Old News…

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QUINN has a message for me.

…Quinn still hates it when I travel.

So this winter, as I sit tight at home, taking Museum Studies classes remotely and working on my book research, we snuggle an extra good long time every day. Somehow, I doubt she feels I will ever make up for the many long stretches of time when I’m on the road for research trips and Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC presentations. I keep telling her she needs to pick up that winning PowerBall ticket for us, so I can buy a sweet feline-customized AirStream travel trailer and take her with me in style. So far, no dice. Doesn’t she have the sweetest grumpy face? Best Kitty Everrrrrrr.

Happy 148th to Laura Ingalls Wilder, with Love from Google!

Google is honoring our favorite Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, with a Google Doodle all her own. Tomorrow, 7 February 2015, is the 148th anniversary of the birth of Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, born at Pepin, Wisconsin. Happy birthday, Laura! With love…

http://doodles.wordofsearch.com/2015/02/laura-ingalls-wilders-148th-birthday.html?m=1

Remember your favorite museums on Giving Tuesday

It’s that time of year when everyone wants something, and, in turn, everyone feels obligated to buy, spend, acquire, wrap, send, deliver, bake, host, feed, comfort…WHEW! That’s a lot of work. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

But, here’s an idea: in lieu of buying useless junk for the people in your life who already have whatever they could possibly need, keep it simple. Take the money you’d normally spend on joke gifts and ugly ties and, instead, donate some of it to your favorite places. Museums and charitable organizations that focus on the human experience are a fantastic place to start!

And, when you need a creative gift for someone who perhaps doesn’t get out much but loves exploring new places, why not offer a gift certificate or membership to a place you already love, and you just know they’d love too?

Museums in particular are often overlooked in charitable giving, but they are exactly the kind of institution where donors can see the good their dollars are doing. When you give to a museum, you see the new coat of paint or the upgraded security system or the climate-controlled display cases that your money helps to buy. But that’s not all. Museums give so much back to their patrons, in the form of unique experiences.

Museums offer respite from stressful daily routines, and provide a calm, go-at-your-own-pace learning environment. Museums allow the visitor to experience incredible art, ideas, and events from our collective past, and frequently offer a window to the potential of our collective future. Museums offer demonstrations of lost skills, and hands-on classes to explore your own artistic ability. Museums bring great thinkers and creators to a wide range of audiences who might otherwise never get the chance to ask a pointed question of an expert in their chosen field. Museums give everyone a chance to discover new things on their own terms and in their own time. But most of all, museums give us so much for so little of our hard-earned money. And they do it with a smile.

Think about it; where else but at a museum can you see priceless artifacts for a little pocket change? Or, in many cases, for free? Where else but in museums can you spend an entire day staring at the same object, painting, or manuscript without anyone disturbing your concentration? Where else can you spend the day or week contemplating the same re-constructed dinosaur or investigating the contents of an original homesteader shanty without anyone questioning your sanity?

You guessed it! At your favorite museum.

So why not take a little time today, on Giving Tuesday, to say thanks to all your favorite venues that welcome you all day, all season (or all year) for just the price of a latte or a single taxi fare?

Most of these beautiful repositories of history and art receive little if any grant funding, and no tax dollars at all. That’s right, NO TAXPAYER SUPPORT. Yet a lot of them let you in the doors for free, or almost free, admission. Most of the employees are working at or just a bit above minimum wage, yet a large percentage of them have a Master’s degree or PhD–or more! These are experts in their field, with a vast wealth of knowledge and skill, yet they work for virtual peanuts. And most museums are also heavily dependent upon the generosity and hard work (for no pay!) of volunteers and interns. Think about it: how much does it cost to have a nice meal out at your favorite restaurant? How much for that entrance fee for ONE DAY at Disney? Can you spare little for your favorite nerdy getaway?

Here are some suggestions:

Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association/ Almanzo Wilder Farm, Burke, NY:
http://www.almanzowilderfarm.com/join.htm

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Tourist Center, Walnut Grove, MN:
http://walnutgrove.org/store/page17.html

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Independence, Kansas:
http://littlehouseontheprairiemuseum.com/Little_House_on_the_Prairie_Museum/Support_LHOPM_This_Winter.html

Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, Burr Oak, IA:
http://www.lauraingallswilder.us/membership/

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Pepin, WI:
http://lauraingallspepin.com/a-special-message

Spring Valley Methodist Church Museum, Spring Valley, MN:
http://www.springvalleymnmuseum.org/wilderinfo.html

Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum, (aka Rocky Ridge Farm) Mansfield, MO:
http://www.lauraingallswilderhome.com

Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, DeSmet, SD:
http://www.discoverlaura.org/donation.html

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA:
http://www.osv.org
https://www.osv.org/donations

Genesee Country Village and Museum, Mumford, NY:
http://www.gcv.org
https://www.gcv.org/Support/Donations

The Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island, NE:
http://www.stuhrmuseum.org/give/annual-fund-drive/

Keystone Historical Society, Keystone, SD:
http://www.keystonehistory.com/contactus.html

Historical Society of Cheshire County, Keene, NH:
http://hsccnh.org/join-support/donate-now/

American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA:
http://www.americanantiquarian.org/support.htm

Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT:
https://www.marktwainhouse.org/support/support_us.php

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT:
https://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/support/

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, Concord, MA:
http://www.louisamayalcott.org/contribute.html

…Oh, and, let’s not forget the academic organization that honors every aspect of Laura, and brings us together every few years for the one and only LauraPalooza:
Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association (LIWLRA):
http://beyondlittlehouse.com/about-2/join/

…just to name a few. Feel free to add your suggestions, below!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for keeping the doors of your favorite institutions open with your generous contributions. Together, we can all help these happy places stay alive, and thrive!

 

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Visiting the Little House on the Prairie Museum, near Independence, Kansas, July 2011. 

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Burial Ground of some of the earliest Ingalls ancestors in America, at North Andover, Massachusetts, 2014. Photo copyright Dakota Yankee Research/Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC.

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My Dad inspired my love of history from an early age. This was a visit to Nova Scotia in the ’70s; my Mom was the photographer. Photo copyright Dakota Yankee Research/Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC.

 

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Almanzo’s parents helped establish this church in Spring Valley, Minnesota. Laura and Almanzo and Rose attended services here when they lived with his family in 1890. Photo copyright Dakota Yankee Research/Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC.

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Volunteers Jim & Marilyn Lusk have devoted numerous summer seasons donating their time, research, and labor to the Almanzo Wilder Farm in Malone, NY. They also enjoy portraying James and Angeline Wilder, Almanzo’s parents, at special Wilder Farm events. They are most certainly two of my favorite #MuseumVolunteersOfNote!

130 Years Ago Today: Almanzo Wilder’s Homestead Proof, 12 September 1884.

Here’s a little something pleasant for your perusal this fine, but chilly, September morning:

Almanzo James Wilder’s Homestead Proof, testimony dated exactly 130 years ago, 12 September 1884.

A.J. Sheldon, a nearby neighbor, sets his hand to testify on “our” A.J. Wilder’s behalf that, indeed, he is qualified, being a citizen of the U.S., over the age of 21, who has never made a previous homestead entry (at least, not to conclusion) and kept continuous residence on this section of land (NE 21-111-56), with a dwelling:

“about 12 ft. square, 2 doors, 3 windows. Stable. frame. Well of water. cellar. acres broken & cultivated. some trees. Value at least $300.00.”

You see, early this morning, I received a Google alert from New Zealand, which looked like this: http://foreignaffairs.co.nz/2014/09/12/homestead-testimony-of-almanzo-wilder/

Unfortunately, the link didn’t want to load all the images, so while the description was intact, the actual document was not in view.

But, with a little hunting and pecking, the National Archives record (National Archives Identifier: 595419) came up rather quickly, because I know you want to SEE it…with the original handwriting, syntax, capitalization, punctuation, and signatures intact…

http://research.archives.gov/description/595419

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Let’s note a few details, shall we?

Since the Homestead Act of 1862 required that the claimant remain in continuous residence for six months out of each year for five years, Sheldon’s purpose as witness to Wilder’s claim was to testify that Wilder had indeed fulfilled the various stipulations of the Act, prior to receiving his patent (deed) to the land. It was also required that the land be “improved,” i.e. cultivated, and that no evidence of precious minerals, oil, or the like, was present. The witness had to be someone living nearby to the claimant, so as to be a reliable authority on the claimant’s, er, claims. That witness also needed to swear his own statements were true, and that he did not hold a personal stake in the claimant’s success. Like Wilder, Sheldon also was a farmer, and one whose statements appear to be articulate as well as thoughtful. A reliable fellow for the task at hand, Sheldon supported all of the necessary requirements for Wilder. To wit:

Sheldon lists his own address as SW 10-111-56 (that is, SW quarter of Section 10, Township 111, Range 56), putting him within an easy distance of Wilder’s homestead. He states he is “well acquainted with Almanzo J Wilder, the claimant…“for about 5 yrs. he had taken his land at Yankton about 3 weeks before I met him.” 

