Inspiration for Ben-Hur

Ingersoll's prominence in 19th century America led to surprising cultural fallout. Lew Wallace (1827-1905), a Civil War general, governor of the New Mexico Territory, and diplomat, had a chance meeting with Ingersoll. Wallace was devout; Ingersoll bluntly expressed his agnosticism. Shocked by the encounter, Wallace resolved to write a religious novel. The result was Ben-Hur (1880), which sold more than five million copies and was filmed in 1907, 1926 and 1959. William Wyler's 1959 epic, starring Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd, is still a network TV staple around the Easter holiday.

Ben-Hur in 1926

Francis X. Bushman (Messala), left, and Ramon Novarro (Ben-Hur) in the chariot race from the 1926 silent version of Ben- Hur.