Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
Or listen live from anywhere on WICR Online!
Our call-in number during the show: (317) 788-3314

Oct. 1, 2016 show

All about Ben-Hur

The 1959 motion picture Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston, became one of the most successful movies ever produced.
First, it was an enormously popular novel of the 1880s written by Lew Wallace, an adventurous, flamboyant Hoosier who was a Civil War general, attorney, diplomat and politician. Many historians believe that, other than the Bible, Ben-Hur was read by more people in its era than any other book.

Ben-Hur also has been the basis for blockbuster movies and theatrical productions. The 1959 film version starring Charlton Heston won a then-record eleven Academy Awards.

In the wake of yet another movie remake (released in August) of Ben-Hur, Nelson will be joined by three experts to explore all aspects of the cultural phenomenon associated with chariot races, the Roman Empire and slave ships.

Wallace (1827-1905), the son of Indiana's sixth governor, wrote Ben-Hur without ever having visited the Middle East - although, following his book's spectacular success, President James Garfield appointed him diplomat to Turkey. Earlier, President Rutherford B. Hayes had appointed him governor of the New Mexico Territory.

Our guests will be:

  • Larry Paarlberg.Larry Paarlberg, director of the Gen. Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville. In addition to housing an array of Wallace's personal possessions, the museum has artifacts from the various movie versions of Ben-Hur, including a silent film in 1925 that became one of the top-grossing motion pictures of its era.
  • Chandler Lighty, director of the Indiana Historical Bureau. A native of Montgomery County, Chandler was the public historian at the Gen. Lew Wallace Study & Museum early in his career.
  • And Howard Miller, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas-Austin and a renowned Ben-Hur scholar. He is working on a book about its cultural impact and will join us during a visit to Crawfordsville, Wallace's adopted hometown.

Chandler Lighty.The title character in Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince who lives in Roman-occupied Jerusalem during the coming of Christ.

Some history facts: Wallace apparently wrote most of the novel underneath a beech tree near his Crawfordsville home; he completed it while serving as governor of the New Mexico Territory. (During his stint in the West, Wallace dealt with various gunslingers, including Billy the Kid.)

Howard Miller.And by 1900, Ben-Hur had become the best-selling novel of the 19th century, exceeding the legendary Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The subtitle of Ben-Hur is A Tale of the Christ. Set during the early Roman Empire, the novel intertwines the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a former galley slave, with the coming of Christ. In addition to chariot racing scenes, the saga involves pirates, lepers, camels, gladiators and pageantry, and historical figures.

According to our guest Chandler Lighty, the recently released remake of Ben-Hur is the fifth movie version of the novel.

Although the 1959 epic with Heston is the best-remembered, Chandler prefers a 1925 silent movie, explaining that the earlier adaptation is closer to the book. (He also feels the chariot race is better in the 1925 version.) An even earlier film version, released in 1907, resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision protecting "copyrighted works from unauthorized motion picture adaptation," Chandler noted in an Indiana Historical Bureau blog.

Lew Wallace was born in Brookville in southeastern Indiana in 1827. His father, David Wallace, became the state's governor in 1836. By his own account later in life, Lew Wallace was an indifferent student (a frequent truant) and a thrill seeker.

But in order to write Ben-Hur without having visited Rome or the Middle East, he became an avid reader and researcher. He is said to have benefited from, as Chandler puts it, "a boom in biblical scholarship during the era".

The epic novel was first published in 1880. A stage production of Ben-Hur first opened in New York in 1899.

Learn more:

Roadtrip: Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne

October is Family History Month at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Our guest Roadtripper, author Kay Reusser of Bluffton in northeastern Indiana, will tell us more about what's going on this month.

Open seven days a week, the Genealogy Center is world-renowned for its immense collection, which includes 370,000 printed volumes, 590,000 microforms, military records that go back to the 1700s, city directories, census records, passenger lists, and so much more. And expect the staff to treat you like family, especially if you are new to genealogy!

The Genealogy Center is also active in several initiatives to make significant public domain portions of its collection available online. Learn more on Saturday.

History Mystery

Question marks.In 1902, a spectacular theatrical production of Ben-Hur was performed at a magnificent theater on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis.