He further attests Wilder “was temporarily absent at times working on the R.R. and visiting in Minn. not more than about 2 months at a time.”  

and:

“crops on (in?) past 4 years. breaking 5 yrs. acre(s) cultivated. about 20 acres of wheat this year. 1884.”

The best part?  Sheldon’s answer to the following:

“Question 10. Are you interested in this claim, and do you think the settler has acted in entire good faith in perfecting this entry?”  

“no. nor am I in any way related to claimant. think he has acted in good faith. AJ Sheldon”

A good neighbor. I’m sure Almanzo was relieved to get that little detail squared away. Because our man had some serious courting to get to! And, while we know that Miss Laura E. Ingalls would soon become Mrs. A.J. Wilder (“Bessie” as our man of the hour called her), I bet fellow researcher Nancy Cleaveland* could tell us all about helpful Mr. A. J. Sheldon’s own property, his place and family of origin, his own homestead, and what he did with the rest of his life. Probably, she has a photo of him somewhere, I reckon. Except, “I wouldn’t bet on a woman.” Wouldn’t be proper.

Finally, while that little house and its builder are both long gone, Kingsbury County still holds a great deal of charm for the visitor who revels in a hot Dakota summer. Here’s what the property looked like just a couple of years ago on a stunning Sunday afternoon:

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Nice warm thought on a not-so-warm morning. You’re welcome.

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*She’s reliably the most likely person to have researched him, simply because no one, and I mean no one, has spent more time squirreling out the nitty-gritty details of every soul who once settled in Kingsbury County. I say that with the utmost respect. NC is my research hero. And a generous friend, to boot.

The National Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association Conference, aka “LauraPalooza 2015,” Call for Proposals is Here!

Have you heard?

Planning for the National Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association Conference, affectionately known as “LauraPalooza,” is well underway, and the Call for Proposals has been issued as of 25 August 2014.

The theme of LauraPalooza 2015 is “Through Laura’s Eyes: Imagery, Illustrations, and Impressions from the Little House.”

This is the third national conference of the LIWLRA, to be held 16-17 July 2015 at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, followed by and optional field trip to Laura’s “Little Town on the Prairie,” DeSmet, South Dakota, on Saturday, 18 July 2015. Academic submissions from all disciplines are encouraged. Submissions will be accepted for consideration and possible acceptance for presentation through 5 December 2014 (Rose Wilder Lane’s birthday) and acceptance notices will be issued 7 February 2015 (Laura’s birthday–see what they did there?).

Proposal submission details and guidelines can be found here:

Click to access Call-for-Proposals-LP15.pdf

Oh, and, if you know the significance of the date chosen to issue the Call for Proposals (25 August 2014) you really, really should consider attending the conference, whether you’re submitting a proposal or not!

Ingalls family furniture item “comes home” to De Smet, SD

I just arrived home from nearly a month in the Midwest. All of my trips to LauraLand have multiple purposes: research, presentations, networking, research, dining on Midwestern specialties (oh, there is no bacon like an upper Midwest bacon!), research, photography, research, museum visits, research, scouting for the next conference, and more research. But another activity I seek out is ANYTHING going on in the local area which simply can’t be done at home. (Again, with the bacon!) This year, as in 2011, I happened to be in the right place at the right time and heard about an upcoming auction which *supposedly* featured a “secretary” desk/cabinet which had once belonged to Laura’s youngest sister Grace and her husband, Nate Dow. The auction was happening a few towns away from where I was staying (Brookings, SD) and a few towns from where Grace and Nate used to live (Manchester, SD).

I debated attending, and kept changing my mind. The pragmatic part of me said, “how can you be sure of the provenance?” And, it was true, the article I read did not clarify how anyone could assure a prospective buyer that this was an authentic piece (It was. And it is.). The starving historian in me said, “maybe you could just go and look at it. But you can’t afford to bid on it!” (True, and true.) The super-geeky Laura fan in me said, “Oh! You simply MUST go see it. This kind of thing is so rare at an auction, and surely they wouldn’t try to present it as authentic this close to DeSmet if they didn’t have actual PROOF of the provenance. It MUST be the real thing. You should go!”

Finally, the pragmatist in me told the more sentimental and romantic parts of me to shove off and let it go. After all, even if it was real, and even if no one else was bidding high, and somehow I could afford it, well, there was just no way I could get it to fit in the car and drive it all the way home to New Hampshire and, besides, shipping it safely would be a logistical and financial nightmare. So, no, I didn’t go.

And, it is just as well that I didn’t!

