I have always wished that I could have been at one of the early presentations of any of the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageants to see them when they
were first starting out and now I think I just might have gotten my wish.
This last visit (July 27, 28, and 29, 2012) was the 160th reunion for students from the Iowa School for the Blind and Sight Saving School. Events were scheduled all weekend and students as from as far back as the class of 1938 attended.
That was a perfect springboard for a play written as an interview with Mary Ingalls (as portrayed by April Seitz). There were a couple of “facts” I’d like to correct for them and if they keep this format they have to decide what exactly is going on (If Mary is in the present as she
seemed to be, is she alive or a ghost? How did she have perfect knowledge of somethings that had happened since her death, but not know her sister published books?), and it was unfortunate that blind Mary was obviously reading most of her lines. I was also surprised that they didn’t stress what a life changing experience going to college was for Mary and how she kept in contact with classmates keeping up a large and active correspondence with them. (Don’t you wish we had those letters?) The final member of the cast was Eric Upmeyer as the Ace Reporter. Lots of other people helped behind the scenes. It’s already clearly a community project.
However, it was a very enjoyable afternoon and most importantly it did let Mary tell her story. I
liked how the focus really was on Mary and she fully stepped out from Laura’s shadow for once. I especially liked the juxtaposition of the adult Mary with a young Mary (portrayed by Kelsey Franck) on the opposite side of the stage in her memories, playing the piano and reciting Burns poetry. All in all it was a good first attempt and it was a trial balloon to see if there might be interest in putting on a Mary Ingalls Pageant or other annual event. I definitely think there would be. Over 100 people bought tickets for the performance and that was with very little publicity outside of a very local area (coverage in Vinton seemed strong, but I only found out about it because my friend Nancy Obermueller e-mailed me the link from the Vinton paper). The local CBS affiliate out of Cedar Rapids came up and reported from the event after the fact, but didn’t include the Mary play even though they did film part of
Now for the good news. I’ve been trying to spread awareness in the Laura Ingalls Wilder fan community about the damage to the Blind School and the danger that it is in. The story at the link below has the best photo I’ve found of the damage to the roof and explains the other damage from last year.
This article from a year ago describes current use of the campus and the Old Main building Mary
used, especially their current close relationship with the AmeriCorp program.
It now sounds like a new, improved stronger steel roof is going to be put on the building the word at the school was that they were already looking for bids. That is excellent news because as everyone interested in historic buildings knows, as long as the roof is good you have a fighting chance, once the roof goes, lots of options outside basically recreating the building are lost. I tried to find a news story announcing this important development as I was told there was one, but so far I’ve struck out. The video of the anniversary event has some text attached and that was the closest I’ve found. I soundly congratulate the Iowa Regents (who are the administrative and funding body for the school) for showing such exceptional good sense in green lighting the roof replacement.
Unfortunately the future of the both the Iowa School for the Blind and the Iowa School for the Deaf ,which is the other non-university regents funded institution, is not firmly set even with this new decision. Further studies and meetings are scheduled for input.
The local group in Vinton is not letting grass grow under their feet. Since my visit in March (see my recent post) most of the damaged artifacts were
removed, fallen plaster and ceiling tiles were cleaned up, and even some photos were righted and reattached. It looks night and day better than it did during my March visit and so I am very much heartened (except that they are still going with their Mary Ingalls on Her Own room identification). There is a committee as part of the Destination Vinton (combination Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau and maybe even other things) group to help create the best was to celebrate Mary Ingalls in Vinton.
I was also very heartened on the tour to meet Robert Spangler, an alumnus of the school who has been doing yeoman’s work recording and saving its history. He was able to answer several questions off the top of his head that had plagued me about the building [re: the location of the staircases and why they were changed and the year the hospital building was built – bad news there 1905 so its post-Mary 😦 ] and not only showed me some of the second set of stairs that were still there, just inaccessible – I got to go up a flight, I was promised a full tunnel tour if I turn up in my grubby clothes – got to get back there soon! He has been collection historical
information about the school and putting it out on his website. Although not a lot of stuff yet right on the Mary period, lots of good stuff pre and post Mary and I’m delighted to have found it.
I truly think things are starting to really get moving for the Mary Ingalls connection in Vinton and I’ll be sure to spread the word as soon as I find any more out.
UPDATE 2014: They have successfully put on a pageant and they used basically nothing of this original production. The building access was restricted most of this year, but the roof repair has been completed and they are working on the interior restoration. It should come out better than it was before. I also mentioned meeting Robert Spangler and he has since come on my podast. https://trundlebedtales.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/vinton-and-the-mary-ingalls-society
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.