On the Road With Laura Ingalls Wilder--Part III

Monday, May 31, 2010

Since Mama and I didn't want to backtrack, we vistited the Indian Territory site (Little House on the Prairie) outside Independence, Kansas near the end of our trip rather than near the beginning. In the books, Laura moved from the big woods in Wisconsin to Indian Territory and then to Plum Creek in Minnesota. In real life, the Ingalls family moved back to Wisconsin and stayed there for several years before moving to Plum Creek.

The place designated as the Kansas site for Laura's cabin contains a replica of the cabin; an old post office and an old one-room schoolhouse that are both original but were moved to this site and have nothing to do with Laura; and a hand-dug well. Mama saw most of it but decided not to walk the few extra steps to see the well.

At the cabin, a string fed through a hole in the door to open the inside latch. In Little House on the Prairie, Laura describes her father fixing up the string so he could pull it through the hole at night to "lock" the door from the inside.

I'm not sure if this is the real site, or if somebody just decided to call it that. Laura describes their homestead as being 40 miles from Independence and this place is only 13 miles away. But Laura did change the facts for drama sometimes, or her young memory may have gotten it wrong.

Our last Laura Ingalls Wilder stop was also her last. Laura and Almanzo moved to Mansfield, Missouri, while their daughter, Rose, was still young (On the Way Home), and they spent the rest of their lives there. Rose moved to California and eventually to Connecticut, but she is buried next to her parents in the Mansfield cemetery. That's the first place we went when we arrived. Unfortunately, the engraving on Laura and Almanzo's grave is almost the same color as the tombstone, so the writing doesn't show up very well in a photo.

From there, we went to Rocky Ridge Farm to see the house and museum. The museum contains lots of original Ingalls and Wilder items, including Pa's fiddle.

Our admission fee included guided tours of two houses. The farm house is still furnished with Laura's furniture and is pretty much as she left it when she died. The picture at the beginning of this post shows the house from the side. Almanzo built the part on the left first, and he added the part on the right later.

Rose had her own fame as an author (before her mother even wrote the Little House books) and as a newspaper correspondent, and she must have done okay financially. She wanted to give her parents a more modern house, so they let her build them a stone house (called "the rock house"). Laura wrote her first four books while living in the rock house.

After settling her parents in the rock house, Rose moved into the farm house. Eight years later, she decided she'd had enough of small town life and left. As soon as she vacated the premises, Laura and Almanzo moved back to the farm house, where they felt more at home. Laura wrote her other books there.

When we first arrived at Rocky Ridge Farm, I noticed that the parking lot was on the other side of the road and was worried that Mama wouldn't be able to walk that far. Then I saw a sign indicating that there was handicapped parking at the museum/farm house, so we went ahead and turned in there. We also drove past the regular parking at the rock house and parked much closer. The walk wouldn't have bothered most people, but we were glad for the handicapped parking (and yes, we did have a permit).

It was a good trip, and I recommend it for any Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. (And if you aren't one yet, get the books and read them.) But I'm grateful I could travel by car instead of covered wagon.

On the Road With Laura Ingalls Wilder--Part II

Monday, May 24, 2010

From Plum Creek, Mama and I traveled to De Smet, South Dakota, where we did our most extensive sightseeing. We started with a tour that took us inside two houses. The first was the Surveyors' House, where the Ingalls lived their first winter in De Smet (By the Shores of Silver Lake). That house (shown in the picture) is the actual house and has been restored to its original condition, although it is no longer in the same location. They don't let anyone upstairs, but they have it set up the way it would have been in Laura's time, and mirrors at the top of the stairs reflect the way the attic would have looked with the girls' beds in it.

The site also contained the school Laura attended (The Long Winter and Little Town on the Prairie) and a replica of the first school where Laura taught (These Happy Golden Years).

We then got in our car and followed the guide (in her car) to the Ingalls' house in town. This is where Pa and Ma and Mary lived until they died. Laura was already married by the time Pa built the town house, so she never lived there.

