Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wallace & Charles Major

The years from 1880 to 1920 are often recognized as the Golden Age of Indiana Authors. There had been well respected Hoosier authors before 1880 and certainly many literary leaders in the years after 1920, but beginning with Lew Wallace and his book Ben-Hur, there was an outpouring of best selling works by a variety of Hoosier authors that has not been equaled in almost 100 years. Names that are still familiar like James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Meredith Nicholson, George Ade, George McCutcheon, and Gene Stratton Porter were part of this outpouring of Hoosier talent. With his leading role in this golden age, Lew Wallace was friends to most of these authors and mentor to several of them.

There were others who burnished Indiana’s literary history during the golden age who are not as well remembered today. One of these was Charles Major. In the first decade of the twentieth century Charles Major dominated the field of American authors. Born in 1856 in Indianapolis, Major and his family moved to Shelbyville when he was 13. He attended the University of Michigan between 1872 and 1875 and became a lawyer who, like Lew Wallace, dabbled with writing on the side.

Charles Major (July 25, 1856-February 13, 1913)
Like Wallace, Charles Major did exhaustive research on his topics before putting pen to paper. His first book, When Knighthood Was In Flower was published in 1899. This novel was a historical romance set in the time of Henry VIII and became a best seller. It remained on the New York Times best seller list for almost three years, was produced as a play on Broadway in 1901, and was the subject of successful film interpretations in 1908 and 1922.

With the success of his first book, Major quit his legal career to pursue writing full time. Beyond writing historical fiction, Major enjoyed success as the author of children’s adventure stories such as The Bears of Blue River written in 1902. Many of his children’s stories written over the next decade were set in Indiana. His third book, Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall was just as successful as his first. It too spent years on the Times best seller list, went to Broadway stage and in 1924, Mary Pickford starred in the screen adaptation.

Lew Wallace had a reputation for encouraging young people. In particular, he counseled struggling authors who had met with rejection or had difficulty finding their voices. Major was aware of this reputation and had sought Wallace out. Just prior to the publication of his first book, Charles Major wrote a letter to Lew Wallace telling of the first time he had sought to meet the esteemed author Wallace. On December 28, 1898, Major wrote:

“I beg to tell you a bit of ancient history that may amuse you. Many years ago, when I was quite young, I became so enamored of your works and was so anxious to see the author of them that, after many privations, I saved enough money and went to Crawfordsville to call on you. I went, but after I got there my heart failed me, and alas! I came home and the only satisfaction I had was that I spent my money. From this incident you can judge my delight in meeting you the other day. When The Fair God first came out, you had met Dickens and Thackeray, and had they said to you the kind, generous and encouraging words you spoke to me and to Miss Marlor about me, you could not have resisted the temptation to express your delight and appreciation. . . no more than I. Therefore, may the last and least of Indiana’s authors say to the first and greatest, that he thanks you for your generous kindness and encouragement (a thing, by the way, above and beyond Dickens and Thackeray). That he hopes some day to make a trip to Crawfordsville that will not be in vain, and from his heart of hearts he wishes you the happiest of New Years.”

While Charles Major’s self assessment as the last and the least of Indiana’s authors proved incorrect, his admiration for Wallace as a kind mentor to emerging writers was on target. Beyond his role in ushering in the Golden Age of Indiana Authors with the publication of Ben-Hur, that era would have been vastly different without Lew Wallace’s interest in and encouragement of the young Hoosier men and women who followed him pen in hand.

The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Mystery Statue

Lew Wallace in his Study with the bust by Randolph Rogers on the bookcase

Ben-Hur the galley slave
At least eight important sculptors (not counting the General himself) have contributed to the artistry of the General Lew Wallace Study. Inside the building, there is a bust of Wallace created by Randolph Rogers, a statue of Ben-Hur the galley slave done by George Peterson in 1888, and two plaster studies done by H. R. Saunders. These plaster studies were used by a fourth

O'Connor statue of Wallace with
foundation by Sidney Speed
important sculptor, Bohumir Kryl. Kryl was the young man who carved the four faces representing characters from Wallace’s books in the exterior limestone frieze. The largest piece of stone carving on the grounds was added about 1911 and is by Sidney Speed who carved the pedestal that supports the bronze statue of Wallace that was created by Andrew O’Connor.
Acopy of Michelangelo's "Il Pensiero"
of Lorenze de Medicid caption
 Lew Wallace felt that an ideal study or retreat needed a copy of "The Thinker." In 1885, ten years before he began work on the Study, Lew Wallace asked a friend of his to contract for a Carrara marble copy of Michelangelo's "Il Pensiero" of Lorenze de Medici. The writer, Francis Marion Crawford who was living in Italy, made arrangements for this important marble statue. Finally, there is an additional piece of sculpture on the grounds—a bust of David Wallace that was once part of a decorative frieze on the old English’s Opera House and Hotel in Indianapolis. The name of this eighth artisan who created this particular work of art is unknown.

