Leaving behind the river town of Hannibal on my mini-pilgrimage last summer, I spent an afternoon driving to Mansfield, Missouri to see Rocky Ridge – Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home during her writing life. On the edge of the town’s square – complete with bandstand and memorials – I stayed at the Weaver Inn Bed and Breakfast. Here was a sanctuary where I could revitalize before going to the next pilgrimage site. After eating an authentic Mexican dinner at a small place next door, I took a reconnaissance drive to Rocky Ridge and then returned to take a much needed rest.
The next morning, after a filling breakfast, I was off. Similar to my time at Mark Twain’s sites, I toured the museum and the house. However, these places were a little more rustic and not as sleek. The glass display cases contained items from Laura and her family – quilts, photographs, and tableware – labeled with hand-typed cards. I felt I was peering in into the attic treasures of this family. At one point, a guide directed some of the other guests to look at Pa’s fiddle, one of the more popular items in the museum. Pa’s fiddle? Ah, yes, that emblematic item of the Little House on the Prairie stories and television shows. What I remember most about Pa’s fiddle are the sarcastic comments my father would make related to the television show and how Pa always managed to save the day. Somehow I had walked right by it this relic. Yes, relics. In many ways this site had the feel of a reliquary, a place to honor the ‘bones’ of a saint, more than a mere museum that preserves the past.
This feeling continued as I entered the small, white house – a full immersion experience. Unlike other historical houses I’ve visited, the guides did not provide caveats about this house being lived in by the writer, but the items only period pieces that they may have owned. No, this was the house as Laura left it when she died. She and her husband, Almanzo, had placed, if not created, everything, including the additions to the original small house. Beds, books, pots, tables – everything was theirs. They looked through these windows and decided on that wall paper. I wanted to browse through the shelves of books that they purchased and read, but that was not part of the tour.
We left through the front door, crossing over a threshold that had seen much life. Creation emanated from this little house in the forms of Laura’s books and Almanzo’s farming. It was good to be in this place.