The town house is about seven blocks from the Surveyors' House, so I'm not sure if driving is the normal procedure or if they usually walk and were just accommodating Mama's 90-year-old legs.

The guide took us through the first floor, and I went upstairs as well. Mama couldn't climb the stairs, so the guide showed her a book with pictures of the second floor.

Next, we drove to the cemetery and saw the family graves (all in a row) for Pa, Ma, Laura's son (who died when he was just a few days old), Mary, and Carrie. We forgot to walk a few feet farther on to see the grave where Grace is buried with her husband, but it is there, too.

After that, we took another road to the site where Laura and Almanzo homesteaded after they got married (The First Four Years). All you can see now is a sign marking the spot. Actually, the sign says more about Rose being born there than it does about Laura and Almanzo. But it was close by and worth the short drive.

Finally, we drove to the Ingalls' homestead, where Laura lived in the summers until she got married. While at the homestead, I walked out to a replica of the Ingall's claim shanty, but Mama went no farther than the gift shop. The walking was easy for me, but it was over a gentle hill, and the claim shanty wasn't close to the parking lot. Then, as we left the homestead, we stopped and saw some cottonwood trees that Pa had planted.

Mama and I spent the next day in the car on our way to Burr Oak, Iowa. That's the one place Laura never wrote about. Her stay in Burr Oak came in the middle of the Ingalls' years at Walnut Grove. If you are interested in learning more about that time, I recommend Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Iowa Story, by William Anderson.

Friends bought the Master's Hotel in Burr Oak and asked Pa and Ma to help them run it. Since the crops had failed again, they agreed, but the Ingalls stayed only a little over a year before returning to Walnut Grove.

We took a tour through the original (restored) hotel and heard about Laura's time there. After seeing the main floor, we went outside and entered the lower level through a back door. (Everyone else on the tour went down the interior stairs, but the outside route allowed Mama to take a path with a gentle slope rather than worrying about stairs.) Mama wasn't able to climb to the top floor but did see pictures of it.

"But," you ask, "didn't Laura live in Indian Territory when she was young? And did she ever settle down for good?"

I'll answer those questions in next week's final installment.

And the winners are--

Friday, May 21, 2010

Congratulations to the winners of the drawing to celebrate my website launch.

Millie Samuelson won the grand prize: a Levenger bag filled with reading tools, an autographed copy of my book, and two packets of note cards.

Betty Anne Bantz and Ruth Mills each won an autographed copy of my book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court's First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing, 2006).

Sandra King and Sandy Perez each won a packet of note cards.

I appreciate everyone who visited the site and left comments. Thank you!

On the Road With Laura Ingalls Wilder--Part I

Monday, May 17, 2010

I just returned from a road trip with my 90-year-old mother. When I decided to take her on a vacation, I looked for somthing that would interest both of us and wouldn't be too taxing for her (or for me).

The trip that fit the bill? Visiting the places where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived.

Most of you know who Laura Ingalls Wilder was, so I won't go into much detail. But for those of you who don't, she wrote the Little House books (Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and more). She wrote them for children, but many adults like them, too.

Although some parts of the Little House books are fictionalized, Laura based them on her own life. That means our road trip took us to the real places she lived and wrote about.

Laura's family did a lot of backtracking and Mama and I didn't want to, so our trip did not follow the exact sequence of Laura's books (or her life). But it was an interesting way to learn about a beloved children's author. It is also a good trip for the young and the elderly alike. While people who have trouble walking or climbing might have to forgo a couple of items of interest, my mother was able to see most of them.

We started in Pepin, Wisconsin (Little House in the Big Woods), which is the closest town to where Laura was born. Pepin has a small museum, but it doesn't open for the season until May 15, so we didn't get to see it. I'm guessing, though, that much of the information there would have duplicated exhibits we saw at other museums.

From Pepin, we followed the signs to a wayside at the approximate location of the Ingalls' home. The wayside contains a replica of a log cabin that does not match the description in the book but was still interesting. The location is the main thing, anyway.

