WALNUT GROVE, Minn. (WCCO) — After a year of virtual pageants and festivals, many events are coming back “live” this summer. That includes a celebration of perhaps Minnesota’s most famous prairie family.
In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Walnut Grove for an inside look at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.READ MORE: COVID-19 In MN: 41 Newly Reported Deaths As Positivity Rate Continues Downward Trend
To this day, there are still parts of Redwood County that human hands have never touched. Creeks and wooded areas pioneers passed by. Many continued west but some decided to stay.
A 10 x 12 dirt dugout is a replica of Laura Ingalls’ first home in Walnut Grove. It’s one of 10 buildings at the museum named after her. The site got its start in the mid-’70s when a popular TV show called “Little House on the Prairie” forced its hand.
“The series was getting started, it had started in the fall of ’74 and basically we had to build something because the people were coming,” said Amy Foster, executive director.
Were they ever. Each year about 10,000 visitors from around the world travel to this tiny town of 850. They can see the original site of the Ingalls’ home “on the banks of Plum Creek,” which is also the name of Laura’s book the TV show is based on.
“Laura didn’t start writing her books until she was 65 years old,” said Foster.
There’s an old chapel, an early settler’s home and a school house where Mrs. Beadle would have taught and Laura, Mary and Nellie Oleson would have listened.
It was a simpler time but harder living.
“The things that they went through, I don’t think most of us would survive,” said Bill Richards.READ MORE: Aaron Teague Charged With Shooting At Car With Kids Inside
The trials and tribulations of prairie life are highlighted during the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in July. Richards is the president and he’s tasked with preparing the show for a worldwide audience.
“We have people that fly in from France to see the show. Japan is big. We have people on our Facebook now, Malaysia, Australia,” said Richards.
The renewed popularity is thanks in part to a pandemic that had people pioneering for entertainment.
“My parents last year, they watched the whole show. All the seasons. All the episodes. Never missed one,” said Adriana Fields, whose family is visiting from Ohio.
Alisa Stillman drove from the Washington, D.C. area and picked up her sister Michele Blanck in Chicago. They then headed west to Walnut Grove.
“She’s doing this because I am an enormous ‘Little House on the Prairie’ fan. It’s been a lifelong dream to come here,” said Blanck.
“It’s nice to get lost in the fantasy of what was,” said Stillman.
And they’re far from alone. At this museum it’s safe to say the “olden days” are new again.
“It’s a family place, and I think people are really trying to get back to that family time again. Spending time together. And doing things together. And this is something for everybody,” said Foster.MORE NEWS: Crews Extinguish House Fire In North Minneapolis
The Wilder Pageant is held the second, third and fourth weekends in July. On the fifth weekend they have a bluegrass festival.