Former Notes from Pepin editor Kitty Latane keeps a close watch on the historic buildings in Pepin. Her book and her presentation take us on a tour of all the buildings that remain from when Laura Ingalls Wilder arrived in the town. She points out in her final issue of the newsletter that 2 more historic buildings were torn down this year. The A.S. Grey Store built in approximately 1870 and torn down this year. The village hall, next door to the library, and in use up to this year, was also torn this year after a local effort to save it failed.
7 total historic buildings were destroyed since 2000. Probably most visible of these was the Time Theater on the main street in town. This former movie theater for a time was turned into a regular theater and at one time was home to Pepin’s version of a Laura Pageant.
I just got the sad news that Kitty Latane, the longtime editor of the Notes from Pepin – the official newsletter of the Laura Ingalls Wilder organization in Pepin, Wisconsin, has resigned from her position. Latane has done a marvelous job with this newsletter and I’m sure all of Laura fandom will join be in giving her a round of applause for all her hard work.
Kitty has been a major force in keeping the Laura in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Days in Pepin. She organizes the Buckskinner Rendezvous/traditional craft demonstration, the essay contest, and presents a fascinating program on Pepin’s history at the time Laura lived there and which buildings still remain from that time. Kitty is also the co-author of The Village of Pepin at the Time of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Kitty is known worldwide as a tinsmith and she makes a limited edition tin cookie cutter in a Laura design each Laura day. Here’s Kitty’s website about her tinsmithing.
Lots of people making a Laura trip for the first time, especially those who haven’t put in a lot of effort to research what’s there, don’t know what to expect at a Laura homesite town. The more you put into prepping a trip and asking questions ahead of time the more you get out of it. Most of these towns don’t tell you everything in an one stop shopping type format and all of them house extra little jewels if you’re willing to dig.
However, no matter which Laura town you visit the best piece of advice I can give you is to park your car, get out and walk. Laura didn’t experience these towns zooming by a car window and to get the best experience neither should you. This was borne into me again in my last trip to De Smet.
My favorite Laura experience happened in De Smet during a Laura conference. I was wearing a long dress and walked up the road from the schoolhouse back up to the front gate. It was really a magical experience. The sun beat down, the wind tossed the prairie grasses, kids were singing, insects were buzzing and little clouds of dust swirled up with each step. This was the very road that Laura and her whole family must have walked a 1000 times, I felt like Laura was just over the hill at any minute.
A more practical experience getting a feel for the town can be had in any town. Although I’ve walked all over De Smet (there is even an official walking tour now) and I even met a family once who had taken an airport shuttle to town (from the “big city”) and more walking literally everywhere for the week. I think Pepin offers a great example of getting a feel for the town by walking. When I am town for Laura Days I tend to park my car either by the library or the Pepin Motel if I’m staying there, and leave it there until I head over to the Wayside (the replica cabin site) and the Little House Store in Lund. Walking gives you a feel for the town, how close things are. In the right part of town you’ll see all kinds of unique shops that you can see. It gives you a feel for the spaces involved. Some day, like Pa, I’m going to walk out to the Wayside, as soon as I can talk somebody into doing it with me.
You don’t have to walk as far as that, but I want to encourage everyone on your next Laura trip. Get out and walk!
I just wanted to let everybody know that I started a new channel on YouTube. So far I’ve uploaded two short videos I filmed while I was in Pepin for Laura Ingalls Wilder Days. I hope to add more and that you will enjoy them. I’ve also added links to the Ingalls Homestead orientation video and a recording of them playing Pa’s fiddle at Wilder Days. Please come take a look.
Laura’s Memories, the Wilder pageant in Mansfield, used to be the hardest one to find dates for. Now they have a minimal webpage where you can find the dates. http://www.laurasmemories.com/
For those of you unfamiliar with the production, it’s staged in a built-in arena near Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary. The seating is the most comfortable I’ve found at any Wilder pageant. The plot starts off with a take-off on Laura’s recorded conversation with Docia Holland (identified only as librarian in the play). As Laura remembers back over her life, stories from her childhood on play in her mind and on the stage behind her. It’s a musical and frankly I think the songs were better than the major production at the Guthrie last year. Be aware though that the cast shares the parts (for example, the same girl doesn’t play Laura all the way through, but does continue to appear on stage as other characters). Also, notice its early start time. They don’t use the dark for special effects, so it starts a full hour before the other two pageants (and they even offer afternoon performances sometimes). It ends early enough so driving to your hotel isn’t a challenge.
