Sunday, June 28, 2009

Travel Back in Time with General Lew Wallace During Civil War Encampment

Civil War Encampment portrays camp life in 1860s

CRAWFORDSVILLE, IN, June 28, 2009— The Civil War is a major part of American history that all students have read about. But how often do they truly get to experience the sights and sounds of that tumultuous time?

The scent of campfires and the sounds of Stephen Foster songs will fill the air once again at the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum for its annual Civil War Encampment weekend, July 11 and 12. The Museum’s partnership with the Mid States Living History Association, Inc. allows visitors to get a rare chance to dig deeper into the experience of life as one of General Wallace’s rank-and-file soldiers.

Mid States, an Indianapolis-based group comprised of living history interpreters from throughout the Midwest, will present several activities on the Museum grounds over the course of the weekend that offer a greater insight into life as a Civil War soldier or civilian. In addition to live demonstrations of camp cooking, construction, medical care, music, telegraphy and artillery training, visitors will have the chance to interact with General Wallace himself, listening in as he reflects on the controversial battle of Shiloh and his innovative defense of Cincinnati.

“Our Encampment weekends are always popular,” said Acting Director Amanda Wesselmann. “It’s an immersive experience that lets visitors really appreciate what General Wallace and his soldiers had to endure during the Civil War, much more so than they could just by reading a book or sitting in history class.”

The live activities include “School of the Piece,” an instructional training exercise for cannoneers that demonstrates the degree of textbook and practical training required to function on the field of battle. Visitors will also be invited to participate in infantry training drills using toy “Woodfield” (wooden) rifles. Demonstrations in Civil War-era medical care, camp construction and cooking will also be held throughout the weekend.

On the evening of July 11, guests can experience the Civil War re-enactors preparing dinner and readying their tents for nightfall on the lush Museum grounds during their twilight tours of the encampment. “It’s a unique view of the Museum—and of Civil War life—that very few visitors get to see,” said Wesselmann.
Visitors are invited to experience the live drama of the Civil War during extended hours on Saturday, July 11 from 2:00 – 9:00 p.m. and during regular hours on Sunday, July 12 from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. at the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville. For further information, contact the Museum at 765-362-5769 or email

Friday, June 26, 2009

garden produce...

Stepping out the back door of the Carriage House, Acting Director Amanda Wesselmann gathers her lunch. Spinach, kale, peas and basil make a wonderful salad. Planted with herbs in 2007, the kitchen garden has grown to include peas, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, kale and cabbage and cucumbers.

Succession planting has allowed the garden to produce from early spring to fall. Peas and spinach, planted the third week of March, have been harvested and their ground replanted with green beans (Blue Lake Bush). Soon the first bean harvest of the summer will take place! Three weeks after the initial beans were planted, another row of beans(Burgundy) were planted. They are now starting to grow and will be harvested in a few weeks.

The tomatoes are golf ball size and the pepper plants are starting to bloom. The staff, visitors and neighbors are eagerly waiting for a bountiful harvest.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“I thought it was a free tour”: The Recession Speaks through Potential Visitors

While everyone has heard the phrases, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and “You can’t get something for nothing,” for some reason those words have not been applied to museums. Over the past couple months we have heard from potential visitors, both adults and those arranging student tours, who have balked at our admission fee ($3 for adults, $1 for students, free for under 6). Now I know that the poor economy has hit many pocketbooks hard: at a time when philanthropic giving as dropped, we not only have to control the climate in an 111-year-old building with a 30’ ceiling, we also need to fix the leaking roof! I’ll let you in on a surprisingly well-kept secret, though: admission not only falls short of assisting with capital improvements, it fails to cover the cost to museums to serve visitors. Estimates vary, but many calculations of the cost of serving one single solitary visitor is around $18-$20, including the cost of utilities and staff time. If a regular business left that large of a margin between cost and earned income, it would be out of business in short order.

Fortunately for us as a non-profit, there are ways to make up the financial shortfall, in particular the monetary gifts of our members and donors. But even more to the point, one thing that sets museums apart from other businesses is that we’re not peddling something as mundane as clothing or food. Those things are necessary, yes, but I would argue that we have something just as vital to a good life. We offer visitors a sense of place; authentic artifacts; reproductions of artifacts that you can touch, smell, and try on; beautiful grounds; a guide to answer your questions; and an inspiring story of a man who succeeded, failed, and tried his hand at everything that interested him. These things – authenticity, beauty, inspiration – are priceless, and that’s why we don’t charge for them.

