Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Earl of Squirrels

When something of interest landed on Lew Wallace’s radar, he just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Late in life he purchased acreage outside of town and created his country home Water Babble where he began improving the property; partly with the idea of creating a fish hatchery. This wasn’t his only foray into animal husbandry. Our visitors often comment on the large size and reddish color of the squirrels here. There is a reason the squirrels on the Study grounds look a little different than their downtown neighbors. As reported in The Crawfordsville Journal on July 15, 1901:

After four years of trial General Wallace has located a splendid colony of fox squirrels in the big forest trees about his residence. The pretty little animals and their young can be seen at all hours frisking about the lawn and they are jealously guarded from dogs and the air gun boy.”

Perhaps General Wallace felt that the large size and reddish color of the squirrels better complimented the artistic effect of the Study. Whatever the reason, after 110 years, the descendants of the General’s efforts at selective breeding are still frisking about on the lawn.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Plants Telling Time

We look to the groundhog to tell us if spring will come soon, but can plants tell us if there will be an early fall? Grounds Manager Deb King has made some keen observations about the plant life on the grounds, and all signs seem to point to cold weather coming a few weeks early this year. The ligularia, one of the most asked-about plants on the grounds, has sprouted its black-eyed susan-type bloom – and in some cases gone to seed already – about three weeks ahead of their usual time in mid to late August. The pawpaw trees are also loaded down with their “Indiana banana” fruit that will likely drop by the end of August. Deb commented that, “They did that last year, dropped their fruit before the Taste, and we had an early winter.” The final clue is the walnut trees, which have started bombing the lawn in front of the Carriage House with walnuts weeks ahead of the normal schedule. Perhaps an early start to fall will bring relief from the heat and humidity we’ve been dealing with. Or, perhaps all the rain has prompted an unusual reaction in some stressed-out plants. We’ll find out in a few months!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lew & The Elston Homestead

Lew Wallace was a man who loved to satisfy his curiosity by research. He also had great curiousity as a boy, and satisfied his need for knowledge in brave and exciting ways. In his autobiography, Lew comments on the fine and wondrous home of Major Elston. “His [Elston’s] dwelling-house, in the midst of a primeval woods, was the best in the county, and it was furnished to correspond, and the fame thereof went abroad.” People far and wide commented on the Elston’s home and furnishings and at one point Lew heard that the Elston’s had a sofa in the hall. Given his rather modest background, Lew had never heard of a sofa and had no idea what it was—but he intended to find out. Even though he was a youngster, Lew realized that he was not a part of the Elston’s social circle and would not be invited into their home. As many a young boy in such a dilemma might do, Lew simply invited himself into the Elston home unannounced—being careful to assure that no one else was home either.

He faced a similar situation when he heard that the Elston’s had recently purchased a piano. He had no idea what a piano was but he was able to find out from friends that it was a musical machine. Again, he crept into the Elston home uninvited and saw the mysterious machine without being discovered. This led the curious boy to his next question—just how did the machine make its music?? More research was necessary. He waited many days until the Elston’s hosted a party one evening in the double parlors. After dark, Lew crept “Indian-like” through the Elston grove and up to the windows glittering with candlelight. Lew watched and waited in the dark. In a little while a young lady went to the machine, opened it, and miracle of miracles, she began playing “One little, two little, three little Indians. . .” His research had paid off.

Throughout his life, Lew remained a person with an extraordinary curiousity about the world around him. He was also a man of action who didn’t always wait for an invitation before proceeding. In reading his autobiography, it’s easy to see how the curious boy became the military leader we remember and the creator of characters from worlds beyond Crawfordsville.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"More than $3 worth"

Last week a group of visitors enjoyed their tour and commented at the end, "We got more than our $3 worth. Thank you so much! You know so much about the building and the history." The additional money dropped in the donation box was nice, too, but satisfied visitors was the real reward.
Just a few more weeks until the Study Restoration Project begins, and then there will REALLY be something to see!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Serving Others

The final day of the Lew Wallace Youth Academy was filled with the sounds and sights of war! Students spent the morning with Mid-States Living History Association, Inc. at stations portraying a period telegraph, medical care, embalmer, cooking, and finally an interview with the General himself. The day ended with a family filled graduation ceremony where we retired an Indiana flag.

Students trained with the signal corps to send messages across camp.

New this year was a visit to the embalmer.

Several students prepare to assist the surgeon in "amputating" their classmate's leg. They seem VERY pleased to be helping with this task...

Drilling with reproduction "Woodfield" rifles was another highlight of the day.
General Wallace sought information from the students based on what they had learned throughout the camp.
During the graduation ceremony, the students retired a flag by cutting it into strips (so it is no longer a flag) and then placing the strips on a soldier's bayonet to be laid in the fire. They were composed and respectful through the entire ceremony.

After graduation we celebrated the students' accomplishments with a display of their work, cookies and punch. Congratulations, 2010 Academy graduates!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Solving Problems

The fourth day of the Lew Wallace Youth Academy focused on Solving Problems - inventing, altering landscapes, and designing buildings.
Intern Kasey Greer (Indiana Univerisity Class of 2013) gave a behind-the-scenes tour of the Study basement (shown here under the back porch). This was a special treat because the basement is not open to the public.

