While many friends of Culver – on and off campus – may know that 2016 marks Indiana’s bicentennial, they may not be as familiar with the Culver connections to that celebration and to Hoosier history as a whole.
One Culver piece closely tied to Indiana history has been a constant for alumni, current students, summer campers, faculty, and staff for decades: the four murals adorning the north wall of the Lay Dining Hall.
The structure formerly known as the Mess Hall was, in and of itself, a notable one in the annals of Indiana. At its dedication in 1911, it boasted the largest unsupported roof of any building in America. Indiana Gov. Thomas Marshall, who would later become vice president, attended the event. Marshall’s relationship with Culver eventually led to the school escorting him at President Woodrow Wilson’s Inaugural in Washington, D.C., in 1913, the first of many such trips for Culver.
The four murals, though, would not be added until later. Presented as the Class of 1928’s gift (at a cost of $1,725.55) to the school, the murals were painted by Chicago-based artist Robert W. Grafton. Each panel commemorates a major event in the history of Indiana.
Born in 1876, Grafton was perhaps best known for painting the White House portraits of presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. He also painted portraits of three Indiana governors. His other murals included the Tippecanoe County (Indiana) Courthouse, the Illinois State Capitol, the Lafayette School in Chicago, the Hotel Rumely in LaPorte, Ind., and the First National Bank in Elkhart, Ind.
Grafton painted the Culver Mess Hall murals on canvas. They were presented at the commencement ceremony in 1936, which coincidently was the year the artist died. The murals were removed from the dining hall in 1986 and renovated by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
From left to right on the wall, the paintings portray:
- LeChevalier LaSalle and Father Membre at the “South Bend” of the St. Joseph River in 1679;
- George Rogers Clark at Vincennes in 1779;
- William Henry Harrison at The Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, and
- The Potawatomi leaving Lake Maxinkuckee in 1838.
For countless new cadets, the challenge was to discover the artist’s error in the scene of the Tippecanoe battle. Can you find it? Do you remember what it was?
Stay tuned for more Culver – Indiana Bicentennial connections, in future installments.