IRVINGTON, Ind. (WTHR) — In July, we shared some hidden Indiana history that generated a lot of interest.
Jennie Runevitch climbed the roof of the West Baden Springs Hotel, up and into the “Angel Room” above the famous dome.
Turns out, we can all experience the Angel Room, while remaining safely on the ground with a full-scale replica in Irvington.
Irvington "Angel Room" replica
It was an adventurous and memorable journey, scaling the roof of the West Baden Springs Hotel and exploring a secret space called the Angel Room.
Jennie and her photographers Ryan and Matt got to experience the beautiful artwork that's part of a century-old mystery at the resort.
But guests can't go up into the Angel Room.
So the hidden history, for most people, stays hidden.
That’s why what's inside the Bona Thompson Memorial Center, 100 miles away from French Lick, is so special.
The Irvington Historical Society has a full-scale replica of the West Baden Angel Room that visitors can tour, safely from the ground.
When you take a look around, there are the floor to ceiling panels of painted angels and graffiti, a ladder to show how to get into the real room and hand-drawn rivets, resembling the rusted beams in West Baden's dome.
Kent Hankins is the acting president of the Irvington Historical Society and helped build the replica. He’s also visited the Angel Room at West Baden in person.
"We thought it was one of Indiana's treasures and since it's so difficult to get into the dome to actually see, we did our best here to recreate it,” Hankins said.
"Basically we wanted to really try to give the feel of the room."
Irvington's replica doesn't just look like the real Angel Room, it sounds like it, too.
"They really wanted the floors to creak so you felt it," said historical society member Dawn Briggs.
The replica even has fake “gaps” in the floor, to show how it’s been worn away by time in the real room.
"Recreating the wood floor, illuminating it so you got the sense there's light underneath it,” Hankins explained.
In fact, there are only a few differences here. They don't have the cherubs painted on the ceiling. Those are displayed in a separate hallway. The space in Irvington is also a little bit larger than the 16x10 room in West Baden, so visitors can easily get inside. And, there's no hatch in the floor that leads directly to the atrium below, which was the most frightening part of walking in the West Baden Angel Room.
But everything else is recreated down to the detail.
The angels themselves were gifted to the museum by late Indiana artist and photographer, French Lick native Pamela Mougin.
She was commissioned to take pictures and create canvas replicas of the paintings in 2006, when the Cook family renovated the West Baden Hotel.
Eventually, Mougin wanted a permanent display where more people could enjoy them. She mentioned that around members of the Irvington Historical Society who said, “Why not us?”
"Irvington was founded as an art colony and we just think it's so perfect,” Briggs said. “We just felt like this would be the natural home for the angels."
It's still not known who painted the originals. Italian craftsmen? World War One soldiers? Circus painters? All theories are still on the table.
That mystery is part of the angels' allure. And in Irvington, people can ponder their secrets, without climbing a single step.
Visit the Irvington replica Angel Room:
- Year-round free display
- Wednesdays 1-3 p.m.
- Saturdays and Sundays 1-4 p.m.