Volunteer Sharon Kenny led a scavenger hunt with students locating features in the Study's interior. Just how DO you get into the tower?

Dr. James Norton, a scholar of Wallace's inventions, discusses the fishing poles of the 19th century and the improvements that Lew Wallace tried to make with his design.

Surveyor Jim Swift worked with small groups of students to find Lew Wallace's reflecting pool from historic photos of the grounds. Each group consistently found the same place! Plans are in the works to excavate the remains of the reflecting pool in the fall.

Architect Judith Kleine led students in assembling a 3D model of the Study building.

The students' personal studies ranged from sprawling estates to tall towers.

Just as in real life, some buildings could not be built without teamwork! Several students commented that designing a stable structure and taping it together were big challenges - but that also made it fun.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sharing Stories

The Museum is known as the Home of Ben-Hur, and the grounds once again served as a writing studio. Dr. Helen Hudson led the Academy students through several different activities: outlining a biography of a fictional character named Robin Snow (whose gender and life details each small group determined for themselves), writing an autobiographical anecdote, and interviewing a fellow Academy participant who might someday hit the campaign trail.

Pencils kept moving as students used both their imaginations and memories to write biographies and autobiographies.

Students paired up to interview each other as if they were running for president. Based on some of their professed goals - helping the poor, keeping libraries open, solving environmental problems - we have a few politicians and activists in the group!

The day started and ended with active games that emphasized clear communication. The students clamored to repeat the game "Never Have I Ever", a combination of musical chairs and personal triva.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Creating Art

Following in the tradition of Lew Wallace, Academy students spent the morning painting en plein air. Have you ever noticed that trees are not a solid shade of green or brown? Using acrylic paint, artist Karen Patton instructed the kids on color values and ways to add details that make their artwork more realistic.

Several students worked in groups, sharing ideas and occasionally paint. Getting the right color when mixing the paint proved a challenge for some!

All the budding artists sketched out their paintings before putting brush to canvas.

At the end of the day, Karen Patton held up each student's painting for all to provide their feedback . The kids supported one another's artistic endeavors with compliments and suggestions.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Exploring Other Cultures

The 2010 Lew Wallace Youth Academy had a successful first day of Exploring Other Cultures. Dr. James Makubuya and Sr. Stella Sabina lead activities in speaking Luganda and Swahili, as well as dancing, singing, and playing instruments traditional to the African country of Uganda.

The first day of the Academy ends with a performance of singing and playing instruments.

Students concentrate on learning the bow harp, a new addtion to this year's Academy.

Sr. Stella Sabina demonstrates some fancy footwork from her native Uganda.

Dr. Makubuya from Wabash College instructs students on how to play traditional Ugandan drums. Even students in percussion sections of the school band learned a few things!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Former Messala Recalls Ben-Hur Stage Play

In his autobiography (My Life East and West), William S. Hart (Messala) related some of his memories of the stage production of Ben-Hur. Hart remembered that at one of the final rehearsals prior to the opening of the show, Charles Frohman, a renowned actor at the turn of the century known as the “Napoleon of Drama” announced to Klaw and Erlanger, the producers of the Broadway version of Ben-Hur. “Boys, I’m afraid you’re up against it—the American public will never stand for Christ and a horse race in the same show.” (Frohman was killed years later in the sinking of the Lusitania.)

Hart gained fame in Hollywood after his stage career faded playing in Westerns. His ability with horses in the movies was no act. He was a gifted horseman and raced Messala’s team on stage over 400 times. He said he always felt bad that his four horses (Tom, Jerry, Rosie and Topsy) raced Ben-Hur’s team of four bays every night and lost. His horses tried with all their might every night to win. No matter how hard they tried, the result was always the same—just at the moment it looked like they would win, Hur’s treadmill would speed up and the bays would draw away—winning the race.

Hart described the night that the race was reaching its climax. The eight horses racing for all they were worth. Hart’s (Messala’s) horses raced faster and faster, stretching until their bellies were almost on the treadmill—and then Hart realized that his team was going to win. He crawled out on the chariot tongue; put his hands on their backs imploring them, urging them to slow so Ben-Hur could win but “. . . They ran like creatures possessed—their veins stood out like ropes—they were out in front—they were gaining! They strained every muscle to the breaking point, then they lunged ahead in a deathlike dash! And—they won! They Won!” After 400 tries, his team finally out-raced the treadmill.

Hart was always proud that after the first performance, he was sent for and Lew Wallace singled him out telling Hart: “Young man, I want to thank you for giving me the Messala that I drew in my book.”

William S. Hart was one of the most successful early film stars. Hart passed away in 1946 and left his estate to the people of Los Angeles because the community had treated him so well. His Spanish Revival mansion with its outstanding collection of western art, Hollywood memorabilia, and Native American artifacts and its surrounding 260 acres are now part of the Natural History of Museum of Los Angeles.