I am a volunteer here at the Lew Wallace Study. Approximately one year ago I sought out opportunities to help my community and for those opportunities to be interesting, challenging, and not boring. As a volunteer I work on the newsletter, give tours, and research information upon request from the public regarding Lew’s fascinating life. I enjoy these opportunities as it is a vast change from my daily job and additionally I am providing a public service to promote a national treasure.
Lifelong interest in Lew Wallace
When I was a small child, my grandmother took me to the study. Many years later I returned to tour the study as a college student. As a child, I was fascinated by the exhibits from the film version of Ben Hur (1959), as the suit of the Roman Legionnaire caught my eye. However, after studying literature and studying history in college, I returned and fell in love with the artifact collection on Lew’s life as an author, general, ambassador, and sportsman. It was the memories of both tours plus reading the novel Ben Hur that inspired me to volunteer at this study. Now I take the opportunity to inspire others to study Lew Wallace and appreciate him for his incredible life and the study itself.
When you visit the study, each tour begins with a brief video presentation of Lew’s biography. In the film, Lew Wallace is described as a hero for modern times. It makes sense – a best-selling author who followed his true calling in the literary arts after practicing law; a general who volunteered for the Union army leaving his family (wife Susan, son Henry) for the front lines of the Civil War like many men in that era; a foreign ambassador in the infancy of American international diplomacy; a territorial governor sent to clean up New Mexico during the period of William Bonney aka Billy The Kid; and a “gentleman scientist” whose innovations range from a telescoping fishing pole to making a railroad safe for passengers in the late 19th century.
He embodies more the Renaissance man of the late middle ages than the Victorian Era in which he lived and thrived. This is a fascinating man who can teach all of us the themes of perseverance and hard work.
Volunteer and learn
Since starting my volunteer work here, I have learned much more about Lew than I ever imagined. I’m now inspired to read his two-volume biography published posthumously and The Fair God, Lew’s first novel about the conquest of the Aztec empire by Cortez from the Aztec perspective. He produced a pronunciation guide for the Aztec characters, which some critics disliked at that time. I’m also interested in reading The Land of the Pueblos, a collection of articles produced by Susan, Lew’s wife, during their time in New Mexico.
There is an aspect for every visitor at the study. If you enjoy literature, you will enjoy browsing at Lew’s collection of books and the monument for the Ben-Hur Beech Tree (90% of the novel was written under the tree). Is science your thing? You will enjoy our current exhibit, complete with a recreation of a Victorian workbench. If you enjoy the Civil War, you will enjoy the Study’s exhibits on Lew’s involvement with the Union army, the Lincoln Assassination, and the Andersonville trial. If you enjoy the outdoors, you will enjoy our groundskeeper’s wonderful use of period-era foliage and the exhibit on Lew’s love of fishing. If you like architecture, the Study itself is a gold mine of styles and features.
In summation, I enjoy my volunteer work at the Lew Wallace Study and continue to volunteer, receiving the inspiration I need from simply setting foot inside the study and discussing one of America’s most interesting figures of the nineteenth century. Visit at least once, then many other times subsequently, to see with your own eyes what I have described in this introductory blog.