois, into a family that could provide a ladies’ education, she was a multi-talented woman. Ruth Anne could not only play piano and write poetry, she could ride a horse and shoot a gun with the best of them, a talent that held her in good stead during the years she joined her husband on the prairies of Nebraska.
The Dodges built a grand residence in Council Bluffs, where General Dodge influenced the development of the Union Pacific Railroad. He died in January 1916, and September of that year found Ruth Anne also on her deathbed.
After her death, Ruth Anne’s daughters, Anne Dodge and Eleanor Dodge Pusey, had the sculpture made to depict the series of three nighttime visions experienced by their mother before she died. Ruth Anne had told them of the recurrent visions where she found herself on a rocky shore when through the mist she saw a small boat approach, carrying a beautiful angel holding a small bowl with water flowing forth.
Each night the angel encouraged Ruth Anne to drink the water. “Drink, I bring you both a promise and a blessing,” the angel said. Twice Ruth Anne refused to drink, but the third night she did drink the water, and after partaking she said she felt “transformed into a new and glorious being,” telling her daughters she had drunk the “water of life” and now had immortality. She died a short time later.
Who haunts the site today is unclear. Is it Ruth Anne Dodge? Or perhaps it is the beautiful but tormented young woman who served as the model for the sculptor. According to Tom Emmett, executive director of the Historic General Dodge House in Council Bluffs, Audrey Munson was the most oft-sculpted woman of her time.
But apparently, fame did not bring her happiness, for a decade after modeling for the artist she tried to commit suicide and was subsequently committed to an insane asylum, where she lived another 65 years without visitors, dying at the age of 104.
Emmett says some people believe that those who touch the sculpture may be cursed. Others say the angel flies off her pedestal at night, and still others say the angel’s eyes follow a person as they walk past. One way to find out is to go and visit. The sculpture is considered likely the most valuable artwork in Council Bluffs, and it is just steps from a spectacular view of the Missouri River Valley and the expanse of Nebraska beyond.
“The Black Angel of Council Bluffs: The Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial.” Spiritual Travels: Practical Advice for Soulful Journeys. Accessed Oct. 15, 2023.
“Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial – The Black Angel.” History Online, The Historical Society of Pottawattamie County. Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
Williamson, Zach. “The History, and Haunting, of Council Bluffs’ Black Angel.” KMTV 3 News Now, Local News, Oct. 15, 2022.