Audiences at the theater - which featured the largest stage then in the entire state of Indiana - were thrilled by the lavish production of Ben-Hur, particularly the chariot races scenes. They involved eight horses running on treadmills on the stage. According to a blog by our guest Chandler Lighty, the Indianapolis production in 1902 featured - in addition to the horses on treadmills - "cycloramic scenery and other apparatus."

He writes: "All of this equipment and animals imposed an estimated weight of over 50 tons on the stage, which required pouring a special cement foundation."

The ornate theater was part of a majestic opera house and hotel complex on Monument Circle. Amid public outcry, the theater, hotel and opera house were torn down in the late 1940s.

Question: What was the name of the lavish theater?

The call-in number is (317) 788-3314. Please do not call into the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win the prize if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months. You must be willing to give your name and address to our engineer and be willing to be placed on the air.

The prize is a Family 4-Pack to Conner Prairie, including 4 tickets to the 1859 Balloon Voyage, courtesy of Conner Prairie.

Your Hoosier History Live team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, media+development director


Indiana Authors Award logo.

Shirley Brothers Mortuaries and Crematory logo.Mr. Tequila's Cantina & Grill logo.

Indiana Historical Society logo.Story Inn logo.

Lucas OilYats Cajun Creole Crazy Restaurant logo.

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support: Indiana Authors Award | Indiana Historical Society | Lucas Oil | Mr. Tequila's Cantina & Grill | Shirley Brothers Mortuaries & Crematory | Story Inn| Yats Cajun Creole Restaurant

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.Acknowledgments to Monomedia, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships and individual contributions. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially. Also, see our Twitter feed and our Facebook page for regular updates.

Oct. 8, 2016 show

Notorious murders in 1868 near White River

A gruesome scene was discovered on the banks of the White River just northwest of Indianapolis in September 1868: the mutilated bodies of a married couple.

Nancy Clem of Indianapolis was put on trial for a gruesome 1868 double-murder.
 Image courtesy murderbygaslight.com.The unlikely suspect in the murders was Nancy Clem, an Indianapolis housewife and businesswoman who has been described as "the supposed originator of the Ponzi scheme." The sensational crimes, which put Indianapolis in the national spotlight, are the focus of a new book, The Notorious Mrs. Clem: Murder and Money in the Gilded Age (Johns Hopkins University Press), by Wendy Gamber, an Indiana University history professor.

Wendy will be Nelson's guest to explore the social history involved with the crimes and Mrs. Clem's subsequent trials. Her prosecutors included none other than Benjamin Harrison, who in 1888 became the only U.S. president elected from Indiana.

The murders of Jacob and Nancy Young (he was killed with a shotgun, she with a pistol) drew national attention for several reasons, including the unusual suspect in the double homicide (a woman) and the rare method involved. According to Wendy Gamber, only 5 percent of women murderers in the 19th century used firearms.

The shocking episode - with business dealings as the alleged motive - also is illuminating about, as Wendy puts it, "women's active participation in 19th-century economics." She describes Mrs. Clem as, "by turns, a farm girl, respectable urban housewife, boardinghouse keeper, street broker, supposed originator of the Ponzi scheme, peddler of patent medicines and 'female physician'."

At one point, Mrs. Clem presented herself as a physician and sold various tonics.

According to The Notorious Mrs. Clem, her father was one of the earliest white settlers of Pike Township in Marion County. At the time of the murders in 1868, Mrs. Clem was in her mid-30s and had been married twice.

The murders were covered by one of Indiana's first woman journalists, Laura Ream, the Indianapolis-based correspondent for a Cincinnati-based newspaper. According to The Notorious Mrs. Clem, Benjamin Harrison's courtroom skills during the trials "did much to secure the future president's reputation as a brilliant attorney, a reputation that launched his political career."

Learn more:

Additional research courtesy Michael Armbruster.

© 2016 Hoosier History Live! All rights reserved.


Share this email
Manage your preferences | Opt out using TrueRemove®
Got this as a forward? Sign up to receive our future emails.
View this email online.
This email was sent to [% member:email %].
Continue receiving our emails, add us to your address book.