Curios are actually just everyday objects that have found themselves outside their customary time and space. But for us, in our own time and space, they offer a unique window into lives lived with different customs, beliefs and superstitions, and different ways of navigating tasks and relationships. Their value comes not only from the artistry with which they were made but from the context of which they remind us.
For the adventurous, visit a living museum at Shaw's Antiques. The most interesting curiosity I saw was the feather "death crowns." Apparently, when a person died on a feather pillow, particularly chicken feathers, these crowns would form under the head. Truth is stranger than fiction! This little bit of folklore is a mixture of middle Tennessee folk belief with possible connections to northern Alabama and to bayou country in Louisiana, as well. (Perhaps it is found in many other places, too.)
The "angel crown" is a clump of feathers found in a feather pillow after someone has died. One old explanation for this is that as the soul leaves the body, the feathers are sucked or woven into a hard knot. Another variation is that the crown is found if the person went to heaven, and a variation of this tale is that the crown forms as a crown for someone to wear upon entering heaven. Of course, some have offered logical explanations, such as the feathers forming around a thread or some other object in the feather ticking.
According to middle Tennessee historian, Jill Garrett, it was bad luck to find one if someone had not died. It was an omen indicating that a death was coming.
People opened the pillows, pulled out the feather crowns, and kept them as memorials to the deceased. Sometimes special display cases were made for the crowns, and they were passed down from generation to generation for safekeeping.
Many claim that these crowns form only when a person has died; thus simply tossing and turning during an illness doesn't make it happen.
Of course, this is superstitious rather than scriptural, but interesting nonetheless. Perhaps, as someone is dying, their movement is restricted, and their head stays put in one place for a long time. This could make a permanent indentation if the feathers did clump around something within the ticking.
Currently, most of us sleep on foam pillows, so we have less scope for studying this phenomenon. To view these relics from the past, visit Shaw's Antiques at 1526 Central Ave.
This article was provided by Hot Springs Antiques and Collectible Dealers Association.