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Hoosier Literary Giants on Lake Maxinkuckee
Lew Wallace: his days on Lake Maxinkuckee

Lew Wallace

Lew Wallace was born in Brookeville, IN, in 1827. He fought in the Mexican-American War and became a General in the Civil War, saving Washington, D.C. from the Confederate troops at the Battle of Monocacy in 1864. He also served as military judge at the Abraham Lincoln assassination trial. He was also appointed by President Garfield to serve as United States Minister to Turkey.

He died in 1905 at Crawfordsville, IN (his home and study is now a museum in that same town).

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace was published by Harper and Brothers on November 12, 1880. The novel was the result of seven years research and writing, most of which was carried out underneath a beech tree near Wallace’s residence in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

The novel grew in such popularity during Wallace’s lifetime that it was adapted into a stage play in 1899. That dramatization was followed by the motion picture productions in 1907, 1925, and 1959. Since the last film, Ben-Hur has been adapted into several cartoons and a musical.

However, Ben-Hur’s impact on American culture is larger than the dramatic adaptations alone. There was a national fraternal organization founded upon Ben-Hur known as the Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur, which was later reformed into Ben-Hur Life Insurance. There have even been American towns named after Ben-Hur.

In 1959, Ben-Hur was made into a film for a second time (the first was a silent feature in 1925) starring Charleton Heston and broke box office records, earning a record 11 Academy Awards.

Allegheny House

Wallace wrote the first two chapters of Ben Hur at the Allegheny House (alleged to have been built in the 1830s), one of several beautiful rooming houses on Lake Maxinkuckee. The house still stands, just north of East Shore Drive, across the road from Bigley’s Orchard’s former store, on 18B Road.

"The most beautiful place in the world," Lew Wallace pronounced it. And in an old tavern, sitting back from the roadside and looking as if it had stepped out of an English novel, he wrote the chariot race and other chapters of "Ben Hur.“  

-1905 Chicago American      
Booth Tarkington's Lake Maxinkuckee Days
Newton Booth Tarkington

Newton Booth Tarkington (July 29, 1869 – May 19, 1946) was best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams.

Wrote Mark Roeder in A History of Culver and Lake Maxinkuckee: "Booth Tarkington wrote at least a part of The Gentleman from Indiana while staying at a fishing cottage on the East Shore...on one corner of an interior wall is a picture of a young man carved into the wall and some written verse. It is signed, "Booth Tarkington." The author had a connection to Lake Maxinkuckee going back to at least 1890, when he was twenty-one. He visited here in August of that year. During his time here, he met Geneve Reynolds. They played tennis and argued about Elizabeth Browning and George Merideth.Tarkington grew rather attached to the young lady."

The Gentleman from Indiana

He was one of the most popular American novelists of his time, with The Two Vanrevels and Mary's Neck appearing on the annual best-seller lists nine times. Tarkington's best known work today is The Magnificent Ambersons, due in part to its famous treatment by Orson Welles in 1941 and its frequently favored listing on the Modern Library's list of top-100 novels.

James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley Letter

A wonderful artifact from the Ted Schenberg collection. Dated July 29, 1890, this letter from James Whitcomb Riley showcases his poem about Lake Maxinkuckee ("The Blue Above and the Green Below"), apparently a recent creation at that time. The letter never names its recipient specifically, but clearly he or she is another writer, apparently a poet. Riley says he is "packing for a few days up at Lake Maxinkuckee," and asks the reader to write him care of Booth Tarkington, with whom Riley will be staying.


"The Hoosier Poet" writes of Lake Maxinkuckee, in full:

The green below and the blue above

The waves caressing the shores they love;

Sails in haven and sails afar,

And faint as the water lilies are

In inlets haunted of willow wands,

Listless rowers, and trailing hands,

With spray to gem them and tan to glove

The green below and the blue above.

The blue above and the green below.

would that the world was always so.

 Always summer and warmth and light,

With mirth and melody day and night ;

Birds in the boughs of the beckoning trees,

Chirr of locusts, and whiffs of breeze

World of roses that bud and bloom,

The blue above and the green below.

The green below and the blue above,

High, young hearts and the hopes thereof,

Kate in the hammock and Tom sprawled on

The sward-like a lover’s picture drawn

By the lucky dog himself, with Kate

To moon o 'er his shoulder and meditate

On a fat old purse or a lank young love

The green below and the blue above.

The blue above and the green below,

Shadows and sunshine to and fro

Seasons for dreams - whate'er befall Hero,

heroine, hearts and all.

Wave of wildwood - the blithe bird sings,

and the leaf-hid locust whets his wings

Just as a thousand years ago-

The blue above and the green below.

James Whitcomb Riley died of a stroke on 22 July, 1916. The United States President, Woodrow Wilson, sent a note to the poet's family, saying Riley was "...a man who imparted joyful pleasure and a thoughtful view of many things that other men would have missed." Named after him in Indianapolis, the state capital, is Riley Hospital for Children.

In 1999, his hometown of Greenfield and his fans celebrated his 150th birthday, and Indiana governor, Frank O'Bannon, proclaimed October 7, 1999, "James Whitcomb Riley Day."

Nancy Niblack Baxter's historical novels and their Culver connection