Published in Times Mail newspaper Jan. 8, 2019, by Becky Buher, Guest columnist
Can a crown be made of feathers?
Last month, Jason Pear, producer at Indiana public media WTIU, brought a crew to the museum to film a segment of a new series, Journey Indiana. Hosts Ashley Dillard and Brandon Wentz discussed artifacts with museum president, Rowena Cross-Najafi. Among the many interesting, or shall we say unique, items reviewed were angel crowns and dressed fleas. Cross-Najafi shared information on the limestone industry, astronauts, and numerous things specific to our county museum. It will be fascinating to see what makes the final cut. The program premiers Tues. Jan. 8 online—go to journeyindiana.org to watch it. It will also air on Indiana University’s public television station, WTIU on Jan. 10.
Of what was filmed, many locals may remember the dressed fleas, but do you know what an angel crown is or what it has to do with feathers?
Feather pillows are something of a luxury today, but there was once a time, before foam or synthetic fibers, when most people slept on feather pillows. Families in town and rural homes often raised poultry, and there were products resulting from this worthy endeavor—plenty of fresh eggs, meat, and lots of feathers. Chicken, duck or goose feathers were plucked, cleaned, dried and placed inside a large pocket of blue and white cotton pillow ticking, and the end was sewn together to create a pillow. A white cotton pillowcase, sometimes lovingly embellished with embroidery, cross-stitch or hand-made lace, adorned the pillowcase.
An unusual phenomenon sometimes developed regarding the feathers in the pillow of a dying man or woman. The phenomenon is recalled from the hills and valleys of Appalachian homesteads, and since many families who lived in Appalachia, migrated north and settled in Southern Indiana, the phenomenon came here with them.
Within the pillow of someone who was near death, relatives might find a solid mass. The feathers had become bound into a small wreath shape about the size of a bird’s nest.
Some thought it to be an omen of death, but if the person died, family and friends welcomed the feather clump as reassurance their loved one had received their heavenly crown, and the feathers were a manifestation which they called angel crowns. Family members cherished these feather crowns.
A few of these precious angel crowns have been donated to the museum. One came from William L. Kinser’s son, Frank Kinser, and his siblings to honor their father.
Lawrence County resident, William L. Kinser, was born in 1850. His parents were Elias and Mahala Grub Kinser.
During the American Civil War, William served in Georgia as a private in the Union 145thRegiment, Indiana Infantry, Co. I, under Capt. Newton Matthers. The regiment was engaged in railroad guard duty at Dalton, Georgia. He mustered out at Marietta, Georgia, in 1866. His older brother, Elias, had died in 1864 at London, Tenn., while serving with the 120thIndiana Infantry. William’s younger brother, Joseph, served in the 54thIndiana Infantry in Mississippi.
William returned home after the war and lived a long life. He died in 1936 and is buried by his wife, Carrie Rogers Kinser (1858-1888) at the Kinser Cemetery in Marshall Township located near the Monroe/Lawrence County line. His grandson, Steve Kinser, said it was so cold the day William was buried that they had to use a horse and buggy to get up the road to the cemetery.
The following is recorded with William’s angel crown: “He lived a Christian life most all his life. The crown was found in his pillow just after his death. This is the work of God—it could not be made by human hands.”
Since 2005, the museum has been housed on the north side of the public square in the 100-year-old Hamer-Smith building at 929 15th Street in Bedford. The museum space was made possible with the help of Edward L. Hutton, Larry and Janet King and many, many local volunteers. Hutton grew up in Bedford and became very successful. He valued his hometown and donated some $3 million and countless hours to help make the museum what he considered to be one of best county museums in the state.
If you haven’t visited lately, come to the museum gallery and see the angel crown phenomenon for yourself.