Friday, December 23, 2022

2021-03-27: Visiting the Birthplace of Ben Hur on Day 5 of Turning a 1400 Mile Road Trip into a 3404 Mile Adventure!

Today was a special geocaching roadtrip day. While I've never heard the name of General Lew Wallace before, I'm VERY familiar with his work. Or more specifically a 1959 interpretation of his work. In 1880 Lew Wallace's second book, "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ", was published. Today we got to visit General Lew Wallace's Study and Library. So come aboard and join us on Day #5 of our 3404 mile road trip adventure. Today's journey has us finishing up Indiana and into Illinois. Are you in? Let's go for a drive...

We started out the day in Crawfordsville, Indiana in Montgomery County. The first stop was downtown for a virtual geocache (GCHXCT). The Montgomery County rotary jail and sheriff's residence was built in 1882. The first rotary jail built in the United States constructed based on plans based on patented design of William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh of Indianapolis. Used as a jail until 1973 and opened as a museum and restoration begun in 1975. It was also listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The circular cell block has sixteen wedge-shaped cells on a two-story turntable around a central shaft. The design promised better prisoner security and jailer safety. The cell block was immobilized in the 1930's as a hazard to prisoners. County jails were first established in 1792 under laws of Northwest Territory; continued under laws of Indiana Territory and state constitutions of 1816 and 1851.

We then drove over to the homesite of Lew Wallace. It was still a little early and the grounds and museum wasn't open yet. So the next three geocaches were located just outside the northwest side of town in the Oak Hill Cemetery (GC2JHCJ, GCVTJ8, GC2GGZB). Formed on April 12, 1875, the Oak Hill Cemetery Company purchased 100 acres and the cemetery was dedicated on October 20th. Today the cemetery hosts over 14,000 interments.

Among the many notable permanent residents here, like Civil War officers, Congressmen, a Governor, and others, is General Lew Wallace and his wife Susan Arnold Wallace. This is the monument for the Wallace burials. Let me first tell you about Susan Wallace.

Susan Arnold Elston was born on Christmas Day in 1830. She was an accomplished author who wrote travel articles for several magazines and newspapers across the country. Susan married Lew Wallace in 1852. She also wrote six books that were published in her lifetime: "The Storied Sea" (1883), "Ginevra" (1887), "The Land of the Pueblos" (1888), "The Repose in Egypt" (1888), "Along the Bosphorus and Other Sketches" (1898), and "The City of the King" (1903). Before her death in 1907, Susan completed Lew Wallace's 2-volume autobiography which he started before his death in 1905.

Now back at the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum (GC1EQWB), these are the north grounds of the Wallace estate. Lew and Susan Wallace built their modest Victorian home on Elston Family land in 1868. The house was sold to outside the Wallace family in 1919. A brick wall was then built by Lew's son Henry to separate the two properties. The main house is still private property and not a part of the museum.

Upon entering the grounds, you'll first encounter the Carriage House which is now the museum office. The Wallace's built the carriage house by 1875. It contained a stall for Lew's horse, "Old John", a carriage room, a hay loft, and a workshop where Lew worked on his inventions. The house was first remodeled in 1946 and used by the girl scouts. The exterior was restored in 2006 retaining its Queen Ann elements from the 1800's. The interior was adapted to be used for the museum office, gift shop, exhibit room, kitchen and storage. The Wallace's original unrestored carriage (seen below) is located in the basement of the study.

Copied from the informative sign on the grounds: The Ben-Hur Beech Tree and Statue of Lew Wallace. "Its spreading branches droop to the ground... and under them I am shut in as by the walls of a towering green tent. How often while lending me its protection and fragrant coolness, it has been the sole witness of my struggle to whip an obstinate thought into comeliness of expression; and how often out of respect for me it has maintained a dignified silence when it might have laughed at my discomfiture." -- Lew Wallace, about his beloved tree.

Lew Wallace wrote much of his famous novel, Ben-Hur, under this huge tree which came to be known as the Ben-Hur Beech. Because he loved the outdoors, Lew often brought a favorite rocking chair and lap desk outside to work. The tree was struck by lightning in 1907 and taken down in 1908.

In 1910, the Indiana State Legislature honored Lew by placing a statue of him in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. Lew's son Henry was so impressed with sculptor Andrew O'Conner's work, that he ordered this bronze copy and placed it where the Ben-Hur Beech Tree once stood.

Now for the main attraction. In 1879, Lew had written to his wife Susan: "I want a study, a pleasure-house for my soul, where no one could hear me make speeches to myself, and play the violin at midnight if I chose. A detached room away from the world and its worries. A place for my old age to rest in and grow reminiscent, fighting the battles of youth over again."

Construction of his "pleasure-house," known today as the Lew Wallace Study, began in 1895. It was designed by Wallace himself and combines elements of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine architecture that he saw in his travels. Lew Wallace enjoyed his refuge for the last ten years of his life.

Stepping inside the study was like stepping inside the mind of Lew Wallace. In his public life, Lew was a lawyer, a soldier, Union General during the Civil War, Governor of the New Mexico Territory, U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and author. As well as writing, he also enjoyed painting, fishing, music, reading, inventing, and the outdoors.

The first thing that caught my eye is what I was most interested in, the Ben-Hur display! The short sword was used in both the 1925 and 1959 movie. The wrist band was worn by Francis X. Bushman (Messala) in the 1925 movie. The album is a souvenir from the Broadway Play. The photo just to the left of the red Ben-Hur spice cans is of Charlton Heston while visiting the Lew Wallace Study in 1993.

The book is a "first edition, binding state 1" of Ben-Hur. This first edition was approximately 2,500 copies and featured a floral pattern on blue-gray cloth. Susan Wallace objected to the cover, so subsequent bindings of the first edition were brown mesh cloth (binding 2) and brown pebbled cloth (binding 3). While all these are considered first editions, the floral binding was the initial cover and the rarest. If you ever see one of those at a garage sale... BUY IT QUICKLY!!

Standing tall next to that display case was the complete suit, robe, sword and armor worn by Charlton Heston in the 1959 movie.

Lew Wallace had an extensive collection of books in his study. This is just a section of those shelves that practically wrapped around the entire room. Ben-Hur had been translated into more than twenty languages and there's a least one copy of each on the shelf. He also has a large selection of bibles and study guides. His portrait is at the top left in the photo below as well of the smaller photograph in the bottom right corner.

Not only did Lew own and play some of the finest violins of his day, but he also learned the craft of building his own violins as well.

Painting was another of his hobbies. Much of the artwork hanging in the study was painted by him. This was his watercolor set along with a small sketch and a finished painting.

Fishing and inventing were a couple more of his many interests. The silver piece at the bottom of the next photo combined both of those. An invention of his that spooled the fishing line inside the pole, not externally.

The last thing I want to show you is the large skylight in the center of the study. You can get a good look at it from the outside in the photo at the top of the page. This skylight actually has a crank on the corner which Lew Wallace used to open and close it allowing for a cool breeze to circulate on the warm summer days.

There is much more to be seen here at the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum. But I'll just leave that up to you to go and visit this historic place in Crawfordsville, Indiana, just northwest of Indianapolis. We spent a few hours here.

A great example of what I like about geocaching. Driving from point A to point B like I used to and I would have just passed these places all the time. Now because of geocaching, I look for the places to see and stop along the backroads.

A few more geocaches in Indiana to pick up Fountain, Warren, and Vermillion Counties before moving into Illinois. We did grab some geocaches in Illinois today also, but I decided to tell you about those in the next blog with the other Illinois caches. I wanted to focus on the Lew Wallace story in this one. So, see you back again real soon.

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