By REBECCA BAYENS, Special to the Times-Mail
Tuesday, April 4, 2006 1:42 PM CDT
As people drifted and migrated from the southeastern United States to Indiana, legends and folk tales traveled along with their baggage. Our ancestors carried tales and beliefs with them as they traveled across the Appalachian Mountains and the surrounding area to settle in the Hoosier state. Many of us are descendants of the mountain people.
One of those famous (or not so famous) legends is that of the death crown. Also known as “feather” or “angel crowns,” these mysterious, tightly wound circles of feathers still amaze people today in the same way that they did just a few centuries ago. This tale presumably comes from the Appalachian area, but could have trekked with people from other places. Some of these accounts could even have Welsh roots.
Death crowns were known to form in the feather pillow of someone who had died, signifying that the person had gone to heaven. Crowns could also form in the pillows of sick people who were near death. The quills of the feathers are directed inward, and hold themselves together. Many traditions state that the crowns were only found in the pillows of the deceased faithful.
The Lawrence County Museum of History and Edward L. Hutton Research Library's featured item this month is the death crown found in the pillow of William Kinser. Kinser was a soldier in the Civil War, enlisting at age 14. He was a member of Company I, 145th Indiana Regiment. Kinser was born May 21, 1850, and died Jan. 9, 1936. His wife donated the crown. The tight coil of feathers is about 3 inches wide and nearly 1.5 inches tall.
The museum has a whole collection of death crowns, four of which are on display at present. Crowns were found in the pillows of the following people in accordance with museum records: Pearl Jones in 1891, Ava Connerly Ball in 1921 and Mrs. Olive Broody. Jones' crown is the smallest one on display; it is approximately 1.75 inches wide and one-half inch tall.
The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition defines a crown as a “wreath, band or circular ornament for the head.” It can also be described as “something that imparts splendor, honor or finish.”
Were death crowns a way to honor those dead that have gone to heaven? One may never know. There is no known explanation for these phenomena.
To view these crowns and other unusual (and usual) items, visit the museum at 929 15th St. on the north side of the square.
Information for this article was obtained from Carol Ostrom for John Rice Irwin of the Museum of Appalachia. Death crowns are also on display there in Norris, Tenn. Interested in visiting this genuine replica of Appalachian life in the days of the pioneers? Visit www.museumof appalachia.com.
Rebecca Bayens, 15, is a museum volunteer and frequent contributor to this paper.