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Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur, and Lloyd C Douglas

by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)

Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building, Washington, DC. (From the Architect of the Capitol website)

Just months after he became the pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC, Lloyd Douglas was invited to participate in a rare event at the Capitol Building. On Tuesday, January 11, 1910, a statue of the late Civil War general Lew Wallace was unveiled in Statuary Hall.

General Lew Wallace in his Civil War uniform. (Courtesy of the General Lew Wallace Museum.)

General Wallace had been a native of Indiana, so representatives of that state (Governor Thomas R Marshall and Senator Albert J Beveridge) gave speeches, and the well-known Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley wrote and recited an elegy. Then they all went to the theater to watch the stage version of Ben-Hur. For besides being a general in the Civil War, Lew Wallace was also the author of that bestselling novel.

As another native of Indiana, Lloyd Douglas was invited to give the benediction.

That may not seem like much, but Lew Wallace was a popular author, and this was a big affair. Douglas was fortunate to play a role in it.

The speeches have long been forgotten, and there is no record of Douglas’s prayer. But when the statue was unveiled…

Statue of Lew Wallace in Statuary Hall, US Capitol. (From the Architect of the Capitol website.)

… a photographer for the Washington Evening Star snapped a unique picture. The digital version of that evening’s paper, available online from the Library of Congress, is too distorted to see. The best copy I have of it is in Douglas’s 1909-1915 scrapbook. It’s just a clipping from the newspaper article, and it’s not very clear. Douglas marked an X in his scrapbook and drew a straight line from it down to his own face. Here’s the picture. He’s just beneath the statue, and a little to the right.

From Lloyd C Douglas Papers, 1909-1915 Scrapbook, Box 5, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. (c) Bentley Historical Library.

Since it’s from a newspaper, I can’t get a good closeup without it blurring, but here’s the closeup. Douglas has black hair and is standing just a little to the right of the statue:

From Lloyd C Douglas Papers, 1909-1915 Scrapbook, Box 5, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. (c) Bentley Historical Library.

It would take another 32 years before the real significance of that photograph would become apparent. The author of Ben-Hur is memorialized in stone, and at the very moment when the statue is unveiled, at his feet stands the future author of The Robe.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Author: Ronald R Johnson

I am a Christian author and philosophy professor who speaks and writes about everyday spirituality. I also write funny, suspenseful novels that aren't philosophical or religious... or are they? Learn more at www.ronaldrjohnson.com.

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