Thursday, April 23, 2015


Laura's statue in the downtown Mansfield
The sister and I safely made the trip to Mansfield, Missouri and back.  My daughter only emerged from her room upon my return when I yelled up that I'd bought her caramel creams at the Cracker Barrel.  My son at least appeared, although a hug was out of the question.  As always I could count on my dogs to welcome me back enthusiastically.  They were loud and boisterous and all over me when I got down on the floor by the couch.  Each got annoyed that the other was hogging the attention of her mother and they started getting nasty with each other.  I noticed various large colored stains on my living room carpet caused by the dogs chewing up markers.  I asked my husband why he didn't clean them and he said he didn't know how and my son yelled, "You know where the carpet cleaner is!"  Smart boy.  The Vulcan said he missed me, but it's always hard to tell if he really missed me or was just glad to have someone take over the household again.

View of Laura's farmhouse from the road.
The trip involved way more driving than I like in much too short a period of time, but it was totally worth it.  Let me say loud and clear if you love the Little House books and/or their authorn the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum is an absolute must-see.  I had high hopes going in, but it actually surpassed my expectations.  Located on (what else?) The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway, the home site has Laura and Almanzo's farmhouse, a museum building, book store, and the Rock House, a retirement home their daughter built them in the 1920s with all the modern conveniences.  (They didn't like it.)

Unfortunately pictures inside the buildings weren't allowed.  That's a pity since the museum was chock-full of wonderful Ingalls mementos that those familiar with the books would salivate over.  There was a school bus full of kids present and normally a bunch of runts running around a museum would drive me insane.  In this case I had trouble loathing them since they would run up to display cases and holler, "There's Pa's fiddle!" or "Look!  It's Mary's quilt."  I heard one say to another, "This is the best museum ever."  He had a point.

I actually kind of envied those kids who knew the stories well and could point out book-related bits to each other. My sister has only read Farmer Boy and we listened to the last two books in the van on the drive, so I looked at most of the stuff alone, lingering over items that I had pictured in my mind so many times.  There were the name cards so new and fashionable in Little Town on the Prairie, including one belonging to Nellie Owens, one of the real life girls who inspired Nellie Oleson.  There was Laura's lap desk which hid a $100 bill on the trip from De Smet, South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, money to be used as the down payment on the new farm.  There was Mary's Braille slate and the bit of hand-knit lace Ida Brown gave Laura on her wedding day.  There was the bread plate Laura and Almanzo had bought in their first year of marriage and was one of the few things to survive a fire that destroyed their home a few years later.  There were dishes and handmade quilts and photographs and dresses.  There was a case of Alamanzo's effects, including his shoe-making supplies, pocket watch, and wallet.  There was a section devoted to their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, a famous author in her own right.  There were two of her desks and typewriters, examples of her needlework, and souvenirs from her trips around the world.  One boy exclaimed to another, "Hey!  There's Rose's Russian tea set!"

Hanging on Laura's front porch.
The farmhouse was a surprise, although I had read beforehand that visitors were often shocked at how small it is.  Laura was 4'11" and Almanzo about 5'4" and their house was built to size.  The kitchen ceiling was low and the height of the counter by the window where she would knead bread was only about 30" from the floor.  My 4'10" sister thought it was perfect.  The house overall was much smaller than I picture when I hear "farmhouse."  I imagine the big, rambling places like on The Walton's.  The rooms here were relatively small and even the living room, which had looked like a huge open space in books, turned out to be just slightly bigger than my family room.  I always say it's people's little bits and pieces that touch me and this house was no exception.  On their bedroom walls were Currier & Ives prints that Laura had ripped from a calendar and framed.  Next to Almanzo's bed was a little wooden box full of his balms and salves, left there by Laura when he died.  My sister asked about some of the beautiful needlework in the living room.  Most was made by Laura or Rose, but it turns out Almanzo liked to do rug-hooking in the winter.  And next to the fireplace was a container full of his handmade canes.  (After a bout of diphtheria in his early 30s, Almanzo was left temporarily paralyzed and limped the rest of his life.)

The Rock House was built by Rose for her aging parents to live in ease and comfort.  After moving her parents into their new home with electricity, indoor bathroom, etc., she plopped herself in their farmhouse and had an indoor bathroom installed off the bedroom.  After about a decade, she left and her parents zipped back up to their farmhouse where they wanted to be in the first place.  What shocked me about The Rock House is that it is based on a Sears Catalog Home plan -- The Mitchell.  I have an obsession interest in Sears homes and my sister and I whipped our heads around to look at each other with open mouths when we heard this was one.  (You can see the original ad for The Mitchell here.)  Rose made some changes, the most obvious involving the exterior.  She wanted local stones used instead of the Sears-designed wood and she paid local teenagers to dig up the rocks.  From the outside it's a darling English cottage and I loved it.  Inside it wasn't my style.  It had some lovely niches that I adore, but it reminded me a lot of the Spanish-influenced style in California and it's not my cup of tea.  Anyway, Rose designed it with all new furniture.  I could see if Laura's dream house was that cute farm building, this house she would loathe.  It's not good or bad, it's just different and apparently not really what her parents longed for.  The most impressive part, to me, is that she began writing the Little House books while living there, so I tried to soak up any literary juice that might still be lingering.

We couldn't leave Mansfield without visiting the graves, which are in a cemetery at the end of Lincoln Street just outside of the downtown square. 

The Inmates' Uncle Chester in the cabin.

We spent the night at Mansfield Woods, just down the road from Laura's house.  We had a cute little cabin, very clean and with all the modern appliances (I'm not into roughing it).  The only downer, and I knew about this going in,  is that they had no wifi and no television.  Ack!  Definitely not a place to take my children.  I'm not much of an outdoorsy person, so sitting on the deck staring at a pond was not gonna do it.  I ended up propping my iPad on a chair and watching downloaded shows on J.F.K. assassination conspiracy theories while knitting.  My sister decided to write about me in verse on her blog here.  I would be offended if it wasn't, you know, true.  In my defense, I'm extremely allergic to poison ivy and had to be on steroids last time I wandered through a patch (15 years ago).  And I don't like bugs and I swear I swallowed a bug during a nature walk in Cooperstown two decades ago.  And I don't like when it's hot.  And I have really bad sinuses, so sue me for being on alert for pollen-shedding trees...

REVENGE!  My sister had fun managing
the staircase down from our cabin door.

And what would a trip be without a few souvenirs?  I also brought my mother home a little kit for making a quilted wall hanging with red work embroidery of Laura-related pictures. 

An Ozarks Public Television special on dvd
and lotsa postcards (for me).

No, I don't really intend to cook anything, but this
book had wonderful pictures and anecdotes about Laura
and the farm.  On the right is a thin volume
on Almanzo's sister.

My favorite!  An actual piece of a
pecan tree they planed in 1900.
Got to bring a little piece of the
farm home.


Nancy said...

It was such a fun trip, and so beautiful! And, yes, I LOVED the farmhouse (although a Mitchell-style cottage is right up there, too). And I'm 4'11", not 4'10" you TWIT.

Shannon Breen said...

Nancy, you USED to be 4'10-3/4". You've SHRUNK. No use being in denial about it.