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by Jeff Lawhead, guest contributor  [June 12, 2016]





[]  Tales of love flourishing beyond the divide of mortality are well known in Southern ghost lore. One example comes from Dyersburg, Tennessee, in Dyer County, where we travel to a cemetery that is said to be haunted by an unnerving figure called the Darkman.

Darkman is said to be the classic image of the "black aggie" legend -- an intensely evil spirit, formerly of a witch or another diabolic figure, which moves around the graveyard as an indiscernible form, hidden from human notice until they see its bright eyes piercing the void and looking like they're coming out of nowhere.

A black aggie is almost entirely negative and, with few exceptions, is not interested in anything other than frightening anyone who might be wandering around the mortuary grounds much later than they should be.

Darkman, however, is one of those exceptions. The spirit is said to be that of a man who lived in a two room shack near Dyersburg before the turn of the 19th century.

Dyersburg experienced some major growth in the mid-to-late 1800s when it was a steamboat hub that grew into a river town, experienced an industrial boom in 1879 when it became an exporter of timber to markets in St. Louis, and the creation of a sawmill, timber mill, and planing mill not long after that. Presumably, this man was employed somewhere along those industries as he was making money in an area with just over two thousand people in it, among four new booming industries, and was stashing it away somewhere, but for some reason, he and his family lived in dire poverty. (A cotton mill in Dyersburg, below.)



The reason? According to legend, the man was an obsessive miser who cared more about his money than his family. He had a wife that was wasting away from neglect and children that had to be fed by neighbors so they didn't starve to death. The man was relatively well-known in the community; either by his connections or by his infamous hoarding, but no one seemed to know what he was so paranoid of that he had to hide his money even from his desperately under- privileged family. It could be that he wasn't afraid of anything and just simply had a truly evil heart pounding in his chest every time he thought about his beloved treasure trove filling someone else's hands.

Miraculously, the children survived and grew into adults that moved far away from the miser they called their father, but their mother, who had to resort to wearing rags, eating from the garbage and struggling every single day to keep them all alive, finally wore out and died soon after they left. The man was now old and hated by the community, and spent his last years as a recluse until he too wore out, alone with only his secret stash of money as the only love he had left.

When he died, his name was so tarnished that no one attended his funeral, not his children, not even a preacher would acknowledge his life on Earth. The only movement his death inspired to the community was an effort to find this scandalous secret stash in his small, two room shack. The entire building was reduced to dust before the ironic scavengers gave up trying to find it (why they thought it was there would be an excellent question to ask them -- if there was a large treasure trove in such a small hovel, wouldn't the wife have found it at some point and used it to feed and clothe her children?) and now nothing remains of the story today, except, of course, for the man himself.

For decades, his black shade has been reported to be seen haunting the Dyersburg cemetery, gliding over the headstones at night and acting in a strange way. (Entrance to Dyersburg Cemetery at left, June 1918.)

His story grew and became a genuine town legend for generations of children growing up and venturing out to the graveyard to see if Darkman would rise, and many ran home screaming with their desires fulfilled beyond their wildest dreams.

It is said that, years later, one believer of Darkman did not run away and, instead, observed the spirit's activities in the graveyard. He found that the Darkman would act in a pattern and eventually settle in on one grave in particular -- the grave of his former wife. When the black aggie came over the burial plot, it would kneel down and present a loaf of bread, out of nowhere, and lay it on the granite. The spectral loaf would sink into the ground, and Darkman would then disappear.

It became clear to the observer that the Darkman wasn't simply the evil spirit of an evil man, it was a soul trapped in a perpetual state of contrition. Having denied his wife bread to put on the table in life, he must spend his afterlife making up for his heartless negligence. How long he is condemned to do this is anyone's guess, but as the story continues today, it seems he still has a long ways to go to make up for his miserly sins.

The term "black aggie" has usually referred to a statue in the Druid Ridge Cemetery of Baltimore that was placed over the grave of General Felix Agnus in 1926. (The statute at right, before its removal from the grave.) This statue gathered its own volume of urban legends with rumors that it would come to life at night, flashing red eyes at those who were trespassing near it, that ghosts in the cemetery convened at the statue once every year, and that anyone who sat in its lap during the night would be broken and dead by morning.

Other stories of haunted statues in local cemeteries might also refer to them as black aggies, and it seems like the term has been spread out over the years and been tacked onto any dark entity said to haunt a graveyard.


Jeff Lawhead is the author of Phantoms Fill the Southern Skies. This article is excerpted from his book. He has a website.



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