Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Singing Tree

April is National Poetry Month. Lew and Susan both wrote dozens of poems, and occasionally we like to share them here. To celebrate the end of National Poetry Month, take some time to relax and read some of Lew's poetry from his celebrated novel Ben-Hur.


Wake not, but hear me, love!
      Adrift, adrift on slumber’s sea,
       Thy spirit call to list to me,
Wake not, but hear me, love!
        A gift from Sleep, the restful king,
         All happy, happy dreams I bring.

Wake not, but hear me, love!
        Of all the world of dreams ‘tis thine
         This once to choose the most divine,
So choose, and sleep, my love!
         But ne’er again in choice be free,
          Unless, unless – you dream of me.


I sigh as I sing for the story land
    Across the Syrian sea
The odorous winds from the musky sand
    Were breaths of life to me.
They play with the plumes of the whispering palm
     For me, alas! No more;
No more does the Nile in the moonlit calm
    Moan past the Memphian shore.

O Nilus! Thou god of my fainting soul!
     In dreams thou comest to me;
And dreaming, I play with the lotus bowl,
     And sing old songs to thee;
And hear from afar the Memnonian strain,
    And calls from dear Simbel;
And wake to a passion of grief and pain
     That e’er I said – Farewell!



Kapila, Kapila, so young and true,
   I yearn for a glory like thine,
And hail thee from battle to ask anew
   Can ever thy Valour be mine?

Kapila, sat on his charger dun,
   A hero never so grave;
Who loveth all things hath fear of none,
  'Tis love that maketh me brave,
A woman gave me her soul one day
The soul of my soul to be alway;
   Thence came my Valour to me,
    Go try it – try it – and see!


Kapila, Kapila, so old and gray,
    The queen is calling for me;
But ere I go hence, I wish thou wouldst say,
    How Wisdom first came to thee.

Kapila stood in his temple door.
     A priest in eremite guise.
It did not come as men get their lore,
     'Tis faith that maketh me wise,
 A woman gave me her heart one day,
 The heart of my heart to be alway;
    Thence came my Wisdom to me,
     Go try it – try it – and see.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

History Beneath Us Day 1

Some interesting things have been found so far on the first day of the spring History Beneath Us.  A marble, horseshoe, and a hip bone from a small mammal have all been found in Unit 10, one of the units that contains part of the reflecting pool.  A group of boy scouts have been assisting with the dig.  They are getting closer to the top of the wall of the reflecting pool so should be finding more artifacts.  Archaeologists will be here until 4:00 p.m. today and from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. on Sunday.  Come out and help unearth this piece of history!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Meet Gift Shop Volunteer Nancy Norton

April 21-27 is National Volunteer Week, and to celebrate that, we would like to introduce you to one of our volunteers. This is the first in a series of posts about our volunteers and why the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum is important to them.

We couldn't run the museum without help from all our volunteers. From running the gift shop to giving tours to working in the gardens, our volunteers keep us going!

General Lew Wallace Study & Museum volunteer
Meet Nancy Norton, who has volunteered with us for four and a half years. Nancy runs our gift shop and keeps an eye on our inventory. She keeps everything well-organized and beautifully decorated. She is also a smiling face many of our visitors will recognize, as she is often here to greet visitors and start their tour off with a video. She also does paperwork and keeps an eye on local newspapers for mentions of the Study and our members.

Nancy lives in Darlington, Indiana, with her husband, who is retired. She has a son living in Darlington and a daughter in Speedway, and enjoys spending time with her step-grandchildren. She and her friends are involved in the American Legion Auxiliary--Nancy serves as an officer.

She enjoys shopping and going to flea markets. Some of her other hobbies are reading, decorating, organizing, and doing yard work.

Nancy enjoys working at the TASTE of Montgomery County every summer. She loves seeing visitors browsing in our gift shop. She says she thinks Lew Wallace is a fascinating person and learns something new about him every time she's volunteering.

