The Midwest offers a treasure chest of American history, folklore and culture that begs to be explored. Fans of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose books have been translated into almost 40 languages, will want to visit her farm home in Mansfield, Missouri. Homestead National Monument of America, near Beatrice, Nebraska, preserves one of the nation’s most unique ecosystems: 100 acres of undisturbed tallgrass prairie. And in Clarinda, Iowa, Glenn Miller’s birthplace celebrates the man and the musician who led the big-band era’s most celebrated orchestra.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum
Each year, more than 30,000 fans from all 50 states and approximately 20 countries visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum, located 45 miles east of Springfield. Rocky Ridge, as the Wilders called their home, is almost exactly as Laura left it when she died in 1957, three days after her 90th birthday. Almanzo and Laura began building the home in 1897 and added on as finances permitted. The Wilders’ furniture includes pieces that Almanzo crafted
“If Laura saw the house today, she would think that’s my home — that’s where I live,” said director Jean Coday. “We repaired the structure and added heating and cooling, but nothing has essentially changed since her death.”
Wilder wrote her first book, “Little House in the Big Woods,” in 1932. The museum showcases heirlooms that are like old family friends to fans: original handwritten manuscripts in Wilder’s graceful style, letters penned by Almanzo to Laura during their courtship and Pa’s fiddle.
“Very often I see three generations coming to visit, and every generation is just as thrilled to be here,” said Coday. “Mansfield also sponsors ‘Laura’s Memories,’ a summer outdoor play that culminates with Wilder Day Festival on September 19th.”
Rock House, where the first four “Little House” books were written, lies less than a mile from Rocky Ridge. Built in 1928 by Rose, the Wilders’ only child, it was a Christmas gift for her parents’ retirement. Laura and Almanzo lived here from 1929 to 1936. Wall colors have been restored, but the house still contains the original fixtures, windows and hardwood flooring.
Homestead National Monument of America
Ever wonder what the untouched prairie looked like when Nebraskans settled the state? Homestead National Monument of America satisfies that curiosity. By autumn, the grasses reach up to eight feet tall and develop seedheads of various shapes and sizes.
The Homestead Act of 1862 inspired Americans and immigrants during the Westward Expansion. Signed by Abraham Lincoln, the four-page document granted 160 acres per claimant. The law claimed 270 million acres and lasted 123 years.
On Memorial Day weekend, the annual Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival awards more than $3,000 of prize money to competing fiddlers and acoustic bands. Father’s Day weekend, during the annual Homestead Days, the park comes alive with traditional arts- and-crafts demonstrations, stage performances, horse-drawn antique farm equipment and an 1890s county fair-style children’s festival.
Groups can go off-trail and interact with the land during Prairie Appreciation Week, September 27-October 3. On September 27, a professional photography festival will be offered with activities surrounding the lunar eclipse. That week, groups can help with the deer survey as they walk a straight line from one end of the 160 acres to the other.
“Along the way, people discover dens of groundhogs, badger, fox and ground squirrels,” said park ranger Susan Cook. “Pheasant, quail and rabbit are scared up, and herds of deer sprint through the park.”
Prairie Work Day, October 3, teaches volunteers to identify native grass seedheads before they go out to find their assigned plants and collect the seed for planting projects. And the annual Hedge Apple Festival, October 4, showcases the peculiar, lime-green hedge apple of the Osage Orange tree.