Looking ahead to LauraPalooza 2019: Pepin-bound

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association this week announced the location of its 2019 conference, and it’s in Onalaska, Wis., just south of Wilder’s birthplace of Pepin, Wis.

The full announcement also reminds those interested about the big Little House on the Prairie cast reunion in Walnut Grove the week following LauraPalooza in July.

I was involved in the founding of the organization and in the running of the first two conferences, which we held in Mankato in 2010 and 2012. Personal circumstances kept me away from the 2015 conference in South Dakota and the 2017 conference in Missouri, but I’ve been excited to see the line-up of speakers and workshops as they appeared.

The conference was deliberately conceived as a site for Wilder fans, scholars, and independent researchers to meet and share across the usual divides that occur between such different groups. What’s fun about LauraPalooza is that everyone can enjoy interesting, well-researched presentations right alongside fun activities taken from the books, such as ice cream socials, cooking demonstrations, and handwork.

With the next site being close to Pepin, it’s in easy travel distance for me. Pepin is actually the first Little House site I ever visited, the week after I turned 18 in 1990. My friend, Maria, and I tossed a tent and sleeping bags into the back of my 1980 Ford Granada and headed west from Chippewa Falls, Wis., to seek out Little House sites just because we were legal adults and we could.

We took back roads into Pepin and got lost.

Eventually, we found our way, and I still remember the excitement in my belly when we drove up to the little replica cabin on Laura’s birth site. I think I probably squealed. (Maria and I are still in touch; I wonder if she remembers?)

After that first stop, we found our way into Pepin proper to visit the little museum there, then camped in Stockholm, Wis., our first night. The next day, we headed west toward Walnut Grove.

We locked our keys in the car in Faribault, Minn. Fortunately, there was an Auto Zone nearby and we’d left a window open slightly, so that was a free, less-than-fifteen minute fix with a wire coat hanger.

We eventually made it to Walnut Grove, squealing over the museum there (which at that time extended across the road in a series of trailer-type things. It’s been enlarged, renovated, and refurbished since, and is one of my favorite places to stop). We didn’t manage to find Plum Creek on that trip. In fact, my brakes started grinding as we pulled out of Walnut Grove and headed back east.

We camped at Fort Ridgely State Park that night, and wandered our way up to St. Croix Falls, Wis. the following night, before heading back to Chippewa Falls and new brakes.

At LauraPalooza 2010, twenty years later, I waded in Plum Creek for the first time. It’s another one of my favorite memories. I think there’s a picture of me, along with several other Laura enthusiasts, wading in the creek that summer.

I’m excited for 2019. My last published work in the area of Wilder research appeared in the South Dakota Historical Society Press’s work, Pioneer Girl Perspectives, in 2017. My contribution was a chapter about Rose Wilder Lane and her career as a working writer, touching on her FBI file and her work for Woman’s Day magazine.

I haven’t really dug into anything new lately, but I have been thinking about what viewing the Little House books through a cultural lens over time might look like. Why do the books remain popular? I have some ideas about that that I might propose to share in 2019.

Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing the Pepin cabin again. Maybe I can talk Maria into joining me for the almost-thirty year flashback photo.

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