Be sure to stop in and tell Nancy how great the gift shop looks!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

People Lew Knew: Gene Stratton-Porter

One of the great Hoosier authors of the early 20th century was Gene Stratton-Porter. Her literary career began its ascent at the turn of the century and continued until her death in 1924 when her limousine was hit by a streetcar in Los Angeles. Always a trailblazer, she had moved to Los Angeles from her beloved Indiana for health reasons and because she had become so popular that she had formed a movie studio and production company to bring her characters from books such as Laddie, Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost to life on film. At the peak of her popularity it is estimated that she had more than 50 million readers enjoying her romantic novels, magazine articles, and her studies of nature and wildlife.

An avid reader, photographer, and lifelong scholar on conservation and ecology, with the income that she earned from her writings, Mrs. Stratton-Porter enjoyed developing native gardens and natural areas on her northeastern Indiana properties—most famously her Cabin in the Wildflower Woods. In one of her last books, Tales You Won’t Believe, published in 1925, Mrs. Stratton-Porter related a wonderful little story about the white strawberries sent to her from the garden of General Lew Wallace.  

In relating her story, Mrs. Stratton-Porter’s great admiration for Wallace is evident. As her books and her interests in wild flower gardening became known, people from all over the country and, in fact, the world sent her clippings, cuttings, seeds, and plants for her gardens. She wrote: “...perhaps the greatest thrill of the entire collection came when I received a packet containing half a dozen wild strawberries, guaranteed to bear white wild strawberries from the home grounds of General Lew Wallace.”  These plants held special meaning for her as she knew Wallace was a great flower lover and he himself had found them in the woods near his home. Mrs. Stratton-Porter had visited the home and she knew of Wallace’s magnificent trees—especially the Beeches “...which grew for the General in the most elaborate manner, truly lordly Beeches with wide-spreading arms of gray moleskin, great velvet trunks and branches almost sweeping the ground.”

Mrs. Stratton-Porter took great care in personally planting these special gifts—searching her property for just the right soil, light, moisture and shade. She had read and practically memorized The Fair God and Ben-Hur and fairly worshipped Wallace. For many years the strawberries grew and flourished. Then in 1914, a very long and cold winter severely damaged her garden. Among the plants that did not return in the spring of 1914 were the beloved white strawberries. General Wallace had died by 1914 and Mrs. Stratton-Porter considered approaching Wallace’s son for one more plant—hoping that the cold winter had not destroyed the original beds. But time got away from Mrs. Stratton-Porter and fate intervened.

One of her large Beech trees that she had been trying to save also died in the cold winter of 1914 and had to be taken down. After cutting the tree it was discovered that even the roots were rotted and hollow. Squirrels had been using them to hide their winter stores. Mrs. Stratton-Porter and her staff filled the hole left by the beech, smoothed the soil and moved on to other tasks. A year later, Mrs. Stratton-Porter was passing through the woods near where the Beech tree had been and was dumbfounded when she discovered a big circular bed of wild white strawberries spreading over every inch of ground that the Beech had occupied.

After much pondering Mrs. Stratton-Porter came to the conclusion that the squirrels must have been feeding on the white strawberries and sowed the seeds throughout the roots and soil of the old Beech tree. When the tree was gone, the soil smoothed, and sun and rain reached the ground, Wallace’s white strawberries returned with a vigor she had never seen in her original beds. As she recorded, “Nature returned to me my lost gift from the wildings of the great general.” Given Wallace’s love of his Beech trees, there was some poetry for Mrs. Stratton-Porter in knowing that the loss of her Beech tree gave new life to the General’s strawberries that she so valued. Sadly, after all the pleasure these little plants brought both the General and Mrs. Stratton-Porter, the white wild strawberries seem to have disappeared from both the grounds of the Wallace Study and from the Cabin in the Wildflower Woods—but as any gardener knows, hope springs eternal and we will be keeping an eye out for these tasty treasures for seasons to come.

*Information in this post is from an article by Joann Spragg.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lew Wallace and Conservation

One of Lew Wallace's favorite places on earth was the Grand Kankakee Marsh that spread across Northwestern Indiana into Illinois. Over the course of his life he often traveled to the marsh to fish and hunt. He owned a houseboat, descriptively called The Thing, which served as his home base while on the marsh.
Lew's power barge on the Kankakee

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website says the Grand Kankakee Marsh covered up to 500,000 acres of land. (Other sources claim up to 1 million acres.) The first European explorer to visit the marsh was La Salle in 1679, but the Native Americans had already been living there for generations. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s numerous attempts were made to drain the marsh, but by the 1880s it had become a hunter's paradise.

