- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - The Rowan family plot in Mobile’s historic Magnolia Cemetery is oddly devoid of the elaborate markers seen throughout much of the rest of the graveyard. But Square 17, Lot 4 has something not found in any other plot in Magnolia, or other cemeteries, for that matter. It has the Iron Lady, a statue titled “Solemnity,” that is made not from marble or granite but from cast iron. Birmingham’s Vulcan, god of the forge, is Alabama’s best-known - and the world’s largest - cast-iron statue.

The Iron Lady is not nearly as large, only about 5 feet in height, but she is a rarity in Alabama funerary art, as well as the source of several legends, according to Tighe Hereford, manager of Mobile Municipal Cemeteries.

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About the Iron Lady

“The Iron Lady is the only memorial marker of any kind on the Rowan Family Lot in Square 17,” Hereford said. “There are many tales and legends surrounding this beautiful statue.”

Her origins, however, are no mystery. “She is called Solemnity, and is one of a series of iron statues representing various emotions and/or states of the mind, manufactured by the iron foundry of Wood and Perot of Philadelphia, Penn. The statue was simply selected from a catalog and shipped to Mobile.”

Wood & Perot, formed by Robert Wood and Elliston Perot, was in business from 1857-1865, according to PhiladelphiaBuildings.org.

Hereford is unsure of what year the Iron Lady arrived in Magnolia, but she has likely stood at least 100 years and Hereford said he has no reason to believe she was not ordered from the original foundry in the mid-1800s.

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He described the lore surrounding the statue:

Legend: The statue ‘calls’ violent storms.

Unlike most cemetery memorials of the Victorian era, the Iron Lady was installed facing south toward the ocean rather than the traditional east. Hereford said that positioning led to this lore: “One legend says that she commemorates a woman who spent each day watching the sea for her sailor/lover who never returned. The legend even says that if she is turned to face eastward - or any direction other than toward the sea - Mobile is inexplicably struck by violent storms until she is returned to the proper orientation.”

Truth: Storms often strike Mobile, regardless of statue orientation.

“The tales about her are spooky and make for great storytelling,” Hereford said. “Regretfully, the tales and legends do not reflect actual facts. She does face the sea; but the fact is that the Rowan Lot is situated right on a cemetery roadway on the south side. It was (and still is) common practice to face statues, headstones, memorials and even mausoleums toward the closest roadway for ease of viewing from car or carriage. If the statue faced eastward, she could only be seen in profile from the roadway. Whether or not moving her causes storms is certainly a fascinating idea. However, the fact is that violent thunderstorms and even tropical storms are common along the Alabama Gulf Coast regardless of the orientation of old statues.”

Abiding mystery: Why a ‘goddess’ guards a plot with no headstones

The Iron Lady is referred to by many locals as The Goddess of Magnolia, Hereford said, leading many people to believe she is a statue of a Greek goddess. But why would the likeness of a goddess be by the only structure on this family lot containing at least six burials?

“The only real mystery is why the family members of those buried in the lot went to the trouble and expense of placing the statue on the lot, but never marked any of the actual grave sites in the lot with inscribed memorial markers,” Hereford said.

It is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

“Of course, they may have thought this unusual arrangement would keep interest in the lot high for many decades into the future,” he said. “If so, they were correct. The thousands of visitors to Magnolia nearly always make the Iron Lady of Magnolia a must-see on their tours of Magnolia, and hers are only some of the many legends and mysteries surrounding this beautiful, historic burial ground.”

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