As it turns out, a few people in-the-know, and with a big enough wallet to do so, were bidding it up…against the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in DeSmet! After a lot of heartaching, and many bid increases, the secretary went home with a lucky buyer…and I’m happy to report that the winning bid came from the Memorial Society! The scramble to own a previously-unknown Ingalls artifact ended in the best way possible (well, except for those of us who dreamt of owning it ourselves). Nate and Grace Ingalls Dow’s 1908 secretary, complete with original shipping tag on the back, is safely in its new home at the Memorial Society, just a scant 7 or 8 miles from the original destination on that shipping tag. As it should be!

Discover Laura

We are very excited to announce the “coming home” of a unique and valuable Ingalls Family possession. This month, one of our board members attended the estate auction of Patricia Schneider of Howard, South Dakota. Mrs. Schneider had in her possession a “secretary with glass door and shelves” that originally belonged to Nathan and Grace Ingalls Dow of Manchester.

Secretary owned by Laura Ingalls Wilder Family in De Smet South Dakota

After a stressful and heated bidding session with a phone-in customer from Omaha, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society won the highest bid. Then, the secretary came home to Ma and Pa’s home on Third Street in De Smet, South Dakota.

Mrs. Schneider included a handwritten letter explaining in great detail the story of how she came to own the secretary. The secretary came to her through her relatives that were good friends of Harvey Dunn and his sister, Carrie Dunn Reiland. Harvey and Carrie were niece and nephew to Nathan…

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Publishers Weekly announces Friendly Family Productions’ New Licensing agreement for Little House “Lifestyle” merchandise

Publishers Weekly Announces Friendly Family Productions has new Licensing Agreement for Little House “Lifestyle” Merchandise

The industry digest, Publishers Weekly, has announced that Friendly Family Productions, owners of the rights to television, movie, theme parks (!) and other media and merchandising of “Little House on the Prairie” -related productions, has made and agreement with Knockout Licensing to represent a “Lifestyle” brand. The vision for the brand is focused upon marketing to 5- to 10-year-old-girls with a few select products for adults, and features items such as dolls and journals. 

The article indicates this effort was spawned by research conducted on behalf of FFP which concluded the “Little House” brand was more recognizable in 2010 than it was during the television series’ first run in the 1970s and early 1980s. The news is hardly surprising, since the children of that era are the parents, even grandparents, of today, and not only grew up with the TV show as background noise, but very often discovered the books as a result of the attention given the show. Those children, most of whom are now in their 40s and 50s, and the next generation, have grown up reading the original Wilder series and had access to hundreds of related publications, both scholarly and fan-fiction. In the media, as well as viewing the TV series, there have been various made-for-television movies, including the 2005 Disney effort, and the wildly popular (although not technically related) PBS series, Pioneer House.

One of my earliest Laura treasures...handcrafted "Laura" dolly for Christmas, about age 6.  Will the new "Lifestyle" products look like this, or should we be prepared for something more tiara than sunbonnet?

One of my earliest Laura treasures…handcrafted “Laura” dolly for Christmas, about age 6. Will the new “Lifestyle” products look like this, or should we be prepared for something more tiara than sunbonnet?

What else could account for this increased visibility? Significantly, the last few decades have witnessed the aforementioned huge increase in scholarship surrounding the Ingalls and Wilder families. This research push began in earnest in the 1970s with the investigative works of William T. Anderson, who began publishing while still a youth himself, and who inspired scholars and curators around the country to dig deep in the local archives and see what relevant information could be unearthed. Primary finds were often the result of collaborative efforts among interested parties: Anderson had the foresight to interview numerous family and friends of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her husband Almanzo, and their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. While still a boy, Anderson even had the good fortune to corresponded with an elderly Lane! With the help of such local figures as De Smet News (South Dakota) publisher and defacto town historian Aubrey Sherwood, Anderson was in turn able to identify Ingalls and Wilder artifacts and historic structures/landscapes which were in danger of being forever lost. His publications relevant to the Ingalls and Wilder legacies number about 20, and several have undergone multiple revisions and republications. Anderson is a very visible and active supporter of the Wilder legacy, spending most of his free time venturing from one Laura town to another, researching and fundraising at various Wilder homesite museums. He has advised and advocated for these museums throughout his career, and has served on the board of the Laura Ingalls Wilder-Rose Wilder Lane Home Association in Mansfield, Missouri for decades. He makes regular public appearances at the Wilder homesite museums and several other locations where an interest in Wilder is the big draw. His personal appearances always gather a large crowd as he addresses myriad questions on the details of the real Ingalls and Wilder families. His books sell heavily throughout the U.S., and are a staple on Wilder fans’ bookshelves, as well as in the gift shops of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesite museums…not to mention at dozens of similar shops at history museums throughout the country.

