Pepin Laura Days 2012

Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, Burr Oak IA
Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, Burr Oak IA

Once again this year I was honored to be a keynote speaker at Pepin’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Days. Even better I accomplished two long term goals. First, having modified my plan to put together one big video of what there is to see in Pepin and instead to put together a video diary of my trip, I actually got almost all the video I needed taken, edited, and mostly uploaded before I even left Pepin. Second, having given up on ever getting to Pepin early in the afternoon  on Friday on my way in to town (too many places to stop along the way) I tried to go out with Sail Pepin on Sunday morning instead, it got moved to early afternoon, but I got to go out and I have to tell you it was well worth the trip.

If you haven’t been to Pepin before, you should realize that modern day Pepin is strongly effected by two things. First, is the lake. There are more boats in the marinas on Lake Pepin than anyplace on the Mississippi and that brings in tourists from all over who might not have even heard of Laura in to use the lake and marinas. Its relatively close proximately makes it a popular weekend stop for people looking to get out of the Twin Cities for awhile, much the way Galena serves as a similar special weekend getaway for people from Chicago. This gives Pepin an unusual flavor for a small town. There aren’t any chain restaurants, but there are a large number and variety of restaurants, more than a town this size could normally support. There is also a bit of an artist colony with stores showing off locally made art and crafts. The Great River Road, a promoted tourist marketing plan to get people to drive through picturesque

Main Stage in Pepin
Main Stage in Pepin

country, also passes through Pepin bringing in both classic car and motorcycle cruisers on a regular basis (actually that’s one of the reasons they had to rebuild the replica cabin in the 1990s because with the previous design of two doors plus a ramp on each motorcycle groups on a ride would literally ride through the house), so they are frequently seen. So there is a lot diverse stuff going on in Pepin that doesn’t have to do with Laura.

I got into town, checked in, and connected up with Linda Starbuck and her group from Iowa. She’s got three people now coming up and volunteering to help with the sewing quilts hands-on at the cabin during the festival. I’m always glad to catch up with Linda and we started off tonight at the outdoor restaurant the Garden Pub. It can get chilly, but they have good food and it’s always a fun time to eat in a garden. Plus they have an antique/ice cream store next door.

Since I was determined this time to get video diary footage up as I went, I edited and uploaded that and then went to bed. In the morning I got dressed in my Laura outfit and began to work the grounds, checking in on the various places, the Buckskinners/Traditional Craft area, the vendor area, the Depot Museum, the main stage, and, a good walk away, the museum. The biggest changes were at the museum. They are well underway,

Pepin Museum
Pepin Museum

bank loan in hand, to re-doing their museum building. They will be building a connection turning their two separate buildings into one larger building. There will only be one door for entrance and exit and there will be public bathrooms which is a massively important thing for a tourist site.  Not sure on how else it will rearrange things otherwise and they are taking on debt to do this, but I think it will be a positive thing long term. I should warn you though where previously they were pretty flexible on their hours at the museum during Laura Days, they now still pretty firmly to the regular stated hours, so plan accordingly.

Since I last reported my presentation has changed a little. While the Pepin Public Library is still sponsoring my talk, and I strongly encourage people to visit the library if it is open while they are there (they have a lovely Laura display in a lawyer’s bookcase), they felt that since they always had something scheduled on the main stage against me that it would be better to have me on the main stage where everybody could see instead of having to choose. That of course eliminates the possibility for slides so I have to go with one of my PowerPoint-free programs and I hope to have a new one in place in time for next year’s since I seem to be getting more requests to present out of doors. The stage was a real challenge this year facing a strong wind, but I think it went real well anyway. I was especially pleased that a large number of people came up to ask a question afterward and one fan remembered my pitch for Laura letters from last year and brought two along that are waiting to go to the Walnut Grove archive. (Yay!) Changing to the main stage also moves the time back so I go on between the Little Miss Laura contest and the fiddle contest in late afternoon. The Little Miss Laura contest is more of a look alike contest than at some of the sites and if you are the right age you can participate no matter where you live. Younger girls can also participate as Little Sisters, no winner, but a chance to take part and get the feel of the stage for when they are old enough. Sadly no Nellie or Almanzo options here.  I’m pleased with how completely they’ve embraced Pa’s fiddle playing heritage. More than any other Laura homesite the  Laura Days fiddle contest draws in people of all ages from the very young to the very old to play the kind of music Laura and Pa knew and loved.

Elsewhere around the festivities, they have some really nice games and activities for the kids as well. I really like the holes punch scavenger hunt and if I was smaller I’d take a ride on the barrel train. (I love trains.)

