Steady Eddie and I have a grand scheme, an overarching plan to expose our children to as much of this great country of ours as we can before they leave our home. However, it’s something of an overwhelming undertaking to me when I consider that there are almost nine years between our youngest and our oldest child. There will never be a perfect time to take them all to see the nation’s capital or the redwoods or New England. The time to do it–whatever it is–is now, right?
Well, that was Steady Eddie’s thinking when he decided (and convinced me) that the time to take the girls to see Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri, was his long weekend after Independence Day. We had talked and talked about making this trip for ages, but when it came time to actually commit, all I could think about it is a rambunctious DLM and Benny, who pretty much conks out whenever he’s in the car seat (hence perhaps resulting in a sleepless night after so much napping). This time, we didn’t tell the girls we were going. (I was under the influence of the chapter on creative recreation in The Hidden Art of Homemaking when I decided to do this. Edith Schaeffer discusses planning surprise trips in this chapter. Oh, and I was also inspired by this post at Simple Homeschool.) Everyone just got up Friday morning and we told them we were going somewhere and that we still had to pack! (Eeep!) Of course, things moved along rather quickly with the added motivation of a mystery trip, so we got out the door with relative ease. We decided to give the girls a clue to our destination each time we crossed a state line, so they had something to look forward to on this seven hour journey. We traveled through Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and finally, into Missouri. Their clues were
- We are going North.
- We are going to the “Show Me” state.
- This is a literary field trip.
- As stubborn as a _________mule.
Since we had talked about going to Mansfield earlier in the year, I think Lulu had an inkling of an idea where we were headed, but neither girl could quite figure it out geographically.
After several stops (including a Chick-Fil-A lunch stop that turned into at least 1 1/2 hours by the time I nursed Benny and everyone ate and went to the bathroom, etc.), we finally arrived in Mansfield just in time for me to nurse Benny and for us to purchase tickets for the play Laura’s Memories
, a local production that compresses many of the events of the Ingalls and Wilder families into a two hour, song-and-dance extravaganza. We enjoyed the production, though for me it was more about the simple fact that we were sitting in an amphitheater in Mansfield than anything else.
On Saturday we headed back to Mansfield from our hotel in Springfield. First stop: the cemetery where Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are buried:
I apparently have a thing for seeing where famous people (especially authors) are buried. I’m thinking about making it a feature here on my blog. ;-) I thought it was interesting that the Wilders are buried in the middle of this cemetery, which is just your average, run-of-the-mill community cemetery, with nothing designating their graves are special except for a few bushes and a chain. You can see that someone had left Laura a note on her headstone, as well as a few flowers.
From the cemetery we headed over to Rocky Ridge, the farm house that Laura and Almanzo began building after they moved from Mansfield from De Smet, South Dakota. If my memory serves me correctly, it took them something like fourteen years (?) to finish the home. It’s really lovely from the outside:
Of course, photography is forbidden inside the home, but if you love getting a peek into what someone’s real life was like, Rocky Ridge Farm
definitely provides insight. This house is furnished just as if the Wilders were still living there. I loved seeing Laura’s kitchen that Almanzo furnished for her diminutive stature (4′ 11″–did you know that?–I knew she was “Half Pint,” but I didn’t realize she wasn’t a whole lot taller than Lulu is now!). It was also neat to see all of Almanzo’s handiwork–the (short) chairs he made, the rugs he hooked, the walking sticks he carved. He was obviously a very industrious man! Visiting Rocky Ridge made me realize that Laura and Almanzo were just ordinary people, no different in many ways than my grandparents, separated only by a generation. What brought this home to me were the Currier and Ives calendar prints that Laura had framed and hung over her bed. My grandparents always had a calendar just like that, and keeping the pictures is something my granny would’ve done.
The museum at Rocky Ridge
is fantastic, providing even more artifacts and memorabilia. The most famous object in the museum is Pa’s fiddle, but my personal favorite is the collection of Garth Williams sketches from the books. It’s so interesting and inspiring to see his rough sketches and notes, the thought processes behind his famous illustrations. For some reason, I found the sketches even more impressive than Laura’s book drafts, written longhand on simple tablets.
From Rocky Ridge we drove the very short distance to Laura and Almanzo’s retirement home, known as the rock house. Rose built this home for them after they quit farming (I suppose), but they lived here for less than ten years. Rose had moved into Rocky Ridge, and as soon as she vacated it for New York, Laura and Almanzo returned home, never to leave again.
This home was very modern, with electricity, a tiled bathroom, and running (filtered!) water. Modeled after an English cottage, it is very pretty and cozy. When the historical society finally acquired this house around 1990, its owner was storing hay in it. Imagine that! Storing hay in the home where Laura herself once lived!
My apologies to the family on the porch!
Most amazing of all is the realization that it was in this stone house that Laura began writing the Little House books.
The prospect from both homes is beautiful–hilly, lush, and green. I can see why Laura and Almanzo called this place home for over sixty years.
After we left the rock house, we headed up to St. Louis for a bit of sightseeing, but that’s a tale for perhaps another day.
I’m glad Steady Eddie talked me into this trip, and I really look forward to exploring more with our family.