And so I have a challenge for you. Become a “spy” this summer, a sort of secret shopper, and come for a tour at the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum. Pay the $3 or $1 admission (college students are still students!), and then experience the award-winning orientation video, the exhibit guest-curated by a national scholar, and the guided tour of the National Historic Landmark. Afterwards, evaluate your visit: being completely honest, how much was the tour worth to you? If money were no problem, how much would you pay for this visit? For those of you who are truly intrepid, drop us a line at to let us what it’s worth to you, as well as suggestions for improvement. I think a visit here is worth more than $3, and I challenge you to come, see for yourself, and tell me if you honestly think I’m wrong.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wabash Intern Reflects on His Experiences

Our current intern from Wabash College, Kevin Stevens, has assisted operations at the Study by giving tours to the public and researching our Classical Collection. He shares his experiences with us:

Among the many things Wabash seeks to impart upon its students is perfecting the ability to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. As an intern working with the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum for the past couple of weeks, I have found that these attributes are of importance in my daily tasks. My main responsibility is doing research on the various artifacts the museum has in its collection, gathering the historical context behind a particular object as well as discovering how and why it came into Lew Wallace’s possession. This task often requires a critical reading of primary sources that may offer insight on a given object, but most of the time it takes some innovative thinking on my part to hypothesize how Lew Wallace might have come about in obtaining a stone from the Appian Way, cannon balls from the siege of Constantinople during 1453, a tile from the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem, as well as scores of other artifacts.
Not only am I responsible for doing the historical research for these objects I also often give tours for incoming guests. With a small staff of four people, I have to multitask on the job. I might be deep in a train of thought reading Lew Wallace’s autobiography trying to discover how he came in possession of a given object and then suddenly a guest may walk in. I usually have to set aside my research for the moment and start the process of giving a tour, which is probably the part of the job I like the most. I get to tell the narrative of Lew Wallace who has an impressive life story. Most people either know that Lew Wallace was a general during the Civil War and/or that he is the author of Ben-Hur. Yet, he was also a painter, an inventor, a violinist, the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and governor of the New Mexico Territory.

Probably one of the most overlooked story in Lew’s life is his role he played in the Battle of Monocacy during the Civil War. During the summer of 1864, Washington, D.C. was exposed to Confederate attack under Jubal Early. Wallace noticed this and took his ragtag band of men to stop Early’s advance. In doing so, Wallace was able to delay Early’s attack on the nation’s capital, allowing Union general U.S. Grant to send reinforcements to defend Washington. This led to the claim that Wallace had “saved Washington” from being captured by the Confederates. An event such as the Battle of Monocacy illustrates the effective leadership that Lew Wallace displayed as a commanding officer in a pivotal moment that could have altered the course of history.

I think that my time here at the General Wallace Study is part of the Wabash experience that furthers to enhance the values that the college seeks to impart upon its students. One can learn the abilities to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely yet they become ineffective if one does not use them in their day to day life. Interning at the Study has allowed me to see what I do best in and what I can improve on.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Week-long day camp immerses students in Wallace’s life lessons

Crawfordsville, Indiana—Amanda Wesselmann, Acting Director of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum and Coordinator of this year’s Lew Wallace Youth Academy, announced today that enrollment into the weeklong day camp is now open to the public.

The Academy, which is in its fifth year after four tremendously successful seasons, has already enrolled several exceptional middle school-aged students from schools and home school organizations from throughout Montgomery County, and only a few positions remain! The Academy promotes in its students the qualities of leadership, character and lifelong learning that General Lew Wallace embodied throughout his life. Academy students will explore disciplines close to Wallace’s heart: architecture, art, music, storytelling and serving others.

“We chose our wide variety of subjects not to have one specialty for everyone, but to illustrate that each student can excel in many things,” said Wesselmann. “Our diverse faculty has designed hands-on group activities that will build on students’ interests, and pique new ones.”

“It’s amazing what the Lew Wallace Youth Academy can accomplish in a week’s time,” said Machiel Walther, mother of an Academy graduate. “The skills that our son and many other children have acquired through this program will not only help them to become great leaders, but also positive role models for other children in our community.”

Applicants for the Academy must be entering 6th through 8th grade or equivalent and able to attend the entire camp from July 7-11, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Parents are responsible for arranging transportation to and from the Academy. The cost to the family is only $25 per child. Scholarship opportunities are available for families experiencing financial hardship; contact the Museum to make arrangements.

This program is made possible by the generosity of Character Counts, Crawfordsville Kiwanis, Delta Theta Tau, Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie #1005, Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 6, Montgomery County Extension Homemakers, Montgomery County Retired Teachers Association, Psi Iota Xi, Sugar Creek Kiwanis, teachers from Northridge Middle School, and Barb and Steve Carver.

For registration forms, contact Amanda Wesselmann at 765-362-5769 or, or stop by the Carriage House Interpretive Center at the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum, 200 Wallace Ave., Crawfordsville. Registration forms and $25 fee are due by June 30.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Acting Associate Director

I have survived my first week as Acting Associate Director here at the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum. While I have been an intern at the museum for the last six months and am familiar with what happens on a daily basis, I found I still had a lot to learn. For example, what do I do when my alarm code fails on my second day causing the alarm company to call to make sure everything is okay but I don’t know the password to let them know that it really isn’t an emergency? It turns out that they send one of Crawfordsville’s finest over to ensure that everything is okay and I am, in fact, not a burglar. Of course when I try my code again in front of the cop and other museum staff, it works just fine. I’ve decided the reason it didn’t work the first time was that Lew was initiating me with a prank!

I am excited to be the Acting Associate Director for the summer and am looking forward to working with all of the volunteers and presenting programs for all of the groups we have scheduled for the summer. It will be a very fun, interesting and rewarding summer for me. Now if I can just manage to not set the alarm off anymore, I think everything will be just fine!