Aug 4: Going Home with Laura Ingalls Wilder
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
Saturday, I attempt to follow the biking directions from Springfield MO to St. Louis but cannot because the route is an actual bike bath for many miles. I spitball and wind up on Route 60, posted speed 65 mph, a little fast for the Blue Frog. Suddenly I see a sign, "Mansfield, MO Laura Ingalls Wilder's historical home." Erreek (wheel spin) ...I am off the main road, bumping down a side road into a small town. It sports a pretty town square, fronted by an active railroad on one side, and mostly boarded up buildings on the other three sides. I remember reading that Laura, Almanzo (her husband), and Rose (her daughter) had some hard at times in Manfield. It seems, on first glance, that hard times are here again. Later, I recognize that Laura is a gift that keeps on giving, or at least, people are trying again, starting new business in the past few years. Many center on the idea of pioneer Laura and others simply on pioneering, such as Baker Creek Heirlooms Seeds.
I stay at the Mansfield Woods rustic cabins, right across the street from the historical home. It turns out to share its property with a sweet little RV park, so I level 2 charge the Blue Frog and still have a deep sound sleep in a real bed. This would be a great location for a wedding or family reunion.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum, an exhibit hall with a video and two houses plus pasture for walking and a hen house (the hens and one rooster are fat and sassy, as happy chickens should be), is everything I hope for. The house was opened for visitors within months of Laura's death and the items are her things. I tell another woman visitor it is very difficult for me not to run my fingers along the edges of the china plates and the cookstove. She agrees. "I just want to touch something Laura touched," she admits.
Like all nerds, the other Laura junkies and I trade obscure tidbits of Laura's life, her not-so-smooth relationship with her daughter Rose, and the fact the economic privation was the reason she took to writing. In recent years, the idea has been propagated that Rose is the actual author of the Little House books. After all, Rose was a ground-breaking woman writer, famous in her day. As a journalist, she traveled with the Red Cross in Europe during WWI, writing articles from the front. Her novels of pioneer life won prestigious awards and were best sellers. Now she is all but forgotten.
The closer truth, I think, is that Laura wrote rough drafts that set up the stories and Rose polished them, adapting them from the periodical style of Laura's earlier writing into the longer, smoother story lines of a novel. In the museum shop, I buy a collection of Laura's how-to articles aimed at farm women that were published in small magazines and newspapers before she began the Little House books. I will test my theory by reading Laura's certain direct work.
The museum reveals that Laura also was a founding member of a local bank that made over a million dollars of farm loans, among other things. My admiration of this woman is not diminished by this closer examination.
Pictures in the slider: A few examples of economic development in Mansfield - including a mural, High Plains Flowers by a lively guy in a electric wheel chair who gave me his card which I cannot find this minute, on the side of the local grocery store; sign post of various business located half a mile from the town center, closer to the Wilder Museum; and the 5 desert display at Sweet Nellie's Ice Cream Parlor's $13 brunch. It was some of the best midwestern home cooking I have ever had (and I am sure my mom would have loved it and agreed.). For a longer photo essay on Mansfield and Laura Ingalls Wilder's environs, click here. (Wait- sorry I haven't set this up yet. Soon, I promise!)