Long time fans will notice some changes in the date pattern this year. Usually they split the pageant dates between early or mid-summer and then re-stage it around Wilder Days. This year they’ve moved to the first two weekends in August and the first three in September, which I would think would be easier on the production. They’ve also got the date for Mansfield’s Wilder Day (most activities are on Saturday, although there is usually some Friday and Sunday spillover) set for Sept. 19th. This is the third weekend of September where for the last couple of years they were on the second. I hope this sticks because that takes them out of competition with Wilder Days in Pepin and means that I might have a chance to visit during the days again and hear Pa’s fiddle. Be warned Pepin is about 6 1/2 hours north of where I live and, depending on your route and road construction, Mansfield is about 9 hours south. Don’t try to do them both in one weekend.
This change in dates comes on top of Burr Oak’s earlier announcement of moving their Wilder Days from the second weekend in June to the last, moving them out of direct competition with Prairie Days in Independence. It’s getting more and more possible to not have to choose between events, assuming you have the time for multiple trips. 😉
As I often advise people, Burr Oak, Iowa, Spring Valley, MN and Pepin WI make up a real nice Wilder weekend. I took myself up on my own advice this weekend on my way to Laura Days in Pepin. I hadn’t been to Burr Oak yet this summer or met their new director, as of March.
He led the tour himself and it was one of the better tours I’ve gotten there. Still using the “Sleep tight” myth, but other than that really good. The Masters Hotel looks like it’s gotten more love and attention this year in little things. The June Hawley card which had partially fallen apart had been fixed. The things about William Reed were put together in a notebook, not just piled up, and someone had added a couple of framed and matted informational displays. The museum itself hadn’t changed much, but they have found a strawberry butter mold,
like Ma’s in Little House in the Big Woods which was a very nice addition. They have totally rearranged the gift shop. They now have all the books in series order along the brick wall that makes up part of the vault. The ceramics display that was previously there is all gone. It seems like they had fewer things than before, but since it changed so much it’s hard to tell. The new item I found was a beautiful wooden bookmark with a Burr Oak tree on it. The letters are moved back to the corner and the named bricks display moved up higher on the wall. A simple device of adding Almanzo and Laura’s heights along the wall has proved very popular. The letters place in the front area has been filled by historic photos of Burr Oak. I was running late by then, so I didn’t stop anywhere else in town.
I had taken time earlier to eat at Tea and Tarts in downtown Decorah who I recommend as worth the drive to anyone. I had the chicken salad and the house tea. It’s two and a half hours from Burr Oak to Pepin by the fastest route and a little under an hour between Burr Oak and Spring Valley directly.
I’ll save Pepin for tomorrow and skip to my stop on the way back in Spring Valley. I didn’t stop at the museum because I’m hopefully going to get to see that when I come back later in the month. I can report that the barn is STILL standing and, praise be, they moved the stupid boat so you can get a decent photo. Royal’s grave was still in shadow. I had lunch with James Wilder family expert Sharon Jahn which was great fun and I learned a lot about Wilder family and Spring Valley history. Including the distant Wilder connection of why you might want to visit Howard, South Dakota, just to say you’ve been there. 😉 I hope to get a look at her notebooks and all the good research she and the Spring Valley Historical Society have put in researching the Wilder family.
UPDATE 2014: Things have changed in Burr Oak since 2008. They have once again changed directors, they have redone several of the displays. They’ve opened up the pantry so you can see more of it. They have sent the Jane Hawley dolls back to their creators family. Lots has changed, but most of the good things and improvements I mentioned in the post are still there.
Also the Tea and Tarts Tea Room that I think you can tell from the post that I simply ADORED is no longer in operation. Their menu board was even at the What’s New Antique Shop the last time I went through, so it is well and truly gone. My allegiance had switched to Tea and Tarts after the Victorian Rose shut down. There are quite a few interesting restaurants in Decorah, but not one of them has become my current favorite. Let me know if you find one you especially love.