Ben-Hur & J.K. Lilly, Jr.

Lew Wallace, Jr. - Grandson of the man who wrote Ben-Hur
Lew Wallace, Jr. – Lew Wallace’s grandson

In the mid-1930s, Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., noted Indianapolis philanthropist and partner in the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical business, was acquiring papers and memorabilia significant in Indiana history. One of the documents he acquired was the original manuscript of Ben-Hur. He purchased the document, hand-written in purple ink by Lew Wallace, from the author’s grandson, Lew Wallace, Jr.

Upon closer inspection, Lilly realized that the manuscript was missing the opening pages of several chapters including the pages from Book 1, Chapter 1. Lew, Jr. had no idea where the missing pages had gone but speculated that his grandfather might have taken the pages and had them bound in a long missing special edition. A total of twenty-seven pages were gone. Lilly searched for almost twenty-five years, but never found the missing pages.

J.K. Lilly, Jr. donated over 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts to Indiana University in the 1950s. These gifts became the foundation for the Lilly Library at IU which was dedicated on October 3, 1960. At the dedication, Frederick B. Adams, Jr., director of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, was one of the featured speakers. Adams diverted from his prepared script to say: “It is not easy to hit the moon with a satellite and it is almost equally difficult to plan the right conjunction of mind and book and time. The proper conditions are here in Lilly Library….ready and waiting.”

Josiah K. Lilly, Jr.
Josiah K. Lilly, Jr.

The audience did not understand Adams’ point until with a broad smile he announced that “Here in my hand are the missing leaves to the original Ben-Hur manuscript.” Confusion turned to disbelief and then to cheers as the audience realized the magnitude of the announcement. Wallace’s original manuscript was on display for the dedication and the pages held by Adams were taken over and matched to the torn edges in the original manuscript. All twenty-seven pages were there!

Adams explained that Harper Brothers, the original publishers of Ben-Hur, had held the missing pages until 1959. At that time, the publishing house gave them to the Pierpont Morgan Library. When the Lilly Library dedication was announced, the trustees of the Morgan Library and Harper Brothers decided the pages should be reunited with Wallace’s original work. On October 3, 1960, after a separation of almost eighty years, Lew Wallace’s masterwork was again whole thanks to the generous philanthropy of the Pierpont Morgan Library, Harper Brothers, and Josiah K. Lilly, Jr.
Source: Montgomery Magazine, November 1980, article by Pat Cline

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