Legacy of The Maxinkuckee Writers’ Group, Booking Culver
Perhaps there’s something mystical in Lake Maxinkuckee’s spring-fed waters; perhaps some spiritual essence floats upon the lake’s surface, for one local legend concerns the ghost of Chief Pau-Koo-Shuck, of the Potawatomi, and the numerous eye-witnesses who have observed the chief’s apparition furiously paddling a canoe away from Long Point, on the lake’s west shore. When the Native Americans were forced from Lake Maxinkuckee’s shores to endure their exile, they bequeathed to their beloved lake a wealth of stories, legends, and magic.
Gen. Lew Wallace would pen part of the best-selling novel of the 19th century, Ben Hur, in an old fishing hotel on the lake, which in 1905 he called “the most beautiful place in the world.”
Henry Harrison Culver, years later and inspired by the lake’s beauty, settled to make his mark on the northern shore while summer cottagers spread out along the eastern. By the time Culver’s vision for a private school had taken hold, and the town to the west had adopted his name, a rich tradition of story-telling flourished. Culver’s academy provided a backdrop for several works of juvenile fiction, including Black Horse of Culver by Helen Orr Watson and Tex Rains, Culver Trooper by Robert Rossow, and provided inspiration for films, such as Tom Brown of Culver and The Spirit of Culver.
Booth Tarkington composed part of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Gentleman from Indiana in the same east shore fishing cottage where he drew pencil sketches on the wall visible today.
James Whitcomb Riley, the famous “Hoosier Poet,” professed his love for Lake Maxinkuckee in his poem, The Green Below and the Blue Above:
The green below and the blue above
The waves caressing the shores they love;
Sails in haven and sails afar
And faint as the water lilies are…
The blue above and the green below
would that the world was always so;
Always summer and warmth and light
With mirth and melody day and night…
Meredith Nicholson based his novel, The House of a Thousand Candles, the best-selling novel in America in 1906 and source of no less than three Hollywood films, on a fictionalized version of the lake.
According to a childhood friend, the legendary composer, Cole Porter, would sneak aboard one of the lake’s steamboats simply to play its piano–and his famous rhythm developed to the steady chug, chug, chug of that steamer engine, as he played night after summer night.
Kurt Vonnegut, who summered on the lake, called it “my Agean Sea,” describing the day he swam its length as the day “I became a man.”
Award winning actors, columnists, composers, novelists, and playwrights have all touched, and been touched by, Lake Maxinkuckee. And the allure still holds true today, for it is not uncommon to encounter someone in one of the town’s distinctive libraries, or sitting on a park bench, or eating in one of Culver’s inspired restaurants and have them reveal they’re “working on a story.”
Perhaps there is something magical in the water…
Editor, The Culver Citizen
The Maxinkuckee Writers’ Group, Booking Culver