Friday, June 20, 2008

My Laura Ingalls Wilder Trip: The Conclusion

We were getting ready to leave the visitor's center in De Smet when one of the guides reminded us that it was the last day of the "special exhibit."

Oh? What special exhibit?

It was called "From Shawls and Rings to Apron Strings" and was an exhibit of the belongings of the women in the Ingalls and Wilder families. Many of the items were on display for the first time, and as of the following day, all the items would all be returned to the special archives where they are stored.

We couldn't believe it. The guide handed us a list of the hundreds of items on display, including Ma's dishes, Laura's sewing kit, the Ingalls family lap desk, quilts, linens, jewelry, dresses, and even items belonging to Eliza Jane Wilder. It was a true peek into the attic of the Ingalls family! There was also a lot of personal letters and autograph books on display, and even a page from Grace's diary. I really enjoyed reading some of the letters Laura wrote to her sisters. In one, a letter to Carrie, Laura confessed that she suspected the postal clerk was reading her mail! Yet, she had something important and private to tell her sister so she "wrote" the message in braille. It had never occurred to me that the Ingalls sisters learned braille to better communicate with Mary, but it seems they had.

Our final stop of the day, on our way out of South Dakota, was to pay our respects to the Ingalls family at the De Smet cemetery. There, Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, Grace (and husband) and Laura and Almanzo's "Baby son Wilder" are resting on the quiet hill top grounds. It's a cool and shady location, without so much a hint of the "Laura tourism" feeling we experienced abundantly elsewhere.


The tallest stone in the foreground belongs to Pa.

On our way to the Minneapolis airport, we passed Sleepy Eye, located several miles outside of Walnut Grove. Sleepy Eye was the main hub of commerce during Laura's day.



There are of course, several other Laura tourist sites scattered throughout the mid-west, which we chose not to visit. There is nothing original left of Laura's little house in the big woods in Pepin, Wisconsin. It is merely a recreation of the cabin and small gift shop. The former Ingalls homestead in Kansas only contains a well that Pa dug, and nothing else original. Burr Oak, Iowa where the Ingalls helped run a hotel for two years (not mentioned in the Little House book series) has a small Laura museum in the restored hotel. Again, we didn't feel this was a location that played a substantial part in Laura's life. Mainly, we had wanted to see the significant sites. We wanted to see places that capture the real spirit of Laura.

This post is the conclusion of my Laura trip. Thanks for reliving the memories with me, it was fun to travel with friends!

I do have one more Laura-themed treat coming up, so watch for it soon.

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