Some of the earliest acquisitions in my "Laura Books" collection, including Spaeth, Anderson, Miller, Walker, an early edition of Wilder's These Happy Golden Years, and my original set of 9 paperbacks from childhood.

Some of the earliest acquisitions in my “Laura Books” collection, including Spaeth, Anderson, Miller, Walker, an early edition of Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years, and my original set of 9 paperbacks from childhood.

A smattering of the publications available to die-hard fans, including Trini Wenninger, Amy Lauters, Mary Jo Dathe, Catherine Latane, Pamela Smith Hill, the late Dorothy Smith, and several Anderson and Miller titles.

A smattering of the publications available to die-hard fans, including Trini Wenninger, Amy Lauters, Mary Jo Dathe, Catherine Latane, Pamela Smith Hill, the late Dorothy Smith, and several Anderson and Miller titles.

Another, related factor is live entertainment. Traveling theatre troupes, such as Arts Power! stage productions and the Little House on the Prairie Musical (another FFP effort) have enjoyed large audiences and frequent sell-out crowds. Public appearances and promotional segments with Little House television cast members have increased greatly in the last decade. The Little House Musical stage production, initially starring a grown-up Melissa Gilbert (the former “Half-Pint,” this time starring as Caroline “Ma” Ingalls) had a successful and long-term run across the United States: this writer attended, and met Gilbert backstage, in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2010. Add to that, several television cast members have published memoirs, and embarked on book tours. Alison Arngrim (“Nellie Oleson”), Melissa Sue Anderson (“Mary Ingalls”), Melissa Francis (“Cassandra Cooper” and now featured at Fox Business) and Gilbert (“Laura Ingalls Wilder”) all released books in the last 5 years and promoted such with numerous appearances at bookstores and large history museum events, including several at Wilder museums. Arngrim also tours the U.S., Canada, and France with her stand-up comedy show, and works tirelessly to advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse; hers has become a household name in some very unexpected places. 

Other important factors? I’d be remiss to leave out the hundreds of presentations of authors and independent researchers, many of whom, at least among Laurati, have become household names in their own right. Fans of all ages regularly turn to these authors’ and researchers’ publications and presentations for more detailed information concerning any number of Laura-related topics. I cut my researcher teeth on John E. Miller’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town (a study of the early years of De Smet, Dakota Territory, in which the Ingalls and Wilder families were quite literally among the very first white settlers), and learned new ways of analyzing the novels with Janet Spaeth’s contribution to the Twayne United States Authors Series of literary criticism, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Community and school audiences have been delighted by the Arts Power! productions, certainly, but it is also true that researchers who have devoted their lives to the legacy of Wilder are in demand, and not just in the form of sales at booksellers. Rather, they are also in demand at schools, libraries, colleges, historical societies and small museums which play host to bestselling memoirists (Kelly Kathleen Ferguson and Wendy McClure, most recently) as well as historians with an emphasis on niche scholarship.

These presenters all share a common bond of being inspired from an early age by Wilder’s writings; indeed, many of these authors count Wilder as THE reason they developed literary aspirations. And, published or not, several historians–yep, I’m one of them!–have been touring the States for many years, presenting research-based, and often first-person, interpretations of the real Laura Ingalls Wilder. The programs are typically interactive, wherein the presenter will often use historic objects and skills demonstrations to vividly illustrate Wilder’s works, while answering questions covering all aspects of Wilder’s real life, career, and the era in which she lived. To name a few: Connie Neumann, Judy Green, Marie Tschopp, Marian Cramer, Ann Weller Dahl and many others have years–in some cases decades–of public presentations in a wide variety of styles and subject areas relevant to Wilder to their credit. Sarah Utoff has presented at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library a dozen or more times. Nicole Elzenga, collections manager of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Tourist Center in Walnut Grove, Minnesota (http://www.walnutgrove.org/museum.htm), spends a good deal of her working life visiting and presenting at elementary schools throughout the region to share an insider’s knowledge of the extant artifacts. In just over 4 years of my first-person programming, I have already presented educational programming at schools, libraries, museums, and community events in seven states. The interest in our work is everywhere.

Clearly these presentations, which sometimes are delivered to crowds numbering several hundred, are in demand with both educators and anyone else who worries as the the current generation becomes increasingly detached from knowledge of our nation’s earlier period, and with those who seek to make a connection to the past using Wilder’s work and life as the conduit.

The logo for the first LauraPalooza, 2010.

The logo for the first LauraPalooza, 2010.

