By Norman V. Kelly
As a writer of local history I am often surprised by how many young people contact me regarding my stories of old Peoria. Seems that they heard stories of Peoria from their grandfathers and still enjoy reading about them. I must admit that this story is aimed at folks closer to my age, and to this day can tell us many wild stories about the legend of Maizey. Funny thing about this legend is that it actually existed, and hundreds, maybe thousands of folks living here today can take you to the exact spot where they saw her. From this legend, sprang the myths, but even they have a thin thread of truth to them. Here is how it all began.
Lorado Taft’s sculpture was a bronze, seated angel with the open Book Of Life on her knees, placed at the grave of Dr. Theodore Challon Burgess in 1933. Dr. Burgess was the first president of Bradley college in 1920, and prior to that a distinguished educator who held the post as president until his death in 1925. Actually, the monument at Parkview Cemetery was a copy of Taft’s original work of 1923. It was an impressive, beautiful monument located in a secluded area of Parkview Cemetery, attracting many visitors during the initial years of its placement. Lorado Taft was born in Elmwood and became a respected, famous sculptor, teacher and writer.
The Night Visitors
Later, a different type visitor began to arrive at the base of the seated angel, and often they were there on a dare of some kind. Silently, groups of high school and college students would sneak through the darkness to visit ‘Maizey’ or ‘Crazy Maizey’ as the kids later referred to the bronzed angel.
College students held hazing rituals around the monument, and police often found evidence of drinking and a bit of nighttime carousing at the scene. Vandalism occurred in the form of graffiti, which included the painting of the angel’s fingernails and other mischievous activity. Obscene notes were often left on the wings and chest of the statute causing consternation not only to the family but cemetery officials as well.
To the local kids it was all in fun, and brought a source of great excitement to those young visitors, especially around Halloween. After all, the setting was in a cemetery where it was dark, remote, and ‘ very spooky’ which brought a lot of titillation to them, especially the first time visitors. Many of the kids climbed up onto the angel’s lap, making an effort to kiss her or touch the magic nose of the angel. To most of them it was just clean, scary fun, but the painting and other acts were considered vandalism, and it had to stop. Of course many of the kids considered Maizey to be a special, haunted place and they talked about her ‘strange powers.’ For a couple to kiss in front of Maizey meant good luck to both of them. All of this over the years contributed to the legend of this special monument and for many folks persists to this day.
There are people in town that will tell you that a body was found in her arms, and that other ‘strange sightings’ were seen during those dark, scary nights. Like all myths and legends, you either believe them or you don’t.
I wonder if you can imagine the local newspaper headlines if a body were found in such a manner? As a true-crime writer and historian surely I would have written about it at least a half-dozen times. You think?
The Angel Flies Away
Dr. Burgess’s daughter finally had had enough and ordered the monument moved. It was stored in a garage on the Bradley Campus, and the university took over ownership of the 44 plots belonging to the Burgess family. There were plans to put it in a sculptor’s garden at Lakeview, but that never happened. So in 1969, the seven-foot monument was taken to the Midwest Studios of the University of Chicago, where Lorado Taft worked and taught until his death in 1936. Taft’s great work was given to the University of Chicago in Bradley University’s name. You can drive up to Elmwood and see his famous work “The Pioneers,” located in the center of town. After their devastating tornado I am sure they would welcome you. Just tell them Maizey sent you.
To prepare this piece I did a lot of research, but the real fun was talking to people who actually visited Maizey, way back in the wild days of their youth. I certainly visited her and I wonder if you were there on some dark and scary night? I have gotten an awful lot of e-mail about my stories, but I am hoping that this story will top them all. Do you have a ‘Crazy Maizey’ story you can share with us? Please e-mail it to me and perhaps we can get them in print. No last names…of course.
Editor’s Note: Norm is a local historian and author of 8 books on Peoria’s bawdy history. Tell Norm your Maizey story.