Walnut Grove

After our trip to Pepin the day before, I had a dream that Wendy McClure had lunch with us at Two Old Guys while wearing a blonde wig.

The next day we set off again, west this time across southern Minnesota. After two and a half hours of driving I can tell you that southern Minnesota is rural. R-U-R-A-L. It’s one big field of Pa’s wheat with farmhouses and grain elevators every once in a while. We past through one town that listed its population at 36. Walnut Grove is by comparison a major metropolis with a population of 534.

We had gotten the impression that the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum was about on-par with the one in Pepin, which gave us serious pause about making a 5-hour round trip to see the sites. But Walnut Grove has a much more developed museum and the exhibits are very child-friendly with a number of hand-on activities. Well worth the small admission fee the Walnut Grove Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum charges.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

The old depot building that houses the main museum collection is divided into two rooms; one devoted to the Little House books and one devoted to the Little House TV show. I have been known to turn a Nelly-like nose up at the 1970s TV show which took ridiculous liberties with the events of the book and concluded the series by blowing up the town of Walnut Grove. (Oh no. I gave away the ending?) But! I have to recognize that the Walnut Grove Museum probably wouldn’t have been nearly as great otherwise.

Highlights from the book side of the museum include:

A Copy of “Pa’s Big Green Book”

Surprisingly it is just sitting out on top of a display case and you can measure the weight of it in your hands. It’s like Laura’s version of National Geographic magazine, trips to the zoo and nature televisions shows rolled into one.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

Buffalo Coat

A buffalo coat like the one Pa wore to survive the blizzard he was caught in while walking home from town (with the Christmas candy!) in On the Banks of Plum Creek. I’d always sort of envisioned something that people wear to summit Mt. Everest except furrier and not fluorescent yellow. One look at it and you realize that Pa was one lucky… Pa.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

Those “Grasshoppers” Were Huge

They were actually Rocky Mountain Locust and were Biblically proportioned. All I could think about was the passage in On the Banks of Plum Creek when Laura talked about having to step on the grasshoppers as she went to get Wreath the cow and them being all slimy and squished under her bare feet. And… yack.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

1875 “Food Stamps”

This was the saddest thing I saw in the museum. While the Little House books aren’t strictly autobiographical they do follow many of the details of the Ingall family life. Between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake, there is a significant gap. During that time another wheat crop was eaten by the “grasshoppers,” Ma had a baby in November after a second major crop failure, and a month later Pa applied for food assistance because “your petitioner is wholly without means.” The following year, the family moves to Iowa to work in the hotel industry, the little baby boy Ingalls – who is never referenced in the books – dies along the way (almost as old as my baby Henry is now. Weep.) Baby Grace is born in Iowa and the family is in such pitiful state that a childless old lady offers to adopt Laura. I thought The Long Winter was bad – they actually had a conversation about the likelihood of them starving before spring – but apparently that was small potatoes to this kind of destitute heartbreak.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

The funny thing about most people’s response to the Little House books, mine included, is this wishful ache to return to pioneer times. Laura Ingalls Wilder excelled at bringing out the beauty of that phase of American history even while she revealed its hardscrabble horror. Which is probably most evident when one gets to see what a dugout actually looks like. Something I’ll talk about tomorrow when I describe going to the dugout site along Plum Creek. Until then, here’s a gem from the Walnut Grove gift shop:

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

I wonder if she wears high heels while she slaughters the pig.

If you missed the rest of the pilgrimage:

The Wilder Life

Little House in the Big Woods

On the Banks of Plum Creek



Filed under little minivan on the prairie, Minnesota Nice

3 responses to “Walnut Grove

  1. Pingback: Little House in the Big Woods | Marshins

  2. Pingback: The Wilder Life | Marshins

  3. Pingback: On the Banks of Plum Creek | Marshins

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