If you need more proof, make yourself a plan to attend the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association‘s third academic conference, lovingly known as LauraPalooza, next July 2015 at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota. There, you’re likely to find hundreds of Laura enthusiasts from all walks of life in rapt attention as speakers ranging from NOAA scientists to YA authors, physicists to librarians, musicians to college professors, all present their research on any aspect of Ingalls and Wilder research which one might imagine. For many of us, the biggest thrill of attending LauraPalooza is the opportunity to listen to our Laura heroes give talks about their work, and later hobnob with these people who have set the stage for the latest crop of researchers. John Miller, Barbara Walker (foodways historian and author of The Little House Cookbook), Bill Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, Kelly Ferguson, and Wendy McClure, among many others, have all been most generous with their time and knowledge at these conferences. I hope the membership can convince more of the most beloved Wilder scholars to attend in 2015. And if you’re a Wilder researcher yourself, you might want to think about submitting your work when the call for papers goes out this summer: http://beyondlittlehouse.com/2014/05/15/countdown-to-laurapalooza-2015-timeline/

Judy Green, Connie Neumann, and myself at LauraPalooza 2012.

Judy Green, Connie Neumann, and myself at LauraPalooza 2012.

So, what does this all mean? Undoubtedly, there is a lot of enthusiasm for Little House and related activity; a market for merchandise generally goes hand-in-hand with any popular interest. My (far too many) years in retail management and visual merchandising tell me that any merchandise effort must be carefully planned and executed, regardless of the beneficiary of the spoils. Not insignificant here is the timing: Blu-Ray pressings of the Little House TV series are off and running, after a successful DVD box-set launch several years ago which featured the production of several hours of interviews and bonus materials brought together by Dean Butler (“Almanzo Wilder,” and the force behind Legacy Documentaries). FFP, in its partnership with Knockout Licensing, would be wise to make note of what the fans are most inclined toward and skip the pink-princess aisle of the local MegaMart, but one wonders if that is an option such an entity would even consider. Perhaps the pink-princesses need a run for the money; perhaps this is what FFP is banking on. There is no doubt the market for children’s toys has been noticeably and increasingly gendered in recent years, and the big box stores hold much sway in the production, marketing, and even packaging of toys. Will the Little House dolls and other children’s merchandise in the works through this deal be as–forgive me–Rose-y as the rest of the so-deemed “Girls” aisle in the MegaMart? Or will Friendly Family Productions take the high road and offer attractive, quality, non-sweatshop-produced toys that even us grownup fans can appreciate? Only time (and the bottom line?) will tell.

As for me, my devotion is, and always has been, to the preservation of artifacts, manuscripts, correspondence, ephemera, structures, homes, and landscapes with historically significant ties to the real Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family. While my childhood self adored the television show, my adult, historian/preservationist self recognizes that the show was a means to sparking my interest in the legacy which would serve as the primary link to all my scholarly inquiry. And as most any starving scholar will likely tell you, I prefer to spend my hard-won fun money in support of the nonprofit institutions which protect those artifacts, manuscripts, correspondence, ephemera, structures, homes, and landscapes with significant ties to Laura. Any t-shirt, doll, or coffee mug I acquire these days is in direct support of the institutions operating with a stated mission to preserve the heritage of real people and educate the public with work rendered by dedicated scholars. If that happens to include the occasional “Not your Mother’s Child Advocate” item featuring an in-character Alison Arngrim-as-Nellie Oleson graphic to support http://www.Protect.org., so be it; Arngrim has made many appearances in direct support of Wilder’s legacy, so supporting a cause we both hold dear is only logical. But you won’t find her image in the pink princess aisle of the MegaMart, either.
Wink, wink.

My sister and I met Alison for the first time in 2010, at a booksigning event at R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut.  Alison's knowledge of the three women who inspired the Nellie Oleson character she portrayed for 7 years on television is impressive.

My sister and I met Alison for the first time in 2010, at a booksigning event at R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut. Alison’s knowledge of the three women who inspired the Nellie Oleson character she portrayed for 7 years on television is impressive.

Let’s have another Card Shower for Burr Oak Museum

Let’s spread the love and show some support to the hardworking folks at Burr Oak. My friend and fellow Laura historian Sarah Utoff suggested a “card shower” of donations to help this very significant, but sometimes overlooked, homesite museum, back in 2011 and has recently renewed the call. The tiny town of Burr Oak, Iowa is a former home of the Ingalls family, where they helped to manage the Burr Oak House or “Masters Hotel.” Laura’s baby sister Grace was born during the time the family lived in Burr Oak (although the were no longer living in the hotel when she was born), and Mary and Laura attended school in town.
The museum offers a tour of the restored hotel, which features many period artifacts, and also gives directions for a self-guided walking tour about town so that visitors may see the locations which Wilder described in her Pioneer Girl manuscript.
Please show your love for Laura with whatever size gift your budget will allow. Memberships are available at very reasonable rates, and support the ongoing costs of maintenance, repairs, special events such as the annual Laura Days celebrations, and the day-to-day costs of utilities and administrative tasks. Like so many small museums, their funding comes from private donations, so resources have been tight over the last many years as the entire U.S. has struggled with the recession and slow recovery. Even just a few dollars makes a difference to small non-profits, so, if you can, please consider making a donation today.

