11 June 2013

What Ben Hur hath wrought

Study of General Lew Wallace
During the summer of 1996 I spent a long weekend with a college friend from Hoopston, Illinois, which is just over the state line west of Lafayette.  He introduced me to the west central region of Indiana with tours of Attica, Williamsport, and as far east as Crawfordsville.  There we visited a great little architectural gem, now open to the public, with a fantastic history linked to Indiana's golden age of authors and artists.

General Lew Wallace, a Civil War general and an author made famous by his book Ben Hur, was from Crawfordsville.  He married well, which allowed him to pursue his writing career.  His famous work, turned into movies in the 20th century, created more wealth for him than that of his wife's family.  Wallace, already owner of a stately home in Crawfordsville, decided that he needed a study (read:  man cave) on his wooded estate.  So in 1880 he designed a wonderful Romanesque building with a private terrace, moat stocked with fish, inglenook, and large room with a vaulted atrium.  Carved faces on each of the four walls of the building depict characters in Ben Hur and a second book he thought would surpass that book, but bombed.

Statue of Lew Wallace near the study
A few weeks ago a friend and I were attending an Indiana Landmarks meeting in Greencastle.  On our way back through Crawfordsville I suggested we stop at Lew Wallace's study for a short tour.  I'd say I need a man cave like this.....but I guess that's what the barn is for.

Both being familiar with local oral tradition that Wallace wrote a portion of Ben Hur while vacationing at Lake Maxinkuckee, we asked the tour guide if he knew if the story was true.  He said he had heard the story, and that Wallace did vacation on the lake, but given the timing of when the book was written, it was doubtful because Wallace was in Crawfordsville and the southwest during its writing.  Bummer.
Inglenook in the study-something every man cave needs
I've never read Ben Hur, and I don't think that I've ever seen the 1950s film version in its entirety.  But this did give me some incentive to do so.  Here is a link to the General Lew Wallace site:  http://www.ben-hur.com/_index.php.

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