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Local History

New Museum Showcases Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder

An historic site east of Springfield keeps alive the memory of a woman who, at the age of 65, wrote a series of books about her life.  Now, after years of planning and fundraising, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homes & Museum has a new museum.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more.

America came to know Laura Ingalls Wilder from the books she wrote, which described the hardships and the joys of life on the prairie.  (The nine Little House on the Prairie books begin with Little House in the Big Woods when the author was four-years-old and living with Pa, Ma, sisters Carrie and Mary and dog Jack on the edge of the Big Woods in Wisconsin.  The series ends with The First Four Years when Wilder and her husband begin married life on the South Dakota prairie).  She wrote the Little House on the Prairie books on the family’s farm in Mansfield.

After Wilder died in 1957, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association was formed to preserve the family home as she left it.  Since then, Rocky Ridge Farm has hosted many visitors over the years who come to see the place where some of their favorite books were written.  Besides the houses and a bookstore, they could visit a cramped museum, which housed Wilder and Ingalls artifacts.  But a new, much larger museum opened there March 1st.  Built to look like a barn, the museum is home to Pa’s famous fiddle, mentioned often in the books, Wilder’s manuscripts and needlework and much more. There’s also a film about the Wilder’s life.

A large crowd gathered outside the building last week to watch as a ribbon was cut to officially open the new museum. 

Jean Coday director of the Wilder Historic Home & Museum, said, not only is there much more room to move around, but the building’s greatly improved heating and cooling system will help with preservation efforts.

"Her papers, her original manuscripts--we have eight of them--an oil painting, different things.  And it's a good place, and we've managed at a place where we had to be very careful not to lose things," she said.

Sande Riggs, in period dress with a long braid down her back, volunteers at the museum a few days a week.  She had visited the site several times over the years and moved to Mansfield from Knoxville, Tennessee after her parents died to heal and volunteer at the homestead.

"I wanted to give back to this museum and to Laura because she was so much a part of my life growing up," she said.

Riggs said she wouldn’t have missed the ribbon cutting, calling it “a special day in Wilder history.”

In her book, “Little House on the Prairie,” Wilder writes, “All along the road the wild larkspur was blossoming pink and blue and white, birds balanced on yellow plumes of goldenrod, and butterflies were fluttering.”

Through a project with the MO Conservation Department, eleven species of wildflowers and four species of native grasses have been planted on a 4500-square-foot area in front of the new museum in hopes of attracting butterflies like the one’s Wilder mentions in her books.

Close by the farmhouse on the day the completed museum was celebrated, a tent was set up so visitors could hear Pa’s fiddle played.  An illness prevented that from happening, but Sean Spyres sang parlor songs that might have been played on the Wilder's phonograph.

Coday had Laura Ingalls Wilder in her thoughts as she addressed the crowd at the ribbon cutting, saying she hoped Wilder would like what they’ve done.  She feels confident the Little House author would be pleased.

"I think she'd be very happy.  She was not a person--she talked about her Little books, and she was surprised that so many people were interested in them, and I think before she was gone she did realize that they were going to be very good and she would be known," she said.

You can find more information about the Wilder Historic Homes & Museum here.