Little House on the Prairie warning!!!
I made John drive so I could absorb De Smet as we drove into it last night. We forgot about the time change...lost an hour...so instead of getting into town at 5:30 it was 6:30 and the town was shut up tight. We found a tour map on the outside of the visitor's center, so we drove around a little and saw some of the sights, most of which are contained in about a 4 block radius. What a super little town! I have fallen in love with it, despite the rather downtrodden appearance of the main street, but the side streets are pretty and laid out in nice, easy to manage squares. That's easy to do in such a flat area.
Main street (Calumet Ave) is like most small midwestern towns, running perpindicular to the railroad, and all parking at an angle so that cars jut out into the street. The downtown speed limit is 15mph so you can imagine an after-hours, sunsetty sort of feel, very slow and pokey along a street lined with small shops. We cruised past the Surveyor's House (I took pictures) and then around the block to Pa and Ma's house (I took pictures), saw the Loftus home, the old Congregational Church which Pa helped build, and the park which Mr. Boast helped organize and plant. There were two other ladies in front of Pa and Ma's house taking picture, fellow fanatics, and I introduced myself to them. We chatted for a while, (the boys and John were playing hacky sack) and I encouraged them to stay the night and see everything in the morning. They had just arrived, too late, and were planning on heading back to MN. Can you believe it???Go all that way and take your picture in front of the house and then leave??? Not me!
On to dinner at the Oxbow restaurant, the only gig in town, and then on to the hotel. Mutiny occurred and 3 out of 4 boys informed me they didn't want to see Laura stuff and wanted to sleep in. I offered a reprieve. John would stay with them, I would get up early, and on my own, would tour the Laura sites. Fine with everyone.
Up at 7am, breakfast at the hotel, and off to see the sites that were not monitored by the visitor's center. The De Smet graveyard on the edge of town was my first stop, to see Pa, Ma, the girls and Laura and Almanzo's baby boy. It was a beautiful morning, clear and cool, very dewey and fresh. I could see where Laura's senses would be stimulated and her descriptive ability would be enhanced because everywhere I looked it was lovely.
I was the only one there that early in the morning, and that was fine by me. I like graveyards because of the historical factor, but you can tell quite a bit about the town and the people by how they treat the cemetery. De Smet takes great pride in their and it's run by a sort of association that runs on donations. It overlooks cornfields and cow pastures and is one of the prettiest spots for a final resting spot that I've seen. The family were all gathered in one spot, lined up next to each other, with Baby Boy Wilder right in the middle, between Ma and Mary. I thought that was sweet, considering his parents were buried in another state. Just a few steps away were Grace, her husband, Nate, and other characters from Laura's books. I saw the grave of the Boasts, the Loftuses, the Wilmarths, and Mr. Fuller who nearly outspelled Pa in the town spelling bee. I had to manage my time in order to be back by 11 and pick up the recalcitrant bunch who didn't want to tour with me.
Off then to the north side of town to see the sites of Laura and Almanzo's 2 claims. There's nothing left of them now, seeing how the shanty on one of them burned to the ground when the couple lived there, and the trees on the other one mostly dried up as a result of severe drought. On the first, the hill where the house stood has a small dip in it where the cellar was, but that's it. I walked up it for a ways, as the gate was open and took a few pictures of what the view must have been like. It seemed so close to town for Ma and Pa and the girls to mourn Laura's marriage and move to the claim. 2 miles then must have seemed like another town entirely, but driving 55 mph made it fly by.
The tree claim wasn't marked, but since the brochure said some of the trees still existed from the first planting, I looked for big trees planted fairly uniformly, and I found a place that I think looks right. All still within easy reach of town, but isolated back in the day. I wondered what Almanzo would think if he were able to see the trees he had tried so desperately to save and the saplings that Laura faithfully carried water to, big, strong, and thriving. I'm sure he'd be pleased and confounded at the same time. Dakota was in the middle of a 7 year drought when they lived there and nothing they could do would make that much of a difference for most of the trees.
Back to town and a little drive around until the visitor's center opened. I stopped at the local market for a Diet Pepsi and purchased it on the spot where Almanzo's feed store used to be. Kind of neat.
Off to the visitor's center, which was open, and bought a ticket for the tour of the Surveyor's house and Ma and Pa's house on 3rd street. John has been teasing me that I have been acting more excited than if I got to go to the Holy Land, and the boys have found it difficult to understand, but I explained it to them in Harry Potter terms. Imagine, I said, that you had read Harry Potter for 30 years and then found out he really existed, Hogwarts was real, and you could go visit. That's all I needed to say for them to better understand. After 30+ years, I was finally in the Little Town on the Prairie and it was and a huge deal for me.
I'll post a little later about the tours and the rest of our day at the Ingall's homestead and the Plum Creek dugout search