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, acquired papers and memorabilia significant in Indiana history. He purchased the original manuscript of Ben-Hur, hand-written in purple ink by Lew Wallace, from the author’s grandson, Lew Wallace, Jr.

Mystery of the Missing Pages

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. didn’t know where the missing pages had gone. He speculated that his grandfather bound them 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.

The Lilly Library at IU

J.K. Lilly, Jr. donated over 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts to Indiana University in the 1950s. Eventually, 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, spoke. 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 didn’t understand Adams’ point until, with a broad smile, he announced, “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!

A Mystery Solved

Adams explained that Harper Brothers, the original publishers of Ben-Hur, held the missing pages until 1959. At that time, the publishing house gave them to the Pierpont Morgan Library. When the Lilly Library opened, the trustees of the Morgan Library and Harper Brothers decided to reunite the manuscript. 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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