World War II parachute transformed into one-of-a-kind wedding dress

Hensinger wedding dressEvery once in awhile, we see a story that is just so neat – we have to share it (even though it’s not necessarily something that happened in Juniata County).  This is one of those instances.

As the “marryin’ season” is now upon us, this seems the perfect time to share this story!  If you have a similar story, especially if in Juniata County, please share it!

Reprinted with permission from Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries (from their recent Spring Newsletter:  Dialog), this story was written by Tracie Spence.

The story follows:

Marriage proposals are made in a variety of ways. There’s the traditional proposal where the man gets down on one knee and asks for the woman’s hand in marriage. There are also the more modern proposals of airplanes pulling a banner with the message, “Will you marry me?” to popping the question on an electronic sign at a sporting event.

But the late Major Claude Hensinger had his own, unique way of proposing to his girlfriend, Ruth.

Hensinger was returning from a bombing raid over Japan in 1944 when his B-29 was shot down over China and he was forced to bail out of his plane. Fortunately, his injuries were minimal, and he survived the night using his parachute as a blanket.

Shortly after returning to the U.S., Hensinger began dating Ruth, whom he had known since childhood. After a year of courting, Hensinger proposed to Ruth by giving her an unusual gift—his parachute.

“He said, ‘This is the parachute that saved my life. I want you to make a wedding gown out of it,’” says Ruth, a resident of Luther Crest, a Diakon Lutheran Senior Living Community in Allentown, Pa.

Ruth was overwhelmed by the parachute’s massive size. “I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to make a gown out of 16 gores of nylon and all that bias?’” she says.

Her inspiration came from a dress she saw in a store window; the dress was based on a gown from Gone with the Wind. Hensinger made the skirt herself by pulling up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a longer train in the back; she then hired a local seamstress to make the bodice and veil.

The gown was worn for the first—but not the only—time in 1947 when the Hensingers were married at Neffs Lutheran Church in Neffs, Pa., where the couple had met as children. “My husband didn’t see the gown until I walked down the aisle,” she says. “He was happy with it.”

Twenty-five years later, the gown was used by their daughter, who wore it on her wedding day, and then later by their daughter-in-law. “It went down the same church aisle three times.”

In the early 1990s, Hensinger learned the Smithsonian Institution was looking for artifacts made from World War II-era parachutes. She contacted a curator, who requested that she send the gown and veil to the museum.

Hensinger sent it without a second thought. “What was I going to do with it? I don’t have granddaughters to wear it,” she explains. The museum has since displayed the gown at a number of exhibits, including most recently at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Of course, that unusual proposal brought her more than a parachute: She and her husband, she says,“had a great 49 years together.”

We Love Visitors!

cyclists visit academyEight cyclists visited the Tuscarora Academy Museum on Sunday, May 8th while biking in the county on a three day 100 km/day ride.

They are members of the Lehigh Wheelman Association which is the largest cycling organization in the Lehigh Valley.  Ron Helmuth who planned the three day ride has been coming to Juniata County for many years staying in a family owned cabin near East Juniata High School.

After touring the Academy they had lunch before getting back on their bikes to complete the ride.

Want to visit yourself?  The Tuscarora Academy is open Sundays (June – August) from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – OR – by appointment.  For directions, click HERE.

Editor’s Note: As a cyclist myself, I love to hear of stories of great trips planned on two wheels!

Help Solve a Mystery!

mystery-photoEvery once in awhile, it’s fun to help out a fellow historian!  Take a look at the photo included with this post.  For all of you born in the 1800’s (ahem), maybe this will jar your memory.

This photo has been hanging at the Historical Society with the hopes that someone could help identify the building, its location, or even any of the well-dressed folks hanging around outside.

Use other buildings in the photo for clues.  Note the beautiful church in the background.

Anyone know of someone researching the KOSER family?  That’s obviously a big clue, too!

Think you know something that may solve the clue?  Leave a message here – OR – contact the Historical Society at

Let’s get this mystery solved!

Carlisle Indian Industrial School Presentation

Carlisle Indian SchoolA presentation on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School will be held 1-3 p.m., March 5, 2012 in the lower level conference room of the Juniata County Library in Mifflintown.

During a time when the United States government was willing to spend $1 million to eradicate a single Indian tribe out west, Captain Richard Henry Pratt established the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Pratt’s enlightened idea was to “save” native children by turning the “savages” into white men and women.

It was attended by more than 12,000 Native American children from more than 140 tribes, and was the model for nearly 150 Indian schools.

Critique the school’s plan to “Kill the Indian, save the Man” as you explore what it means to be stripped of your cultural heritage through forced assimilation.

Presenter Matthew March, Education Curator, Cumberland County Historical Society, will explore what it means to be stripped of your cultural heritage through forced assimilation. The program will include artifacts, period clothing and photos.

Attendance is limited to 40. Reserve by Feb 29 with the Juniata County Historical Society, 717-436-5152, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Tuesdays or Wednesdays. The presentation is free but donations are welcomed. The snow date is Mar 12.

Hollywood Comes to Juniata County

movie_clipart5Have you heard?  Our humble Juniata County is looking to make the leap to the silver screen – and it’s all based on a publication you can get from the Historical Society – Juniata Justice!

Juniata Justice is the true story of a murder that occurred in Susquehanna Township, Juniata County in 1900.  It’s a great story line that fits the mold of great movies:  affairs, suspicions and upstanding citizens that were driven to commit crimes (or where they?).

A local filmmaker, Lucas Fultz, is hoping that this film will become a reality – but he needs your help!  A fundraiser is planned on Friday, March 9th at the Central Juniata EMS Building.  The fundraiser has a $5 cover charge and starts at 8:00 p.m. and will be showcasing some local bands, including:

  • Click Clack Boom
  • The Heggs
  • The Backroad

For more information or to make a donation, contact Lucas Fultz.