Bust of David Wallace
from English's Opera House
While the Study grounds have at least one piece of sculpture by an artist whose name is missing, we may also have an artist with a name whose sculpture is missing! In an article in the July 11, 1907 issue of the Crawfordsville Journal, that is entitled “A Statue of Ben-Hur” Bohumir Kryl describes a statue that he created for General Wallace’s Study that has disappeared. Lew Wallace had been gone for just two years and Susan was still alive when this article was written. It opens with the sentence: “Those who have had the pleasure of a visit to the study of the late Gen. Lew Wallace will recall the statue of Ben-Hur which occupies a prominent place there, and also other busts and ornaments in stone and plaster.”

In the short article, Mr. Kryl discusses his work on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Indianapolis and is quoted as saying: “. . . During this time I went over to Crawfordsville and worked on busts and ornaments that were placed in Gen. Lew Wallace’s studio. Some of these were figures representing characters in the “Prince of India” and in “Ben-Hur.” A statue of Ben-Hur was the largest figure I made at that time.”

The article by the local paper is very specific about the existence of this statue, Susan Wallace was still alive, and Kryl had worked at the Study barely ten years earlier, yet no historic images or other references to this statue have been found. Did this statue really exist? If so what did it look like and where did it stand on the property? Where did it go? Is it in someone’s basement? Given Bohumir Kryl’s talent, this must have been an impressive work of art that would have contributed much to the property. While mystery and intrigue add to the aura of historic sites, this is one mystery we’d love to solve so keep your eyes open when you are checking out those Saturday morning yard sales around Crawfordsville--Ben-Hur may be out there!

The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.

Carving of the Prince of India by Bohumir Kryl
based on a plaster model by H.R. Saunders

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Gone to the Dogs

Sunday, May 6th saw dogs and owners alike enjoying the beautiful shady grounds of the Study. The Stroll for Strays, a fund raiser for the Animal Welfare League, started and finished the Stroll at the Study. The Study was the starting point, with the stroll following a route through the downtown and back to the Study. Multiple water stops were set up along the route, with treats given out for all dogs. Finishing at the Study, dogs were given 'doggie bags' filled with information, treats and were invited to socialize and play games on the lawn. Over 100 dogs and owners participated. From the large Newfoundland and Great Danes to the small Chihuahuas and pugs, the dogs enjoy a afternoon social in the outdoors.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

History Beneath Us

Archaeologists Dr. Chris Moore from the University of Indianapolis and Anne Moore, together with U of I students and members of the public are working on uncovering the outline of Lew Wallace's reflecting pool this weekend.  Past excavations have revealed the far edge of the pool.  They are now hoping to reveal the top layer of bricks for the entire outline of the pool. 

Core sample

Dr. Moore also took a core sample from an area to the southwest of the carriage house and found evidence of a burn zone.  This could be promising for a future excavation site.  It could be left over from a historic structure or area that was present during Lew Wallace's occupation of the grounds.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Everything's blooming

Everything is blooming this spring at the Study. The magnolia trees bloomed April 13th this year, 30 days before they bloomed last year. The lilacs, redbuds and dogwood soon followed. Everything seemed to bloom at once.
The Study has been adopted by a pair of hawks, which started building a nest in February. In previous years, hawks have built nests but they remained unused. It was a wonderful addition to the grounds to realize the hawks were actually nesting! The last week in April we spotted a fuzzy head sticking up above the twigs and have been keeping our eyes on the nest ever since.

Today found that 2 mouths are being fed! The hawk will fly to a tree across the lawn and peruse the hunting grounds. While sitting at our picnic area watching the hawk, and being watched by the hawk, the hawk will fly over the 3.5 acres and return to the tree with a small rodent or bird. The hatchlings seem to have grown tremendously in just a week! We will be keeping a close eye on the nest in hopes to watch the hatchlings take flight.