Pepin Museum Plans
Pepin Museum Plans

Next on my agenda was judging the Traditional Craft area, best display, best costume, etc. That is always a lot of fun especially because they had a couple of new impressive demonstrators this year to add to the tried and true, namely a treadle sewing machine and a treadle wood turner who both added different skills and some impressive set ups. After that I decided it was too late to go out to the cabin today so I headed back and got a hold of Linda and her crew worn out from a day helping kids sew a quilt square. We agree to meet for supper, but first I took the time to buy a ride on the horse drawn wagon that takes you on a lovely peaceful drive around Pepin.  I haven’t stayed in a bed and breakfast actually in Pepin yet, but I’ve stopped by the one Linda likes to stay at a number of times and I am impressed.

A trip to Pepin almost always includes a stop at the Pickle Factory. Housed in a building that once held a literal pickle factory right on the shores of the lake, it’s an active, family style place. This time we ate on the deck for the first time and I really enjoyed it. The first year I went they had the waitresses all wear little bonnets for Laura Days and I’m very sorry they haven’t kept it up because it was darn cute. Ask them about it when you go, maybe they’ll bring it back.

Afterwards I took a few sunset photos of the lake and then back to the hotel for the night. I edited video and got some uploaded. The next morning I broke my rule about burning daylight by staying in the hotel when I’m in a Laura town and slept late. I must have needed it. Then more video editing. One thing I’m always sorry about at the Pepin Motel is that they don’t offer a continental breakfast which is something I’ve kind of gotten used to in my hotel stays. They are very accommodating though and even though it was fast approaching official check out time they let me leave my last video uploading while I went across the street for breakfast at the Homemade Cafe which has the best iced tea I’ve had in Pepin.

I was supposed to be down for the boat ride at noon, so after retrieving my computer and wishing a fond farewell to my friends at the Traditional Craft area, I drove out to the cabin. During Laura days quilting completely takes over the Wayside Cabin area and with the exception of the food stand out there (that disappeared a few years ago) it seems like there is more going on every time I visit. There are hands on quilt square projects, storytelling with quilts, a quilt show, patterns for sale, more old-fashioned games, and music. I was up against the clock though by the time I left heading back to the lake shore and my boat ride.

Kitty Latane Tin Smithing
Kitty Latane Tin Smithing

I first heard of Sail Lake Pepin a number of years ago. Usually when I go to Pepin for Laura Days I leave on Friday, it’s about five and half hours if I drive straight through, but I’m not good at that I’m afraid, there are too many interesting places to stop, so even though I leave in the morning with good intentions I usually don’t get to Pepin until just before dark and still haven’t stopped everywhere I wanted to. After trying and failing for a number of years to make it in time to sail on Friday, I totally gave up and just decided not to stop anywhere on the way home, except to eat, and to take the time on Sunday and just plan to take the sail then. Happily it worked out and I was able to get the inside take when I did a And One More on the Way post about them in preparation for LauraPalooza this year.

The boat is a little smaller than I expected and more hands on. Everybody got a chance to man the wheel which was exciting. There was a cabin, but you spent your time on deck. I also got to sit out on the bow . It was an incredible experience. We pretty much

Quilts at Wayside Cabin
Quilts at Wayside Cabin

followed the same path the Ingalls Family did when they crossed the frozen lake in the covered wagon and much more safely. I have to say it was a wonderful experience and one that I can honestly recommend as unique whether you are looking for something special with a Laura travel buddy, with your family, or for a romantic couple.

As it was I JUST got out of there as the parade was starting which involves pretty much shutting down the entire town. If you don’t get out of town before the parade starts, just hunker down until it’s over because you aren’t going anywhere. As I said I just made it out and pushed hard hoping to make in to Spring Valley before the museum closed. I missed it by 10 minutes I’m sorry to report.  I was hoping to get the Spring Valley Christmas Ball, but since I didn’t and my back up

Sarah Steering on Sail Lake Pepin
Sarah Steering on Sail Lake Pepin

plan didn’t pan out either, I missed out. I AM happy to report though, at least as far as September the Wilder Barn is still standing despite a plan by the owner to take it down. I hold my breath every time I pull up on the road, but so far so good. REMINDER: The owner does NOT want Laura fans on his property, stay on the road.

And from there it was mostly driving home. If you haven’t made it Laura Days in Pepin before I highly recommend it. Visiting a Laura site during an event and not during an event are completely polar experiences, but there is so much more going on during Pepin Days that it’s worth a trip. Plus, you can see me and Linda and her whole crew, so that’s worth a trip right there. I hope to catch you Pepin next year! The dates will be September 13-14, 2013.

They are really making a big effort to make information about Laura Days easier to find, check them out online in all the ways spelled out in this post:


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Sarah Uthoff - Trundlebed Tales

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She 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. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+, LinkedIn , SlideShare, and . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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