Sarah's Notebook

Masters Hotel Masters Hotel

The story of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museums is one of grass root efforts. Small towns scattered across the Midwest decided they had to have something for the fans who came to visit them to see and slowly developed museums almost everywhere Laura and her family lived. Among the many methods of raising the initial funding for theses museums were Pennies for Laura campaigns where school children collected and sent in pennies toward getting the museums built. One of the museums these programs, which helped restore is the only original childhood home of Laura in its original location, is in Iowa.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum is located in the small, northeast Iowa town of Burr Oak, Iowa. The Masters Hotel where the Ingalls family lived and worked has been restored. The bank building that first alerted Wilder’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane that she had finally found where…

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What happens in a typical “Meet Laura” visit?

c. 1895 Summer-weight Visiting Suit, with modified "practical" sleeve on the pigeon-breasted jacket bodice. 7-gored, straight-to-bias skirt sweeps the ground and creates fullness in back without use of hoops nor bustle to create the highly-sought-after "S" shape. Photo by Connie R. Neumann.

c. 1895 Visiting Suit, with modified “practical” sleeve. Photo by Connie R. Neumann, 2012.

What is “First-Person Historical Interpretation?”

Very often, when I meet someone and the subject turns to my primary occupation, I am asked what “First-Person Historical Interpretation” means.  There are many variations in specifics, but, in general, it is the practice of taking a particular historic figure and learning absolutely everything one can about that individual, and then creating a live interpretation of that individual. These interpretations are complete with appropriate wardrobe, grooming, vernacular, and, of course, a thorough knowledge of the details of that person’s life, told from their own perspective.

If you can name any famous figure from the past, you can probably find one, a handful, or even a great many people who have studied that individual’s life and experiences extensively, and who can speak at length with some authority about that person.  As with any other topic, some scholars are more experienced than others.  Some scholars have researched and written volumes of work about their favorite person, while others have a more peripheral knowledge of the individual while retaining a great degree of contextual understanding; that is to say, their knowledge encompasses much of the wider world (region, culture, ethnicity, era, social and economic standing, or education level) in which that individual functioned.  Some scholars can claim both! Some scholars speak from their own research as well as that of others.  Some speak exclusively from their own work, some exclusively from the work of others.  Some always take on the persona of their subject, while others always speak from a third-person perspective.  Some scholars write a script for their presentations, while others work interactively and allow the audience to ask unlimited questions which direct the course of the program. Some toggle between the two approaches as the situation warrants.

Many scholars are rightly described by a combination of these features, having studied others’ work extensively while conducting their own research. Many of these scholars present in character almost exclusively, but adapt the program according to the ages, interest, and needs of their audience…and this is the best way to describe what I do.

So, what can I expect if I invite you to present a “visit” with Laura Ingalls Wilder at my event?

Expect:

~An interactive experience, wherein an adult “Laura” (a.k.a “Mrs. A.J. Wilder”) of the mid-1890s shares her experiences with the audience. This is the era when the Wilders have been married for about a decade, Rose is about 9 years old, and the family have settled on their new property, Rocky Ridge Farm, near Mansfield, Missouri.

~Research-based, factual information about Laura, Almanzo, Rose and their family and friends.

~Clarification of the differences between history and the fictionalized “Little House” series of books and other media interpretations.

~Abundant opportunities to ask ANY question you like of “Mrs. Wilder.”

~In-character answers which reflect Mrs. Wilder’s known activities, tastes, opinions, experiences, beliefs, and manners.

~”Mrs. Wilder” will be dressed in period-correct, authentic reproduction clothing, appropriate to Laura’s taste, means, activities and station in life, about 1895.

~An extensive display of relevant artifacts, including clothing, household items, books, and everyday objects, as well as some special “hands-on” items to investigate further.