In her books, Laura traveled next to Indiana Territory, Kansas (Little House on the Prairie), but we left that for later. Instead, we drove to Walnut Grove, Minnesota (On the Banks of Plum Creek). Walnut Grove has a nice museum with exhibits about Laura and the TV show (which was set in Walnut Grove rather than Indian Territory, where the book of the same title took place). The museum also has a replica of a dugout and has several old buildings, most without any connection to Laura. The exhibits took two hours or less.

Next, we drove to the banks of Plum Creek, and I took the trail to the dugout site. This is one place where my mother stayed in the car. It would be an easy hike for most people, but it was a little too much for Mama's 90-year-old legs.

The picture at the head of this post shows Plum Creek, with the dugout site at the top of the bank (where the billboard-size sign is). The dugout is now just a depression in the ground, but you can see from the picture that the bank was high enough for it.

Next week's post will continue the trip with stops at De Smet, South Dakota and Burr Oak, Iowa.

"We Interrupt This Week"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Regular readers know that I post new entries on Mondays, so why am I adding a Wednesday post this week? It's because I'm too excited to wait.

My totally revised website just went live and I want everyone to see the great job that PulsePoint Design did with it! The website address is http://www.kathrynpagecamp.com/, but this blog is tied into it. So use the buttons at the top of the page to navigate around the site.

I am giving away several "door prizes" to celebrate. The grand prize is a Levenger bag filled with reading tools, a copy of my book, and two packets of note cards, for a total value of approximately $140. I am also giving away four other prizes: two copies of my book and two packets of note cards. I will draw the winners after 5:00 p.m. Central time next Wednesday, May 19, so make sure you enter before then.

To enter the drawing, go to the contact button at the top of this page and use the contact form to leave me your e-mail address. I won't sell (or give away free) your e-mail address to spammers or anyone else. I might use it for my own announcements unless you tell me not to, in which case I will honor your request.

Only residents of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin are eligible for the drawing. That's because I didn't have the energy to check the laws of all 50 states to make sure I'm not violating them.

The drawing is not open to my immediate family or my husband's immediate family (parents, children, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and in-laws). You know who you are.

Even if you aren't eligible for the drawing, please leave me a comment letting me know what you think of the website.

And feel free to pass this information on. Like most parties, the more the merrier.

Lies Encouraged Here

Monday, May 10, 2010

I recently listened to a speaker practice for a tall tales contest using a story from her own life. Tall tales (as in Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox) thrive on exaggeration, but this was an ordinary story with no embellishment. Although the way she told it made it interesting, it was not a tall tale.

Novice writers often write about their own experiences but change the names and call their stories "fiction." Members of my writers' critique group would suggest changing the facts to make the action more compelling. The usual response? "It didn't happen that way."

Calling a story a tall tale or fiction makes it okay to change the facts. So get a little creative, folks.

I'm not suggesting that a writer take a recognizable person and give him or her traits that could hurt the real person's reputation. Just changing someone's name and labeling the story "fiction" isn't enough to protect a writer from a defamation lawsuit. But changing events and adding new characters are all part of what makes fiction fiction.

I've known for years that the Little House books are only loosely based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, but I didn't know the first two are out of order. I discovered that only recently while researching a road trip.

The first book, Little House in the Big Woods, is set in the woods of Wisconsin when Laura is about four and her sister Carrie is a baby. That fits. Laura did live in the woods near Pepin, Wisconsin at that age, and Carrie was born when Laura was three.

But the second book, Little House on the Prairie, has a slightly older Laura on her way to and then living in Kansas Territory, and Carrie is with them when they leave Wisconsin. In real life, the Ingalls family made the trip from Pepin to Kansas Territory when Laura was two and moved back to Pepin when she was four, and Carrie was born in Kansas. So these books are not in the same order as Laura's real life.

Laura altered her life's chronology for her first two children's novels, and she probably changed other facts, too. But that's okay, because even though it's common knowledge that Laura based the Little House books on her life (and even used real names for her family), the series is labeled and sold as fiction.

