Just How Cold Was It? 

17 February 1936: The coldest temperature recorded in South Dakota history. 58 degrees BELOW ZERO, at McIntosh, SD.
Author Laura Ingalls Wilder would, a few years later, immortalize a different weather system, known as the Hard Winter of 1880-1881, in her book, THE LONG WINTER. In that book and others, Dakota winters were described as experiencing temperatures in the -30s or -40s (Farenheit); sometimes, she said, the thermometer would simply freeze and no longer work at all.
In this age of central heating, snow tires, fiberglass insultion, Polartec  cold-weather gear, and satellite weather forecasting, extreme temperatures of that nature will still make us shudder. Imagine facing an air temperature of -58F  without our modern comforts, and compounded with the reality of food and fuel being in very short, often sporadic, supply. I’m willing to bet even the bison (what few remained on the High Plains at the time) felt their dense wooly coats weren’t quite adequate.

By the time of this 1936 event, Wilder had long since moved out of the state, but her sister Carrie (Ingalls) Swanzey was living 242 miles to the SW of McIntosh, in the somewhat milder Black Hills region at Keystone, South Dakota. I hear from the folks at the Keystone Historical Society that winter in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore is certainly snowy, and at times blustery, but nothing compared to the legendary whiteout blizzards of the Hard Winter. Perhaps someday this New Hampshire native (who’s shoveled a fair amount of snow and chipped countless inches of ice off her driveway over the years) will brave a little jaunt to Dakota in one of the months that ends in -uary. Maybe.

Stay warm!

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‘Farmer Boy’ site earns Literary Landmark™ designation

It is official! The Almanzo Wilder Farm, birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real-life Farmer Boy (and husband of 64 years), Almanzo James Wilder, is now designated as a Literary Landmark. The honor will be commemorated this summer at a special ceremony, Saturday, 11 July 2015. Special guest, and reknown Wilder biographer/historian William Anderson will be in attendance. Read more here:

Adirondack North Country Blogger

The apple trees were in full bloom last May. They may be a little late this year. Photo by Connie Jenkins The apple trees were in full bloom last May. They may be a little late this year. Photo by Connie Jenkins

Here’s some great news about one of my favorites places: Wilder Homestead in Burke, N.Y., just outside of Malone.

When Wilder Homestead, the childhood home of Almanzo Wilder, opens for the season on May 23,  it will begin a new chapter of activity, connections, and very special recognition as a Literary Landmark™ – the only of all “Little House” sites to earn this designation. A ceremony is in the works for Saturday, July 11.

Thousands of people from around the world flock to this site in northern Franklin County each year to get a glimpse of rural life in the 1860s as well as to follow in young Almanzo’s steps. Laura Ingalls Wilder told the story of her husband’s childhood in the beloved children’s book “Farmer Boy,” the second in the…

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“No Blondes Need Apply?” Some things never change.

The blog pastispresent.org, written by the curatorial staff at one of my favorite New England Institutions, The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, is always a good read. The other day, the staff published a particularly comical piece, which featured a Chicago publication for the lonely-hearted and marriage-minded from 1876. While many of the ads would sound odd to us today (“musically accomplished” is a frequently-cited qualification), others are concerned with the more aesthetic features or fiscal concerns of the advertisers and potential respondents: “No Blondes Need Apply?” Some things never change.

http://pastispresent.org/2014/fun-in-the-archive/no-blondes-need-apply/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-blondes-need-apply

What’s New? Re-Reading and Re-Watching Little House on the Prairie.

Just a few pieces of my Laura-related swag.  The book was made by a little girl I met at Almanzo's birthplace, The Wilder Farm in Burke, New York.  She illustrated several scenes from the first 3 books in the series.  Meanwhile, many people who attend my first-person educational history programs, which feature a "visit" with an adult Laura circa 1895, ask questions that are clearly related to television episodes and have nothing to do with the books...

Just a few pieces of my Laura-related swag. The book was made by a little girl I met at Almanzo’s birthplace, The Wilder Farm in Burke, New York. She illustrated several scenes from the first 3 books in the series. Meanwhile, many people who attend my first-person educational history programs, which feature a “visit” with an adult Laura circa 1895, ask questions that are clearly related to television episodes and have nothing to do with the books…

I found this blog entry today:  Stories I’m Reading: Little House On the Prairie  and it got me to thinking just how readily every type of media can lead readers and viewers to hold some false impressions about everything from history in general to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s specific experiences. The blogger, Kim, like many of us Laurati, first knew LIW because of the TV show. Now an adult, she is reading Laura’s classic series for the first time and was shocked to find the Ingalls didn’t spend all of Laura’s childhood in Walnut Grove! On the other hand, many readers fell in love with Laura’s books first and came to the show later, if at all. I am always curious what people think of the many differences…or do they notice?

When I was very, very small, my mother let me stay up late to watch Little House on the Prairie because it was one of the few shows which featured a lot of female characters and was not too “grown-up” for a little girl.  I learned to read when I was given a copy of LHOP, and, holding my finger under each word of the sentence, one-at-a-time, my father helped me parse the syllables into an intelligible story.  He explained the foreign concepts of hunting or making cheese.  He drew pictures to make sense of the parts I couldn’t imagine, like building a door for a log house in Kansas. I knew the books and the show were very different, and my parents often pointed out anachronisms in dialogue or situations of the 70s Hollywood production.  But, they recognized the merits of the attempt at making a period of history and a former way of life accessible to a modern audience.  Sometimes the show succeeded, other times…well, let’s just say it didn’t always feel quite real.  But, it inspired me to dress up, play at living in another time and place, and, most importantly, LEARN about that other time, and place, and the other parts of life that the show–and even The Books–did not.  And, for that, I am grateful.

Me@RRFarmJuly2011.FrontPorch.FULLimage.DSCN2673

My visit to Rocky Ridge Farm, July 2011. Seeing Bessie and Manly’s final home, so lovingly created by their own labor over more than a decade’s time and from materials culled from their own land, brought a new level of meaning to my lifelong attachment to the Ingalls and Wilder families.

What has your Laura Ingalls Wilder experience been?  What caught your attention, and what do you wonder about?

Tell me your story…