The West Baden Angels

An Indiana Mystery — the Angels of West Baden — is now on exhibit at the Bona Thompson Memorial Center, 5350 E. University Ave., as part of the Irvington Historical Society’s permanent collection. Hoosier photographic artist Pamela Mougin created these life-size images from the original angel paintings that are hidden from public view in a small room beneath the massive dome of the West Baden Springs Hotel, nearly 100 feet above the ornate atrium’s mosaic terrazzo floor.
Located west of Paoli, Indiana, the Orange county town of West Baden Springs lies in the valley of French Lick Creek amid mineral springs and surrounded by natural mysteries — sink holes, underground caverns, and the Lost River. With the opening of the hotel and its 200 foot diameter domed atrium, the Eighth Wonder of the World, on September 15, 1902, the story of the West Baden Angels begins. At the apex of the converging steel construction supporting the dome is an enclosed drum-shaped space, sixteen feet in diameter which can only be accessed from the roof by walking across a metal staircase and going through a red entry door and down a steel ladder. Upon entering this space, the eyes behold, painted on the steel walls, the images of eight angels.
It is not known when, why, or how these angels were painted. Some graffiti dates to 1925 and possibly earlier. The artists may have been Italian artisans, who were employed to do marble and terrazzo work during the renovations that occurred during the First World War, or scenery painters who were with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus when it stayed at the hotel during this same period. It has even been suggested that the angels were painted by a Greek iconographer. For many years the eight angels, together with the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on a nearby hillside, watched over the building and all who stayed within until the church was razed in the mid-1930s. Now only the angels remain, and time and graffiti took a toll on these images before Pamela Mougin captured the angels on film and canvas in 2005-06, thereby preserving them and making them accessible to all.
Showing the West Baden Angels at the Bona Thompson Memorial Center is part of the mission of the Irvington Historical Society in preserving Indiana art and making it available to all at no charge. The grand opening of the West Baden Angel Exhibit will be held Sunday afternoon, December 8, from 2-4 p.m. The Angels will be on view to visitors Wednesdays 1-3 p.m.; Saturdays/Sundays 1-4 p.m.; and Fridays, December only, 6-8 p.m. This is the only opportunity most people will get to see the Indiana Mystery and discover the personal meaning of the Angels of West Baden in person.
The donors who helped create the West Baden Angel Exhibit include Pamela Mougin, David Nickel, Don Briggs, Kent Hankins, Tony Amman, Dawn Briggs, Sue Beecher, Paul Diebold, Terry Hankins, Gary Powell, AAA Trucking, Ron Cain, Bill Aughe, and the Board of the Irvington Historical Society. Many thanks for their hard work.