"Never, in all my world travels, have I found a more perfect spot, not a more tantalizing river."

According to the Starke County Historical Society, Lew spent a great deal of time at Bass Lake, where a tree was named the Ben Hur Oak (much like our Ben-Hur Beech!) because he sat under the tree and wrote. Sportsmens clubs were common along the Kankakee, including the Ben Hur Club run by a Civil War veteran and acquaintance of Lew's. Prominent figures such as the Studebaker family, President Teddy Roosevelt, and others came to the marsh to relax.

The glory days of the Grand Kankakee Marsh were not to last, unfortunately. Counterfeiters and other criminals on Bogus Island (located in what was the largest freshwater lake in Indiana), along with increased desire for arable farm land, led residents to dredge, channelize, and drain much of the marsh. Today less than 5% of the original marshland remains.

Groups such as the Indiana Grand Kankakee Marsh Restoration Project and the Kankakee River Awareness Program in Illinois are making a concerted effort to preserve what is left of the marsh and restore what they can to its natural state. While Earth Day didn't exist in Lew's day, we think he would have approved of the efforts to care for the wilderness he so enjoyed as a refuge from day-to-day life.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Reappearance of the Reflecting Pool

Thanks to heavy rainfall this past week, Lew's reflecting pool has made a brief reappearance behind the Study.

Take a look at this historic photo of the reflecting pool...

Lew Wallace and grandsons sitting beside the reflecting pool
Lew and grandsons sitting beside the reflecting pool

...then compare it to a photo taken this morning.

Reflecting pool filled with rainwater
Reflecting pool filled with rainwater

You can almost see it, can't you?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wallace Scholar Gail Stephens to Speak in Scottsdale

For those of you who live in the Southwest, here's a great opportunity to connect locally!

Gail Stephens, a Lew Wallace Study Preservation Society board member, is scheduled to speak to the Scottsdale (Arizona) Civil War Roundtable a week from today (4/16/2013). Gail, a volunteer at Monocacy National Battlefield and author of Shadow of Shiloh: Major General Lew Wallace in the Civil War, is one of our Wallace scholars. She will be presenting about "Lieutenant General Jubal Early: Lee's Bad Old Man."

The Scottsdale Civil War Roundtable meeting will be at the Civic Center Library, 3839 North Drinkwater Blvd. The meeting begins at 6:40 and Gail expects to speak at 7 p.m.

For further information, please visit the Scottsdale CWRT's website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Preview of 2013 Events

We have a lot of great programming planned for our 2013 season, and a lot of what we are offering has never been done here before! Some dates are still being finalized, but here's a little preview of what you can look forward to:

April 6 is Civil War Trust Park Day - Come to the Study grounds to help Grounds Manager Deb King clean up and do general maintenance projects. This is a great chance to do some one-time volunteering here at the Study!

April 13 our Associate Director/Collections Amanda McGuire is giving a Behind the Scenes Tour. You can view the Study basement, learn what is in the tower, and view our Carriage House storage vault. The tour is $5 (free to members) and requires an RSVP. Email Amanda McGuire or call the museum at 765-362-5769.

April 27-28 is our twice a year "History Beneath Us" archaeological program. University of Indianapolis archaeologists will be excavating the reflecting pool and the structure site to the west of the Carriage House. The archaeologists will return again in September.

May 9 is our "Cemeteries" Genealogy Lecture.

June 2 is our special Lew Wallace Study Preservation Society Membership Thank-You. All members of the LWSPS are invited. Membership starts at only $25 - see our Join & Support page for more details.

June 20 we will have the second of our Genealogy Lecture series. This one will focus on the recently released 1940 Census records and how to access and use them to research your family history.

June 25-26 is our ArchiCamp for youth.

In July we have a Genealogy Lecture about the Wallace Family, as well as a Garden Tour led by Grounds Manager Deb King on July 14.

Our big August event is the TASTE! of Montgomery County on Saturday, August 24. Our headlining musical act is Michael Kelsey. Stay tuned for more music information!

We have also created a 2013 Events Flyer in a printable PDF for you to download.