So here's my message to all tall tale tellers and novice fiction writers: if lies make your story better, use them. Because they aren't really lies when it's fiction.

Oh, the Places I've Lived--Part II

Monday, May 3, 2010

Call Day is past, and Caroline and Pete ended up in southwestern Illinois. The location is farther from the action than my city-girl daughter is used to, but the church itself sounds like a good fit.

Now on with my story.

Daddy's sabbatical took us to Amman, Jordan. We boarded a ship in New York, disembarked in England, and traveled through Europe on our way to Jordan. Our return trip was on the Queen Mary, which is now a tourist site in Long Beach, California. I was five when we left and six when we returned.

While living in Amman, Daddy taught English at the Bishop's School and Donald and I attended a private school for English-speaking children. (Gordon started school sometime after Christmas.) The classes were small, and King Hussein's sister, Basma, was one of my classmates.

Much of present-day Israel (including Bethlehem and the half of Jerusalem with most of the Christian sites) was in Jordan at the time, so we spent our weekends and holidays visiting Biblical sites. My father had been to Amman and worked at the Bishop's School while still a bachelor, but he wanted his family to experience the Holy Land. And it was a perfect place for a minister to go on sabbatical.

When we returned to the U.S., my father took a church in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. DeTour Village is the place I consider my home town, and it's where I spent most of my growing-up years.

My brother Donald was eight and had three years of school behind him. I was six and had one year of school behind me. But when Daddy went to enroll us at DeTour, he told them that Donald belonged in fifth grade and I belonged in third, so that's where they put us. We each did very well a grade ahead, and Daddy vindicated his failure to convince the LaPrairie school to let us enter a year early.

After three years at DeTour, Daddy decided to take another sabbatical. Again, he let the congregation decide whether it wanted to seek another minister or keep the position open for our return. This time, the church voted to wait for him.

The University of Edinburgh was something of a Mecca for Presbyterian ministers. (Scotland is the birthplace of the Presbyterian Church.) Although Daddy was not looking for another degree, he wanted to take theology classes at New College, and Mama wanted to take classes at the Reid School of Music (also part of the University of Edinburgh).

We sailed on the Queen Mary shortly after I would have entered sixth grade. The Edinburgh public schools placed me with children my own age. The British schools taught at a faster pace than the U.S. schools, however, so I was actually right on track with my class back at DeTour.

The return trip brought a thrill I never (at that point) thought I would experience. Daddy discovered that it was cheaper to fly from Glasgow, Scotland to Reykjavik, Iceland and from there to New York than it was to take the Queen Mary home. So not only did we fly, but we got to take a walk under the midnight sun.

Back at DeTour, I rejoined my classmates for junior high and the first two years of high school. Then Daddy announced that we were moving again.

My parents really liked DeTour, and Daddy loved watching the lake freighters go by his office window. But they were building a retirement home in Holland, Michigan, and Daddy wanted to be closer so that he could work on it during his days off.

What teenage girl wants to be uprooted in the middle of high school and moved somewhere she has to make friends all over again? I didn't. And I was shy in the bargain. But move we did.

Lake City, Michigan, was another small town, but it was close to Cadillac, so it was more built up than I was used to. And I managed to make friends and continued to do well in school, graduating with honors. But it never felt like home the way DeTour did.

The picture at the beginning of this post shows me, Daddy, and Mama dressed in our costumes for Lake City's 1968 centennial celebration. Yes, I know our 1890s dresses were too modern, but we couldn't find a pattern from the 1860s. We were still closer than the other women in town, who wore frontier dresses more suited to a bicentennial.

I should probably end my saga here, but we did move one more time before I graduated from college. During my sophmore year, my parents moved to Schoolcraft, Michigan, near Kalamazoo. They enjoyed the church and stayed until my father retired.

To my future grandchildren: being a preacher's kid has its disadvantages, but it has its good times, too.

So make great memories.