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This reticule is hand-made of black silk, with a pink silk/cotton blend lining and a 1-3/4″ pink silk edging inside the opening. The drawstrings are black silk petersham (aka “grosgrain”), and the design is a hand-painted wild roses motif. The outer dimensions of the reticule are approximately 9″ wide x 10″ high. I acquired it in Northwood, New Hampshire, in 2009. It is approximately 130 to 140 years old. Photo c. 2009 by Melanie C. Stringer.

What program topics do you offer? Will you customize a program for my group?

I have several topics from which you may choose, and I regularly design new programs to suit the needs of individual venues.  If you have particular goals in your school curriculum, want to explore a topic related to your library or museum programming, or your private organization has a key interest in a particular aspect of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, work, and experience, I can accommodate you.  Here are my three most popular programs:

Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC/Dakota Yankee Research

Program Descriptions* 

~”A Yankee Woman is a Curiosity”

While “Up-North Gal” Laura may have grown up all over the west, her family is deeply rooted in their Yankee heritage, dating back to the 1620s in Massachusetts!  As a married woman, Laura has lived as far south as the Florida panhandle and only recently moved to the Missouri Ozarks. Learn about the cultural differences and similarities between pioneers of the West, their folks “Back East,” and several places in-between.

~”Look How Far We’ve Come”

As the 19th Century draws to a close, Laura compares her experiences with a woman’s opportunities in the days of her Ingalls and Quiner grandmothers. Laura discusses the many advances women have made in just a few generations. As a mother, Laura observes women rapidly gaining more social freedom and political clout, including members of her own extended family. This prompts her to wonder, “What will the future hold for Rose?”

~”This Wonderful Modern Age”

Did you know that Laura followed the daily news very closely? Ask her about it! The Ingalls and Wilder family were voracious readers, and interested in gaining education throughout their lives. In this visit, Laura will offer a glimpse of the events and questions she finds most pressing in the Gilded Age of 1890s America.

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Playing in the overgrown field on a balmy March morning...showing off the (reproduction) c.1896 Ulster coat, tailored of a navy herringbone pattern wool/cashmere.  Photo copyright Gregory P. Stringer/Dakota Yankee Research, 2013.

Playing in the overgrown field on a balmy March morning…showing off the (reproduction) c.1896 Ulster coat, tailored of a navy herringbone pattern wool/cashmere. Photo copyright Gregory P. Stringer/Dakota Yankee Research, 2013.

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Wading in the real Plum Creek of Laura’s childhood, on the former property of Charles Ingalls family. The outfit is a late 1880s calico everyday suit, black print on a brown field. The skirt is a gathered dirndle with ruffled overskirt. Photo by Chrissie H. Velaga, 2010.

What if I want you to do a different kind of Meet Laura program from what you list here?

This is just a partial list of available programs. If you would like a program tailored to your specific curriculum, group, or venue, please inquire.  All requested topics considered. In the past, I have tailored programs for a wide diversity of groups, such as: a group of teachers who wanted Laura to help their 3rd-graders learn about overland migration and wagon travel, an antiquarian booksellers association interested in how I use period books to round out my research and enhance presentations, a community group that wanted to explore the Homestead Act and its impact on current land use, and a private organization which wanted to understand the Ingalls and Wilder connections with the Scottish Rite Free Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star. Don’t be shy–If you can think of a topic, I can relate it to Laura!

Please note:  While every attempt is made to stick to the program topic of your choice, due to the highly interactive nature of the program, many presentations will include elements of all of the above descriptions, as well as other topics, according to the questions asked by audience members.

No matter what topic you choose, or how the audience questions tend, every Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder program offers a Research-Based, First-Person, Interactive History lesson to students and Wilder fans of all ages. All programs feature original research, hands-on artifact displays, period-authentic clothing and much more. Presentations are available year-round, across the United States and Canada.

What if I want something more general in nature?  

I specialize in American Cultural and Social History, with a particular focus on Westward Migration, education, regional culture (especially New England, Upstate New York, and the Midwest), historic childrearing practices, and the occupations and opportunities of women and children in America from Settlement to ~1950.  Additionally, I offer a tutorial of Victorian clothing, including the design, purpose, use and standards of proper dress in the late 1800s, from corset to collar.  (Instruction in corset lacing at no extra charge!)

Tell me what you’d like to learn about, and I will design a program suited to you. I’m always up for a new challenge, and no event is too big, too small, nor too far away! For further information, or to inquire about booking a program, please contact me:

Melanie Stringer, Historian

Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC / Dakota Yankee Research

603-867-5320

info@meetlauraingallswilder.com

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On the porch of the farmhouse, birthplace of Almanzo Wilder. The outfit is an 1891 visiting suit with high-waisted box-pleated skirt and close-sleeved basque. Photo copyright 2011, Melanie C. Stringer.